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Willa B Awesome Runs to Name in Santa Anita Oaks

Willa B Awesome

Willa B Awesome turned the tables on Reneesgotzip and Eden’s Moon in Saturday’s $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks (G1), winning the prestigious race with a well-timed ride from Martin Pedroza.

With Pedroza perfectly timing his chestnut filly’s closing bid, Willa B Awesome was victorious by a nose just after it had seemed that Garrett Gomez and Reneesgotzip had done enough to prevail.

Eden’s Moon and Reneesgotzip dueled early through fractions that included a half mile in :46.81 and six furlongs in 1:09.95. Quick splits helped turned the war in favor of Willa B Awesome, who sat just behind the dueling leaders before getting home in 1:42.47. Reneesgotzip finished second, 1 ½ lengths ahead of Eden’s Moon in the field of five.

Unable to match strides with Eden’s Moon, a 3 ¼ length winner over Reneesgotzip in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes at one mile earlier this month, Willa B Awesome was dismissed at odds of 13-1 in the Oaks.

This time around, though, Pedroza kept Willa B Awesome just a bit further back this time.

“I was able to stay wide into the first turn and drop behind those two leading fillies,” said Pedroza. “Inside the three-and-a-half, I swung my horse to the outside and made my move. When I asked her to go, I knew I already had put away the Baffert filly (Eden’s Moon), but I wasn’t sure if I could catch the leader.

“The other filly (Reneesgotzip) looked like she was slowing down, and my filly was gradually getting to her,” he added. “I waited until the last minute to change my stick, hoping that she would give a little more at the end. I think that was the key to winning.”

“This is our first Grade I win and it’s a special day for the family,” said 30-year-old assistant trainer Alex Solis, who represented his father Walther Solis in the winner’s circle. “My father is in Guatemala today for my sister Maria’s wedding”.

Terry Lovingier, the breeder of Willa B Awesome, didn’t seem sure of the outcome either. “I still think she got beat,” he said in the winner’s circle following the dramatic finish. “I owned quarter horses in the 1980s with Scoop Vessels and I’ve owned Thoroughbreds since the late nineties. This by far outweighs anything that has happened to me in horse racing.”

The win proved quite a thrill for co-owner Phil Daniels as well.

“I’ve been part of the racing game for 60 years and an owner for 11 years, but this is my first Grade I win,” said Phil Daniels who owns Willa B Awesome in a partnership that includes Lovingier. “It’s a major, major day for me. I’m very passionate about the game, and Santa Anita is my home.

“These horses bring their game every day,” he added. “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 (Breeders’ Cup).”

Willa B Awesome/Benoit photo