Willet kicked off her 7-year old campaign by posting her fifth career stakes victory, and the first New York-bred stakes score of the year, when she won Aqueduct’s $100,000 Interborough Stakes for older fillies and mares on Saturday from off the pace.
Willet was looking to get back in the winner’s circle first the first time since the summer, when she recorded a win a state-bred conditioned allowance sprint at Saratoga on July 30, but since that victory had put up a series of strong performances in imposing company. She collected a pair of thirds behind female sprinter Eclipse Award finalist Artemis Agrotera in the Grade 1 Ballerina and Grade 2 Gallant Bloom, and finished second to New York-bred graded stakes winner La Verdad in the Iroquois on Empire Showcase Day. In her most recent start Willet disappointed with a third-place finish third in the slop in the Garland of Roses as the 6-5 favorite. She came into Saturday’s race looking sharp though, with a five-furlong bullet move over the inner on January 11 under her belt.
Breaking from post three (of six) as the 2-1 favorite, Willet ran a reserved race for the first half mile, falling back by as much as nine lengths, while speedier types – Bridgehampton, pursed by Cape Cod Carol and Aireofdistinction – carved out early fractions of 22.57 and 45.41.
Picking up steam around the far turn, the bay mare swung out widest of all at the head of the stretch and steadily picked off rivals. After a perfectly-timed ride by Irad Ortiz, Jr., she reached the finish line with all the momentum and a 1 1/2-length advantage. Aireofdistinction held second, while Expression closed into third. The final time for six furlongs was 1:10.65. [VIDEO]
Ortiz reported, “I got a pretty good trip. She likes to come from behind. When she broke she was relaxed, and she finished pretty good. She was ready.”
Jimmy Iselin, winning trainer of Willet and co-owner with Charlotte Assoulin and Eli Gindi, said, “It’s great that she should come back after the last race [the Garland of Roses]. That was a little concerning. But after that race, she was flourishing. So we made a decision to race on a great day and a great track. It’s exciting that she came back and showed what she can do.”
Willet’s last stakes victory came in the mud in the Touch of Love overnight stakes for state-bred fillies and mares at Aqueduct on December 2013, the same year she won the Union Avenue and Princess Dixie in back to back starts. In 2012 she dazzled in the mud with a nine-plus-length romp in the Iroquois Stakes.
Only three times out of the money in 23 starts, Willet’s record stands at 9-7-4 with earnings approaching the three-quarter million dollar mark at $746,900.
As to future plans, Iselin said, “We’ll sit down and enjoy today and go back to the drawing board.”
Bred by the late Michael T. Martin and foaled at Highcliff Farm in Delanson Willet is out of Katina K, a winning daughter of Distinctive Pro out of New York-bred Grade 3 winner Darlin Momma (Night Invader). Katina K has produced four winners from four starters, including 10-time winner Dr. Quirk (Tomorrows Cat) who earned $159,305. The mare’s most recent reported foal is a yearling filly by Majestic Warrior and in 2014 she was bred to Warrior’s Reward.
Led by a Harlan’s Holiday colt who commanded $185,000 on Monday, New York-bred short yearlings made a strong showing at Keeneland’s four-day January Horses of All Ages this week, not only outperforming their counterparts in the same sale last year, but also doing better this year than the yearling population sale-wide.
In all 24 New York-bred yearlings sold at Keeneland January for an average price of $32,767 and median of $19,500. While the average represents a 22 percent increase on their 2013 average at the same venue ($26,873), both average and median outperformed the results for the general population of yearlings at Keeneland, who brought a $31,847 average and $15,000 median. In sum, regarded by many as a coda to the 2014 sales season, Keeneland January put a final exclamation point on an extremely successful year for the New York-bred weanling/yearling markets.
The top New York-bred yearling was Hip 344, a dark bay or brown colt by Harlan’s Holiday bred by Dr. Jonathan Davis’s Milfer Farm in Unadilla, who sold as the fourth highest-priced yearling in Monday’s opening session. Purchased by L & D Bloodstock for $185,000 from the Legacy Bloodstock consignment, the colt is out of Kaileysgal, a mare purchased by Milfer Farm in foal at the 2013 Keeneland November sale for $105,000. A placed daughter of Unbridled’s Song, Kaileysgal is out of Warside, a graded stakes placed multiple black type winner by Lord at War (ARG), and has already produced three winners from three starters, led by stakes winner Tensas Cold Front (War Front).
New York-bred millionaire and Travers Stakes winner Thunder Rumble died on Jan. 6 following complications from an episode of colic at Old Friends at Cabin Creek: The Bobby Frankel Division in Greenfield Center, N.Y. The son of Thunder Puddles was 26.
Thunder Rumble, who was trained for the majority of his career by the late Richard O’Connell, captured three stakes races in the winter and early spring of 1992 at Aqueduct before a virus sent him to the sidelines during the spring classics. He returned for the major summer events at Saratoga Race Course, sweeping the Jim Dandy and the Travers.
An injury sustained while finishing seventh in the 1992 Breeders’ Cup Classic cost Thunder Rumble the 1993 season. He returned in 1994 to win the Saratoga Cup Handicap, retiring at the end of that season with eight wins from 19 starts and earnings of $1,047,552.
Thunder Rumble entered stud in New York, where he stood his first four seasons before moving to Albemarle Stud in Free Union, Va. He returned to New York in 2002 to stand at Keane Stud in Amenia, N.Y., until he was pensioned in 2006. He arrived at Old Friends at Cabin Creek, a satellite for Georgetown, Ky.-based retirement organization Old Friends, in December 2009.
Thunder Rumble has sired 56 winners who have earned more than $3.9 million combined, led by stakes winner Frisky Thunder and stakes-placed winners On the Fan, Rumbling Girl, Deputy Shaker, Burning Rambo, December Thunder, and The Roscoe Rumble. He also sired Real Charmer, a champion in the Dominican Republic.
Thunder Rumble was buried at Old Friends at Cabin Creek.
“He was the most magnificent stallion I have ever met and am so thankful to have known him and loved him,” Cabin Creek’s JoAnn Pepper wrote in a statement on the farm’s Facebook page. “He is buried here, in his favorite place, under his pines. Be free, my friend, till we meet again.”