Win Willy is set for his first start since winning last year's Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II), returning to the Hot Springs, Ark., track for the $125,000 Razorback Handicap (gr. III) March 10.
This is expected to be the final season of racing for the popular 6-year-old gray/roan horse who runs for Jerome and Martha Myers' Jer-Mar Stables and trainer McLean Robertson.
Exciting to watch with his late closing style, Win Willy carries a gaudy 5-3-1 record in 11 starts at Oaklawn. He ran third in the 1 1/16-mile Razorback last year before returning in April to capture the Oaklawn Handicap by one length over Misremembered . Win Willy won the 2010 Razorback by nearly four lengths but was later disqualified after he tested positive for two non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in a post-race sample.
Win Willy burst onto the racing scene in 2009 when he produced a 56-1 upset in Oaklawn's Rebel Stakes (gr. II).
The son of Monarchos worked March 6, going five furlongs in 1:02 3/5.
"It’s going to be great to get a race into him,” said Robertson a day later. “He’s ready to get himself entered.”
Win Willy was assigned co-top weight of 120 pounds among six entrants for the Razorback, along with Essex Handicap winner Alternation. The field also includes grade II winner Tapizar and the defending Razorback winner, It Happened Again. The race is the ninth on the card with a 5:02 p.m. CST post.
After finishing in the money in all four of the races in Oaklawn's series for older horses last year, Win Willy was sidelined for the rest of the year. Robertson spoke of a possible fall campaign, but said the main focus would be returning to Hot Springs for 2012.
“At night after working with him, I find myself getting excited about him,” said Robertson. “He’s probably not 100%, but he’s close enough and he’s ready to run. I’m really glad he’s coming back.”
Win Willy, a lifetime winner of seven of 18 races with earnings of $821,960, will break from post 4 with regular pilot Cliff Berry aboard.
Alternation opened his 2012 campaign in fine style with a 3 1/2-length triumph in the 1 1/16-mile Essex Feb. 4 as the 11-10 choice. Pin Oak Stable's 4-year-old homebred son of Distorted Humor is likely to be favored again.
Trained by Donnie K. Von Hemel, Alternation won the Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) by a head last May at Belmont Park following a fifth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby (gr. I) a month earlier. The colt has won his other three starts at Oaklawn. Luis Quinonez retains the mount.
Von Hemel expects Saturday’s race to be challenging. “This is a good race and we will really have to run well to win it,” he said.
Tapizar has been based in Southern California with trainer Steve Asmussen this winter, winning Santa Anita's San Fernando Stakes (gr. II) in front-running fashion by 3 1/2 lengths before faltering in the Strub Stakes (gr. II) and finishing fourth five weeks ago. Winchell Thoroughbreds owns the good-looking bay son of Tapit who will be ridden in his Oaklawn debut from the far outside post by Corey Nakatani.
Maggi Moss' It Happened Again has raced twice this year at Oaklawn, running third in the Jan. 13 Fifth Season Stakes prior to finishing a distant fifth in the Essex. Chris Richard has taken over the training duties for the 6-year-old son of Proud Citizen , replacing Asmussen.
In last year's Razorback, It Happened Again pressed a pedestrian pace before taking over in the homestretch and holding well for a half-length victory over Thiskyhasnolimit. The chestnut gelding drew the rail this time.
Also in the field is Essex runner-up Color Me Blue, trained by Brian Williamson for owner Russell Reineman Stable. The Illnois-bred 6-year-old by Flatter won the Fifth Season by a neck over Twice the Appeal in a mild upset.
$125,000 Razorback Handicap (gr. III, Race 9, 5:02 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 1/16 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. It Happened Again (KY), L Wade, 115, C Richard
2. Alternation (KY), L S Quinonez, 120, D K Von Hemel
3. Color Me Blue (IL), I Ocampo, 116, B Williamson
4. Win Willy (KY), M C Berry, 120, M Robertson
5. Shraded Edge (KY), T J Thompson, 114, A Milligan
6. Tapizar (KY), C S Nakatani, 118, S M Asmussen