All American: Ultimate Strides

Eddie sends out The Ultimate Eagle and Exquisite Stride at the All American.

Q-Racing Journal

Eddie Willis and girlfriend Alona James. PHOTO: Richard Chamberlain

Eddie Willis, an all-time top-10 leading trainer who has conditioned the earners of more than $24 million, has the chance to considerably enhance his record this Labor Day weekend. Willis will send out Exquisite Stride in the All American Futurity (G1) and The Ultimate Eagle in All American Derby (G1).

The two horses could hardly be more different.

The Ultimate Eagle is not the best horse, not the fastest horse, but he’s a hard-knocking horse,” Willis says. “He’s not a very good-doin’ horse. I can’t get him to where I’d like him to be fitness-wise, but it doesn’t seem to bother him much. He runs pretty good.

“He’s a picky eater,” he adds. “He doesn’t clean up his bucket. You just have to kind of play him along and let him eat what he’ll eat."

A bay gelding by One Famous Eagle, The Ultimate Eagle is bred by Christine Hudson, the wife of Track Magazine publisher and editor Ben Hudson. He is owned by Ed Melzer of Edmond, Oklahoma.

The All American Derby is the fifth stakes for which The Ultimate Eagle has qualified. The gelding won his first two starts as a 2-year-old and then finished back in his third, when he lunged at the start of Big Biz Perry’s Heritage Place Futurity (G1). After finishing second in his trial for the Rainbow Futurity (G1) and third in his trial for the All American Futurity, he shipped to Will Rogers Downs, where he won his trial to the $95,000 Black Gold 350 Futurity (R) but was scratched from the final. He ended his freshman season at the Oklahoma track, where he qualified for the $384,750 Black Gold Futurity Championship (RG3) but again scratched from the final.

The Ultimate Eagle opened his 3-year-old campaign with half-length win in the May 11 trials to the $257,050 Heritage Place Derby (G2) and then finished eighth in the May 31 final. He next was fifth in the July 5 trials to the Rainbow Derby (G1) and then qualified to the All American with a second-place finish to champion Kates Dynasty in the trials. He comes into the Derby final with a record of 11-4-3-1 and $67,669.

“We didn’t do much with him coming into the trials,” Willis says. “After the trials, I took him to the track one time, with a pony, stood him in the gate, loped him halfway around. And brought him back – he really likes that part.

“He’s the type of horse that can’t take a lot of training because you’ve got to keep the weight on him,” he says. “But he doesn’t require a lot of training because he can run the distance, and he’s a real sound horse. There’s never been much wrong with him. If he can get a good run going on Sunday, he’ll be hard to outrun.”

Then there is the Willis stable’s 2-year-old Exquisite Stride.

“This horse is perfect, actually,” Willis says. “He’s quiet in the barn, he eats good, he’s never missed a bite of feed. He’s kind of laidback, he never gets aggressive till he gets to the racetrack. I like him because he’s really calm and never wastes his energy.”

Bred by John Andreini of San Mateo, California, Exquisite Stride is a bay colt by Carters Cartel. He was purchased for $20,000 at the Ruidoso Select Yearling Sale by David and Sherry Dunn’s D & S Racing LLC of Richton, Mississippi.

The least-experienced qualifier in the Futurity, Exquisite Stride came into the trials off his one start, when he broke his maiden on first asking in the July 4 trials to the Rainbow Futurity (G1). In the All American Futurity trials, Exquisite Stride raced to the fastest qualifying time of :21.313 and comes into the final with a record of 2-2-0-0 and $5,400.

“In his Rainbow Futurity trial, he didn’t break and had to go around horses,” said jockey Jimmy Dean Brooks. Exquisite Stride won that trial by a nose but did not qualify for the Rainbow final. The colt also did not have the best of starts in his All American trial, where he was bumped and forced out at the start.

“After the Rainbow, I breezed him just a little bit, just about a 100 yards, and that’s all I did with him,” Willis says. “Since the All American trials, I’ve galloped him one time and stood him in the gate. He’s real fit right now, so he’ll run a really nice race. He does need to step away a little better, he does need a better start. I think he’s the fastest horse there but he’s got to get away and not have any trouble. He can’t keep breaking slow and circling horses. You can’t win big races doing that, but that’s been his deal. If he steps away good and gets rolling, he’ll be hard to outrun.

“He’s a big colt and he can really run a quarter of a mile,” Willis says. “I think he’s probably the best shot I’ve ever had in this race. He’s lightly raced – two outs, and he’s really a nice horse.”

And just at the right time, even The Ultimate Eagle is taking flight.

“He looks good right now, actually better than he’s ever been,” Willis says. “I think he’ll run real good, kinda the sleeper of the Derby bunch, in my opinion.

“I feel real good about it all. My horses are real good right now and I wouldn’t change anything about them .”

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