It took 23 starts for BB Horses' Afleet Willy to earn his first stakes win, but there was no delay for his second.
Following a track-record-setting performance in the DTHA Governors Day Handicap Sept. 30 at Delaware Park, the Claudio Gonzalez-trained Wilburn gelding got right back into the winner's circle Nov. 11 with a score in the $100,000 Richard W. Small Stakes, the last of six stakes on Laurel Park's Saturday card.
But unlike his first stakes win, which came in gate-to-wire fashion, Afleet Willy's victory Saturday showed he was capable of something new. Normally on or just off the pace, Afleet Willy broke awkwardly in the Richard W. Small and was steadied in the first turn of the 1 1/8-mile dirt test.
That trouble put him in ninth, 7 1/4 lengths back early on, but did not faze him. Under jockey Jomar Torres, Afleet Willy advanced in the backstretch, made a wide move in the final turn, and took command early in the stretch.
"He broke a little slow and I just tried to get him to relax. He's a nice horse and he doesn't have to go to the lead," Torres said. "I sat behind horses and at the three-eighths pole I made a move and he responded pretty good. He ran big today."
Pacesetter Discreet Lover, who dropped 1 1/2 lengths behind Afleet Willy with a furlong to run, re-rallied late but could only cut the margin to three-quarters of a length at the wire. Afleet Willy finished off the distance in 1:49.86 after Discreet Lover set fractions of :24.81, :49.42, and 1:13.25 through six furlongs.
"He broke really bad and I was worried. He had to check right on the turn and then he had to run all the way outside," Gonzalez said. "He's been doing really good. He breezed good and was training good and doing everything really good.
"At the half-mile pole he passed everybody, and they went an easy pace. They went in :24, and if he breaks good he would have been five in front. He would have gone in :23, easy. I'm very proud of the horse. He ran really good. He loves it here. He's a good horse. These were some really nice horses."
Favored Page McKenney, a 13-time stakes winner who tracked the early pace in third and fourth while between horses, lacked a late punch and finished fifth, six lengths behind the winner.
Other stakes winners earlier on the card were My Magician ($75,000 Geisha), Take Charge Paula ($100,000 Smart Halo), Prince of Hempt ($100,000 City of Laurel), Berned ($100,000 Safely Kept), and A Different Style ($100,000 James F. Lewis III).