Poker Pace May Be Right for Willard Straight

(from Belmont Park report)
In the Texas Hold 'Em style of poker, what is referred to as the "turn" is the next-to-last community card dealt to the table. For Willard Straight, the turn of Sunday's, $100,000 Poker Handicap (gr. IIIT) at one mile on the Belmont Park turf, is where he will begin his closing run.

Away from the races for about eight months, Willard Straight returned to Belmont June 10 in an allowance-optional claimer when he was sent off the 8-5 favorite. The late-running 5-year-old son of Lion Cavern was at a severe tactical disadvantage in his comeback as L'Oiseau d'Argent waltzed through soft early fractions while well clear. L'Oiseau d'Argent had plenty left for the stretch drive and beat Willard Straight by 5 ¼ lengths.

"That was a good race to get into him," said Todd Pletcher, who trains Willard Straight for owner Lawrence Goichman. "A mile is his preferred distance. We're just hoping he gets a solid pace in front to run at."

The pace scenario this time should be more in favor of Willard Straight. L'Oiseau d'Argent should be entertained by Gulch Approval and Seeking the Glory, the two front-runners in the seven-furlong Jaipur (gr. IIIT).

Kiaran McLaughlin, the trainer of the 6-year-old gelding L'Oiseau d'Argent, certainly cannot be as confident going into the Poker.

"There will be more quality pace horses in this race," McLaughlin admitted. "He'll at worst be very close to the pace. You have to let him come out of the gate and run his race."

Marylou Whitney Stables' Gulch Approval is on a seven-race losing streak. The gelding was able to grind out a win in the Oceanport at Monmouth last year. Reynaldo Abreu, the former assistant trainer to Hall of Fame inductee Nick Zito who took the private training job for the Marylou Whitney Stables, will saddle Gulch Approval.

Sporting a solid record at one mile is Earle Mack's Mr. Light, who won a pair of mile heats at Gulfstream over the winter including the Appleton Handicap (gr. IIIT). He was fourth in his last race, the Makers Mark (gr. IIT), beaten 3 ¼ lengths by Artie Schiller after encountering some traffic trouble early.

Claiborne Farm's Remind may not have cared for soft turf in his last start while finishing a close fifth as the 6-5 favorite in Monmouth's Red Bank (gr. IIIT).

Trade Fair, who finished fourth in the Jaipur after making a middle move, is owned by Juddmonte Farms and trained by Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel.

$100,000-added Poker Handicap (gr. IIIT), 3 & up, 1 mile (turf)
1. Ecclesiastic, H. Allen Jerkens, Javier Castellano, 119
2. Seeking the Glory, Mike Hushion, Norberto Arroyo Jr., 113
3. L'Oiseau d'Argent, Kiaran McLaughlin, Richard Migliore, 116
4. Mr. Light, Angel Penna Jr., Cornelio Velasquez, 117
5. Trade Fair, Bobby Frankel, Fernando Jara, 117
6. Willard Straight, Todd Pletcher, Rafael Bejarano, 115
7. Gulch Approval, Reynaldo Abreu, Eibar Coa, 118
8. Remind, Bill Mott, Edgar Prado, 117
Main Track Only
9. Aggadan, Juan Rodriguez, no rider, 122