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Free Willy

By Noah Joseph

In the history of Canterbury Park, few trainers have come close to the success of Mac Robertson. In his time here in Shakopee, Mac, a Canterbury Hall of Fame member, has won over 90 stakes races, leads all trainers in track history in earnings and win percentage, and has been the leading or co-leading trainer of the meet 12 times. He’s also trained some of Canterbury’s most famous horses like Heliskier, Coconino Slim, Bella Notte, Sir Tricky, and many more. Even with all his local success, Mac has also made noise at the national level with his horses. Amy’s Challenge comes to mind as the Canterbury super filly with her local victories against the boys and placings at the national level in Grade 1 company, yet there is a horse that came before Amy’s Challenge that put Mac on the map. That horse was Win Willy.

Win Willy was a gray son of Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos, who was owned by the Jer-Mar Stable of Jerry and Marlene Myers. They purchased him for $25,000 at the Keeneland September Sale in 2007. Win Willy made his debut at Canterbury in August of 2008 and won by 4 ½ lengths as the favorite. Mac had a real runner, and 2009 proved it. Win Willy won the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas and was fourth in the Arkansas Derby. Win Willy was one of the early favorites for the Kentucky Derby, but didn’t run due to a minor physical problem discovered the week of the Derby. Nevertheless, Mac got Win Willy back on track, as he won or placed in several other stakes during his 3 and 4 year-old campaigns. One of those races was a fourth place in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs in 2010.

The following year, Win Willy added to his Oaklawn glory by winning the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap. However, Win Willy wasn’t the same horse after that, as he failed to win another graded stakes. He did win three small stakes during that time, and he closed out his career where it started at Canterbury. He finished 6th in the 2014 Brooks Fields Stakes in his last race. In total, Win Willy won 11 races from 37 starts, seven stakes including two graded stakes, and earned more than $1 million. Win Willy is standing at stud in Mexico, where he’s produced a few Grade 1 runners. While Amy’s Challenge may be Mac’s queen of Canterbury, it is Win Willy who was the king.