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Willa B Awesome guts out Santa Anita Oaks victory
Phil Daniels, Patsy London, John Winters and Terry Lovingier's Willa B Awesome was overlooked in Saturday's Grade 1, $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks while going against Eden's Moon and Reneesgotzip, but the Walther Solis trainee got the best of her rivals when gutting out a nose victory over the latter as the 13-1 third pick. Jockey Martin Pedroza guided the chestnut daughter of Awesome Gambler around the track, posting a final time of 1:42 2/5 for the 8 1/2-furlong distance on Santa Anita's fast dirt.
"This is our first Grade 1 win and it's a special day for the family," said Alex Solis, son and assistant to the trainer. "My father is in Guatemala today for my sister's (Maria) wedding. Right now I don't know if he knows we won, but I'm sure he'll find out soon on Twitter. We knew our filly could close and Martin (Pedroza) gave her the perfect ride. I'm just glad she got up."
"I've been part of the racing game for 60 years and an owner for 11 years -- but this is my first Grade 1 win," co-owner Daniels remarked. "It's a major, major day for me. I'm very passionate about this game, and Santa Anita is my home.
"Was I nervous at the end? No. Somebody asked me if I'd take a dead-heat, and I said 'No, it's all or nothing.' I'm a gambler. That's what we're here for -- it's fun. These horses bring their game every day. This horse is a fighter. Willa knows no bounds. This horse loves this track, and God willing, if she stays all together, she's going to be reckoned with in November."
Eden's Moon and Reneesgotzip both gunned for the lead when the gates opened, but the former allowed her rival to gain the advantage heading into the first turn. As Reneesgotzip settled into stride through splits of :23 2/5, :46 4/5 and 1:09 4/5, Eden's Moon maintained a nice stalking position just to her outside. Willa B Awesome wasn't far back either, keeping the two favorites in her sights all the way through the backstretch.
Reneesgotzip was still in front entering the lane and Eden's Moon appeared to be spinning her wheels a bit. The 8-5 second choice seemed to be a clear winner, but Willa B Awesome kept plugging away to eventually draw even and just get her nose in front when flashing under the wire.
"I was able to stay wide into the first turn and drop behind those two leading fillies," Pedroza explained his ride. "Inside the three-and-a-half I swung my horse out to Martin Garcia (Eden's Moon) because I knew he had enough horse and I didn't want to stay inside of him. So I got her to the outside and made my move. When I asked her to go I know I had already put away the Baffert filly (Eden's Moon), but I wasn't sure if I would catch the leader.
"The other filly (Reneesgotzip) looked like she was slowing down and my filly was gradually getting to her. I waited until the last minute to change my stick hoping that she would give me a little more at the end. I think that was the key to winning."
Willa B Awesome paid $29.20, $7 and $2.40 to her faithful backers for overtaking Reneesgotzip. Eden's Moon finished another 1 1/2 lengths back third as the 1-2 favorite, and was followed under the line by Bella's Fantasy and Conjure the Spirit.
Willa B Awesome was a Barretts January two-year-old bargain, selling for $18,000, and has now rewarded that initial investment with $428,896 in career earnings. The three-year-old filly's scorecard reads 12-4-3-2 and includes wins in the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes in late January as well as last September's Barretts Debutante Stakes. The chestnut's five placings have all come against stakes company.
Bred in California by Lovingier, Willa B Awesome is out of the winning Nineeleven mare Cause I'm Tricky, making her a half-sister to the stakes-placed duo Rio Tricky and Got Tobe Rio, both by Rio Verde. She 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.
"I still think she got beat!" Lovingier smiled. "I owned Quarter Horses in the 1980s with Scoop Vessels and I've owned Thoroughbreds since the late nineties. This by far outweighs everything that's happened to me in horse racing. The mare is in foal for next year with a full brother or sister."