Gary and Mary West’s homebred West Will Power tracked the pace to the top of the stretch in Saturday’s $1 million Stephen Foster (G1) at Ellis Park, surging to a clear lead while straightening for home, and repelled the late bid of Rattle N Roll to prevail by a half-length. Along with notching his first Grade 1 triumph, West Will Power earned an expenses-paid berth to November’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Santa Anita in the “Win & You’re In” event.
Flavien Prat was up on the six-year-old for Brad Cox, and the bay son of Bernardini completed the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:47.93.
A convincing winner of the New Orleans Classic (G2) two back, West Will Power rebounded from a third as the odds-on favorite in the Alysheba (G2) at Churchill Downs on May 5. The three-time stakes winner left the starting gate as the 2.07-1 choice in an eight-horse field.
“He was cruising all the way around there,” Prat said. “He just carried me home to the wire down the stretch. I was really impressed by the way he won this winter at Fair Grounds in the New Orleans Classic. It was a different setup last time out in the Alysheba. He came back here to Ellis and the race shape was much more to his style.”
The Foster, the centerpiece of the Churchill Downs spring meet after Kentucky Derby week, was upgraded to Grade 1 status this year. It became the first Grade 1 race to be held at Ellis after the spring meet was transferred in mid-June.
“I think he can handle a mile-and-a-quarter in the Breeders’ Cup Classic,” Cox said. “I was much more confident with him getting a target to track off in this race. We’ll see how the figures come back, but I’m very proud of the way this horse has developed. It’s a credit to the Wests and this horse to have the patience to improve with age. It’s taken him awhile to get to this level. It’s really cool to go down in the history books by winning the first Grade 1 in the history of Ellis Park.”
West Will Power showed speed from post 6, but Speed Bias made the front from the inside, establishing opening splits in :23.74, :46.97, and 1:10.83. The lead narrowed on the far turn, as West Will Power reached nearly even terms, and when Prat gave his mount the cue, West Will Power easily took over, leading by nearly three lengths with an eighth of a mile remaining.
Rattle N Roll, off at 6.90-1 following consecutive wins in the Ben Ali (G3), Pimlico Special (G3) and Blame (G3), began to gain serious momentum while rallying six-wide into the stretch, and the late runner made it interesting before running out of ground at the wire. It was another 1 1/2 lengths to Happy American, who closed from last to claim third at 48-1. Last Samurai completed the superfecta.
Smile Happy forced a pre-race delay after refusing to approach the starting gate, ultimately being guided in a slow manner by multiple outriders, and he came up empty turning for home as the 3-1 second choice, weaking to fifth. Stilleto Boy, Speed Bias, and Proxy, who never fired after being checked on the first turn, completed the order of finish.
Bred in Kentucky, West Will Power is the first stakes winner from the Grade 3 heroine Wild Promises, a seven-time stakes queen and daughter of Wild Event. She’s a half-sister to three-time graded winner Icy Atlantic.
West Will Power has now earned $1,745,390 from a 17-7-7-1 record. After registering his first stakes win in the Fayette (G2) last fall, the top older horse finished second in the Clark (G1) at Churchill Downs in his 2022 finale, one of five stakes placings.
The $1 million Whitney (G1) at Saratoga on August 5 is a possible target for West Will Power.