D. J. Stable and Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse had hoped for a better result from Wonder Wheel in Friday’s Kentucky Oaks (G1), where the champion filly wound up ninth. But her connections gained compensation on the Kentucky Derby Day undercard when Webslinger got up in a frenetic finish in the $500,000 American Turf (G2) at Churchill Downs.
Overlooked at 22.67-1 after settling for minor awards in the March 4 Colonel Liam S. and April 7 Transylvania (G3), Webslinger didn’t have the flashy profile of 2.34-1 favorite Carl Spackler. Nor did he have the resume of 3.60-1 Major Dude, who was rerouted here when it appeared that he wouldn’t have sufficient points to make the Kentucky Derby (G1).
Talk of the Nation was likewise well backed until his last-minute scratch at the gate. Southern California shipper Johannes and the up-and-coming Far Bridge added to the depth of the 1 1/16-mile affair, making it easy to underestimate others with stakes form in the book.
Webslinger also had to negotiate a trip from post 12, but he broke well to secure a sensible position for Hall of Famer Javier Castellano. As Mo Stash dashed to the front through fractions of :23.81, :47.97, and 1:11.52 on the firm turf, Webslinger was poised in striking range.
Mo Stash still led past the eighth-pole. The stalking Carl Spackler was in a good spot and had clear aim, only to fade. By that point, Webslinger and Major Dude began to gain, and the rail-riding Far Bridge arrived in a climactic final sixteenth.
Webslinger on the outside of the quartet, nipped Far Bridge at the wire, with Major Dude a half-length astern in third. Mo Stash weakened in the last yards to finish fourth.
Johannes made eye-catching, if belated, progress in fifth. Next came Behind Enemy Lines, Andthewinneris, Carl Spackler, Mendelssohns March, Anglophile, Scoobie Quando, Otago, and Desert Duke. Funtastic Again and Wadsworth were withdrawn in advance, unlike Talk of the Nation who was a surprising vet scratch just before post time.
Webslinger rewarded his backers with a $47.34 payout while enhancing his record to 8-3-2-1, $723,800. The Constitution colt broke his maiden in the lucrative Nownownow S. at Monmouth prior to a non-threatening 11th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1). He captured a Gulfstream Park allowance in his Feb. 11 reappearance, then couldn’t quite get there in his interim stakes attempts.
“I’m so grateful that Mark (Casse) gave me the opportunity to ride this horse today,” Castellano said. “At Keeneland (in the Transylvania), he learned a lot when he finished third, and he broke so well coming out of the gate today. That allowed me to save ground, which we needed coming out of (post 12). I let the race develop on the first turn, and I really liked the way he did it today, and the way he finished the race.”
“We didn’t get any advantages coming out of the (12) hole,” assistant trainer David Carroll said. “Then he had to make a long, sustained run. He’s a heckuva horse, and this was a heckuva race for him.”
Bred by Ken and the late Sarah Ramsey in Kentucky, Webslinger is a veteran of several public auctions, finally going to D. J. Stable for $50,000 as a two-year-old at OBS June. The bay gelding is out of the Hard Spun mare Ariana, from the family of such turf standouts as Raintrap, Sunshack, Meteor Storm, and Polish Summer.