Wonder Wheel Rolls to Victory in BC Juvenile Fillies
By Tim Wilkin
All summer long, at Saratoga Race Course, Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse talked about a young filly named Wonder Wheel whenever he could. If you listened to Casse’s Wonder Wheel spiel long enough as summer slowly turned to fall, you would swear this 2-year-old baby was about to become the second coming of Ruffian.
On a glorious Nov. 4 afternoon that felt more like the first Friday of July than the first one in November, Casse could breathe easy.
Ridden by Tyler Gaffalione—who won his first Breeders’ Cup race in his 35th career start—Wonder Wheel came from behind to win by three lengths.
She has now won four of five career starts.
“Absolutely,” Casse said when asked if he put himself out on a limb after those summer sermons. “I kind of put a little pressure on myself. There were a few times when I said, ‘now why did I do that?’ You know me. I’ll tell you the way I feel. And that’s the way I felt. I wasn’t holding anything back.”
Casse was compelled to sing the Wonder Wheel song as soon as the young horse came into his barn. The way she trained, the way she carried herself, the way she stood in her stall was just something special.
In the 1 1/16-mile Juvenile Fillies, Wonder Wheel had to show Casse a new dimension to her repertoire. She had won the Darley Alcibiades Stakes (G1) at Keeneland Oct. 7 going gate-to-wire.
On Friday, Wonder Wheel and Gaffalione did not secure a good early position and found themselves 11th in the 13-horse field for much of the race. But, when the real running had to start, Wonder Wheel found her gear approaching the far turn.
“When this filly broke and everyone else kind of went in front of her, I was very concerned,” said Jon Green, who operates D. J. Stable, the winning owner, with his father Leonard.
Not to worry. Casse shared a bit of the same concern, but he knew how good this filly was, and he stayed somewhat confident. And then the horse and the rider got the job done.
Wonder Wheel rallied along the rail around the far turn and took off in the stretch.
“Coming into the stretch, approaching the quarter pole, I was really close to (the rail),” Gaffalione said. “I was really close to it, but she didn’t mind it at all. She is full of heart and is such a tremendous filly.”
Gaffalione tipped his filly to the outside with an eighth of a mile to go and Wonder Wheel cruised home, three lengths in front of 25-1 Leave No Trace and Jose Lezcano, who had been close up through the entire running.
Raging Sea and Flavien Prat were third, beaten a length by Leave No Trace.
The early fractions of 22.90, 47.22, and 1:12.80 were carved out by 21-1 shot Grand Love , who faded to finish sixth. The final time was 1:44.90 over the fast track. Wonder Wheel paid a healthy $15.
This was the second Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies race that D. J. Stable has been a part of. In 2018, they won with Jaywalk while in partnership with Cash Is King.
Casse, before he would leave the post-race press conference, had to tell one more last story about Wonder Wheel.
At the end of the Saratoga meet, the filly was scheduled to run in the Spinaway Stakes (G1) but Gaffalione, who had been on board for Wonder Wheel’s first two starts, had to bail as he was committed to ride at Kentucky Downs Sept. 4.
Casse called on Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez to ride, but then Gaffalione called to say the Sept. 4 card at Kentucky Downs was called off the day before because of existing and impending weather.
He said he would come back and ride the filly for free. Casse said ok, but Gaffalione had to clear it with Velazquez.
“That shows you how much he loved her and how classy Johnny Velazquez is,” Casse said.
Wonder Wheel, with Gaffalione on board, finished second in the Spinaway behind Leave No Trace. And, yes, he rode her for free.
“Didn’t work out very well,” Brad Cox, trainer of Chop Chop, said. “The winner was ultra impressive. We just didn’t have much horse.”
“Chocolate Gelato came up empty the last quarter mile,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “Our other filly (Atomically , eighth), put in a good run, but flattened out just inside the eighth pole. Our trips were fine. We had no excuses.”
Wonder Wheel, who likely wrapped up the Eclipse Award for 2-Year-Old Filly, was bred by Three Chimneys Farm and Clearsky Farms and was a $275,000 purchase at the Keeneland September sale.