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Willa B Awesome in Santa Ysabel

  • Willa B Awesome (Benoit Photos)

Phil Daniels et al's Willa B Awesome lived up to her name on Saturday with a nice front-running win in the Grade 3, $100,000 Santa Ysabel Stakes at Santa Anita. The Walther Solis trainee headed straight to the front when the gates opened and had more than enough in reserve to withstand the late run of 3-1 second favorite Killer Graces in the lane.

Jockey Martin Pedroza guided the chestnut lass through the 1 1/16-mile test in 1:41 3/5 after setting fractions of :23 1/5, :46 4/5, 1:10 4/5 and 1:35 1/5 on the fast dirt. The pair crossed under the wire 3 1/2 lengths in front of Killer Graces to return $24.20, $7.60 and $3.80 as the 11-1 longshot.

"My plan was, there was no speed on paper, so if they would chase me for a little bit, I could pull her away early," Pedroza explained. "If the other horses had to come from behind, I figured I'd have a pretty good chance to win the race. It was just the way I planned it. I took advantage of her speed. I put her where she wanted to be, and then I said, 'Come and get me.'"

"It's pretty nice seeing her break like the way she did today," Solis said. "When they scratched the two horses on the inside I said, 'We'll change tactics.' I was thinking about coming from third or fourth, but scratching the speed, I told Martin, 'Let's go to the lead and have them catch us.'"

It was another three lengths back to Lady of Shamrock, with 3-1 favorite Charm the Maker finishing fourth. Batalha was last under the line after Coup de Coeur and Eden's Moon were both withdrawn. Eden's Moon, the 8-5 morning line favorite for the race, was scratched when she "got sick," according to trainer Bob Baffert.

"I wanted to come from behind and make a good run," said Rafael Bejarano, who was aboard Charm the Maker. "I was wide into the first turn because the No. 6 (Killer Graces) pushed me out...I couldn't do anything. I tried to get my horse to come in, but (Killer Graces) pushed me out. Then I tried to come between horses because I didn't want to get pushed out any further."

Willa B Awesome earned her first win in this spot since taking the Barretts Debutante Stakes at Fairplex Park in mid-September. Prior to that one, the chestnut lass ran fifth in the Generous Portion Stakes and fourth in the Grade 3 Sorrento Stakes. The Awesome Gambler filly began her career with a maiden debut victory at Hollywood Park and then went on to place in the Cinderella Stakes and C.T.B.A. Stakes.

Following her first stakes win in the Barretts Debutante, Willa B Awesome finished second in the California Cup Juvenile Fillies and California Breeders' Champion Stakes at Santa Anita with a third in the Sharp Cat Stakes sandwiched in between those two. She gained a measure of revenge against the Sharp Cat one-two in Charm the Maker and Killer Graces, respectively, when adding this to her resume. Her scorecard now reads 10-3-3-2, $233,896.

Bred in California by Terry C. Lovingier, Willa B Awesome sold for $18,000 as a Barretts January juvenile. She is out of the winning Nineeleven mare Cause I'm Tricky, and comes from the same female line as 1988 Horse of the Year and dual champion Alysheba, who captured the 1987 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, as well as Group 1 winner and top sire Lear Fan.

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