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Dec 16, 2011




Rarely do you find a major New York racing story at this time of the year, but the Wednesday feature on the Aqueduct inner track is such a story...although you won't find one word about it in the daily media.

After losing with his first two mounts on Wednesday, Ramon Dominguez won four straight -- the fifth through eighth -- culminating with Willet at 1-9 in an optional-claimer for New York-bred fillies..

That's right. One-to-nine!

"I've never been 1-9 in my (40-year) career," said owner-trainer Jimmy Iselin. "I would have been tarred and feathered if she had lost."

But she didn't lose.

Willet sat second to Eden Is Burning until the eighth pole, at which time Dominguez merely moved his hands, and the late-blooming 3-year-old filly blew past the leader, and won off by three-plus lengths in 1:11 2/5 for the six furlongs.

"It was a beautiful day," Iselin would say from a post-race dinner celebration at nearby Don Pepe's chow palace, "...and I don't mean just the weather."

Meantime, Iselin's phones don't stop ringing. Calls from deep-pocket guys offering small fortunes to take Willet off Iselin's hands.

"The horse means a lot more to me than money," said Iselin, who would be the first to acknowledge that he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. "This is the horse of a lifetime, and she won't be leaving my side."

Iselin, the son of the late Philip Iselin (the garment tycoon-Jets president-Monmouth president) has had his share of nice horses since leaving the boxing business (he managed heavyweight contender Buster Mathis) for racing -- notably Crafty Prospector and Crafty Starlet.

So it was rather disconcerting at least to learn that a TVG commentator say that Willet was "vulnerable" because she came from "a cold barn."

The truth is that Iselin doesn't run many as he commutes between New York and his native New Jersey, but those he does run generally hit the board.

Then Willet came aboard.

The name needs explaining.

Mike Martin, a horse-owner and GM of the Jets, and the original owner of the filly, was struck down by cancer in his 50s, and, on his deathbed, wanted to come up with a suitable name for his promising young filly.

His first choice, Willit, was turned down by The Jockey Club, so he submitted Willet, which was accepted. After Martin's death, the filly went to first Rick Violette, and than was purchased by Iselin.

"The filly is a dead-ringer for Zenyatta," says Iselin, "and a gift from heaven. Ramon told me that he hasn't shown her the stick yet."

Willet now has won three straight by huge margins since a first-out loss (Iselin: "That was my fault. I didn't have her ready.")

Willet likely will ship to Palm Meadows in south Florida, and kick off her 4-year-old campaign at Gulfstream.

"You can be sure where she goes, I go," says Iselin.

One bad thing.

As a scion of Monmouth Park racing (see the Iselin Handicap), Jimmy only hopes he gets the opportunity to race Willet next summer at the Jersey Shore track in view of the fact that Gov. Christie appears dead-serious about closing Monmouth and The Meadowlands.

"This is a disaster," says Iselin. "It boggles the mind that they may shut down the racetrack my father started. I don't understand why the governor hates racing so much."

As for Dominguez, he will be at Hollywood Park on Saturday to ride Majestic City in the CashCall Stakes, the final significant 2-year-old race of the year. That's the 11 horse in the ninth race.

RD's other calls are: Race 2: All Squared Away (#9); Race 3: Born Lucky (#4); Race 6: Slammer Time (#2), and Race 10: Golden Nip (#8).

The CashCall, which attracted an unusually large field of 13, is as wide open as it gets.

Bob Baffert, as is his wont, will run three of the 13 -- Drill, Liaison and Sky Kingdom. If Drill should rebound from two poor races, and win the CashCall, he would stand alone as the only two-time Grade One winner of his generation.

Of the three, the best bred is Sky Kingdom -- by a Belmont Stakes winner (Empire Maker) out of a half sister (Sky Beam) to Mambo in Seattle, whom I still can't believe lost that Travers photo.

Basmati and Longview Drive, second and third, respectively, in the Delta Downs Jackpot, are major contenders, as is Majestic City who returns to the scene of his victory last summer in the Hollywood Juvenile.

Then there is Rousing Sermon, a fast-closing second to Liaisom in the California Cup Juvenile while giving the winner six pounds.

(For my selections in the CashCall as well as races from coast to coast, you need to check out the John Piesen Hot Line (1-888-612-2283) and/or my special 12 Racing Days of Christmas package).

Also keep an eye out down the road for Lucky Chappy.

Team Valor is hoping to win its second straight Kentucky Derby with Lucky Chappy, who, last time out, was a troubled fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. The colt was shipped to southern California for the CashCall, but spiked a fever, and was not entered. The colt already has been shipped back to south Florida to prepare for the Derby.

Speaking of south Florida, trainer Rick Dutrow (he of the stayed 10-year suspension) has entered his two best older horses, Trickmeister and Boys at Toscanova) in Saturday's Harlan's Holiday Stakes at Gulfstream.

Boys at Toscanova, the winner of the 2010 Hopeful, and second to Uncle Mo in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, worked three-quarters in 1:14 3/5. Mario Madrid will ride.

It broke Larry Jones' heart to sell Trickmeister last summer, but the IEAH boys (see Big Brown) made an offer the owner couldn't refuse, and, following a series of ailments, the colt returns Saturday as the likely favorite under Javier Castellano.

Duke of Mischief, unsighted since the Whitney, may give the Dutrow pair a run for the money. Joe Bravo rides for David Fawkes.

Meantime, Friday's Gulf feature, a one-mile allowance, features a race within a race -- a matchup of stakes-winning Charlies: Uptowncharlybrown vs. Adios Charlie. Maragh and Castellano are the respective riders.

Dutrow also will be action Saturday at Aqueduct with This Ones for Phil heading a field of six in the six-furlong Gravesend Handicap. Jockey Valdivia makes the trip from the left coast for the call.

The dark horse in the race is English shipper Deerslayer with Mike Luzzi up.

Speaking of New York, racing mourns the recent death of Pistol Pete Ferriola at age 69 in Orlando, Fla.

I had the good fortune gave him the name Pistol when he was dominating New York claiming races in the '80s, and also factored in saving his career.

Ferriola was the target of many accusations during his salad days, and although nothing was proven, NYRA one day took his Belmont stalls and booted him to Parr Meadows on the tip of Long Island.

Upon hearing the news, I wrote a piece in the New York Post defending Ferriola, and the next day, NYRA welcomed him back to Belmont.

The game has lost two good men in the Pistol and Bob Holthus.

Thanks for tuning in. Check out the Hot Line and the 12 Racing Days of Christmas, and see you back here next Thursday.

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