The raising and racing of Ashland Stakes (G1) winner Willa On the Move have been family efforts.
Robert Quinichett of Silver Spring, Md., bred the 3-year-old Assert filly, which is campaigned by his wife, Lorraine. The filly's dam, the stakes-winning Tentam mare Willamae, was named in honor of Quinichett's 73-year-old mother, and the elder Mrs. Quinichett also provided the inspiration for the Ashland winner's moniker.
"My mother lives in Columbus, Ohio. A lot of times, when my wife and I call her on the telephone, she's not there," Quinichett explained. "That's why my wife suggested we name the filly Willa On the Move."
The elder Mrs. Quinichett joined her son and daughter-in-law at Keeneland April 23 to watch Willa On the Move establish herself as a leader among this year's crop of 3-year-old fillies. Sent off the 5-2 second choice in the Ashland field of 11, Willa On the Move raced strongly not far off the pace before charging to her sixth victory in seven career starts and her fifth consecutive win in an added-money event.
"She broke like a bullet and she was very aggressive all the way around the first turn and down the backside," said Chris McCarron, Willa On the Move's rider. "He (trainer Leon Blusiewicz) didn't want her on the lead or too close to it. He wanted her to be laying four or five lengths off the lead.
"I don't even know what the fractions were. All I do know is she was pulling me out of the tack down the backside. She was very, very strong, and when I asked her to run when I got her to the outside about the middle of the turn, she responded and won pretty handily. She was full of run the whole way."
There was a bit of a scare coming into the stretch as pacesetter Fulbright Scholar, with Herb McCauley up, bore out sharply. However, none of the first three finishers appeared to be hampered by the leader's erratic move. Fulbright Scholar faded to finish seventh.
Meanwhile, Willa On the Move and Hidden Oak Farm's even-money favorite On to Royalty waged a battle for the lead. Willa On the Move eased ahead near midstretch and she pulled away under McCarron's left-handed whipping to win by 2 1/4 lengths.
On to Royalty, winner of the April 9 Beaumont Stakes at Keeneland, finished second. Her rider, Craig Perret, observed that the gray filly was "a little anxious (in the gate), but it had nothing to do with the outcome."
Another three-quarters of a length back was Buckland Farm's rallying Colonial Waters, a stakes winner which bears a striking resemblance to her sire, Pleasant Colony. Fourth in the Ashland was King Ranch's Aquaba.
Trainer Blusiewicz said after the Ashland that Willa On the Move would be pointed for the May 6 Kentucky Oaks (G1) at Churchill Downs. Trainer Ben Perkins Jr. was considering either the Oaks or the May 21 Acorn Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park for On to Royalty.
Trainer Johnny Campo said Colonial Waters, impressive in just three career starts, would start in the Oaks.
Willa On the Move covered the Ashland's 1 1/16 miles in 1:45 4/5, a time 4 3/5 seconds slower than the track record. She collected $151,125 of the $232,500 purse. There was a threat of thunderstorms for Ashland Day but no downpour materialized. The 23,592 fans who turned out during the very warm and windy afternoon wagered $2,046,383.
Willa On the Move's breeder, Quinichett, founded Sterling Systems Inc., a firm that developed computer systems for various businesses. He sold the company and retired five years ago, turning some of his energies to developing a breeding and racing program.
"I enjoy the breeding aspect more than anything, even more than racing," said Quinichett, who grew up near Beulah Park in Ohio. "It's a nice pastime in winter to plan the matings for your mares."
Willamae produced Willa On the Move for Quinichett in 1985 and he sold the mare later that year at the Keeneland November breeding stock sale. In foal to the Ashland winner's sire, Assert, Willamae was purchased by Kentucky horseman Warner L. Jones Jr. for $210,000. When Jones held his breeding stock dispersal at Keeneland last November, Quinichett and his wife bought back Willamae (in foal to Woodman) for $105,000 and also purchased the mare's weanling colt by Dixieland Band for $62,000.
"Willa On the Move was training so good that I didn't care how much Willamae cost, we were going to buy her back," Quinichett said. "There was no way we were going to let her get away again."
Willamae produced a Woodman filly this year, and she is being bred to Assert. The Quinichetts also own Willa On the Move's second dam, Raciette (by Hoist the Flag), which foaled a Private Account colt the day after the Ashland. The mares and some of the Quinichetts' other stock are boarded at Mr. and Mrs. Ronald Green's Green Willow Farms near Westminister, Md.
Willa On the Move was sent from her Maryland base to New York's Aqueduct for her first and only start at 2. She broke her maiden by 1 1/4 lengths in a six-furlong, mid-November contest.
The bay filly finished second in the New Hope Stakes on Jan. 1 of this year at Philadelphia Park in Pennsylvania, despite flipping in the starting gate. She also was found following the race to have suffered from exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage.
Returned to Maryland, Willa On the Move reeled off consecutive victories in four added-money events at Laurel and Pimlico. Blusiewicz observed proudly that his filly's Maryland racing times were comparable to some posted by Maryland-based classic prospect Private Terms, which captured the Wood Memorial (G1) in New York on the day of the Ashland.
Despite the filly's obvious talent, her road to Kentucky was not an easy one. The plan had been for Willa On the Move to make her first start at Keeneland in the Beaumont, but a van trip South was aborted due to snowy weather. The filly ran instead in the restricted Caesar's Wish Stakes at Pimlico, winning the 1 1/16-mile event by 1 1/4 lengths.
Another change in plans for Willa On the Move occurred when Chris Antley, set to ride the filly during her Keeneland venture, ran into a conflict because of his commitment to Private Terms.
"We had a commitment from Chris Antley but when a guy gets to ride a horse like Private Terms, you've got to let him out of a commitment with no animosity," Blusiewicz said. "We were able to get Chris McCarron, who is one of the best. I called him and he said, 'Let me see what happens in the next few days.' He called me back and said, 'I'm ready for you.' We got him about 10 days before the Ashland.
"Chris loves this filly, and, after the race, he told me that if things had been a little different—if that horse hadn't bolted—she would have won by 10 lengths. But we're not going to worry about how much she wins by. This race should make her worth $1 million as a broodmare."