Locals Afleet Willy, Something Awesome to tackle CT Classic
Something Awesome ran through the snow to win the Grade 3 General George. Photo by Laurie Asseo.
by Frank Vespe
Two of the best older horses on the grounds at Laurel Park have never crossed paths before. But that’s expected to change Saturday when Afleet Willy and Something Awesome both face the starter in the Grade 2, $1.2 million Charles Town Classic at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races.
For Afleet Willy, a spot in the 1 1/8 mile fixture makes sense as a logical progression. The five-year-old has won four consecutive two-turn stakes, a streak interrupted only by an up-the-track effort in the six-furlong Dave’s Friend over his home track in January. Most recently, he was an easy winner in the $100,000 John B. Campbell at Laurel February 17.
“He’s doing good,” said trainer Claudio Gonzalez. “Last week he breezed really good. He come back good and very happy.”
That breeze – six furlongs in 1:11 3/5 on April 6 – was one of five fast works the Wilburn gelding has recorded since his win in the Campbell. The Campbell was his third start since the beginning of the year, and Gonzalez said the rapid succession of those races prompted him to give his star pupil some time off.
“He had three races back-to-back,” Gonzalez explained. “That’s why I gave him a little time after that. With the good horses, you have to give them a little time because all the time, they try so hard.”
Gonzalez and owners BB Horses – the father-son duo of Bruno and Bobby La Banca – claimed Afleet Willy for $25,000 out of his maiden score in December 2015. He’s now up to nearly $500,000 in career earnings and headed to a million-dollar race for the first time.
“No way – it’s impossible,” the trainer said with a laugh when asked if he could have imagined that claim turning into this horse. “You can dream, but you never know with the horses, you know.”
Gonzalez will leg up regular pilot Jomar Torres on Afleet Willy in the Classic.
Gonzalez’s decision to have Afleet Willy skip what would have been the next logical spot – Laurel’s $100,000, nine-furlong Harrison Johnson Memorial Stakes March 17 – opened the door for Something Awesome, stretching out after a win in the Grade 3 General George at seven furlongs, to record the first two-turn victory of his career.
“I’m going there (to Charles Town) with the same feeling that I went here with the mile-and-an-eighth (in the Harrison Johnson) – can I do it?” said trainer Jose Corrales.
Something Awesome, a late-arriving neck winner of the General George, took the Harrison Johnson impressively by a couple of lengths.
Later, Corrales said that Something Awesome’s connections – he’s owned by Stronach Stables – “asked me what I thought, and I think the horse needs a chance” in a race like the Classic.
Something Awesome’s ascension to the top ranks of area horses has been rather sudden. He toiled for much of his career on the synthetic surface at Woodbine with only modest success. Since coming to Corrales’ Laurel-based barn and switching onto regular dirt, however, he’s been a different animal.
The seven-year-old Awesome Again gelding has won four of five starts for Corrales, the only blemish on his ledger a third-place finish, by less than a length, in the six-furlong Fire Plug Stakes.
“My feeling is the horse fits with these horses (in the Classic),” said Corrales. “Am I dreaming? I don’t know. You don’t know until you compete. Sometimes you underestimate yourself.”
By contrast to Afleet Willy’s string of zippy workouts, Something Awesome’s two works since the Johnson have been moderate, at best: four furlongs in 50 seconds flat on April 7 and a flat mile in 1:43 April 14.
Corrales said that the objective of the final work was to for the horse to keep a steady beat “and finish, just open up the airway.”
He added, “He’s not a horse I want to work five-eighths in 59. I don’t need to do that.”
Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado, who rode Something Awesome in the Harrison Johnson, will have the mount in the Classic.
Both men believe their horses will take to Charles Town’s bullring track with its attendant tight turns. Both horses have sufficient speed to find a decent spot in the early going, which is often the key to success at the Jefferson County oval.
Neither horse will be the favorite – that almost certainly will be Diversify, winner of last year’s Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup – but both, on best, have a shot to make some noise.
“If we break good and we have good position in the first turn, anything can happen after that,” Gonzalez said. “We’re going to be OK.”
“In races anything can happen,” he said. “If something happens and we get a chance to win it, who knows?”