(PHOTO - HAD TO BE FANDANGO as photographed by Laurie Overton)
The horse that changed my life
When a jockey becomes one of the leading riders at a racetrack, there is no doubt that many special horses helped build their career. For Chelsey Willick, one of Ajax Downs’ top jocks, the list of important equine friends is a long one.
“I have been fortunate to ride many good horses and it is hard to narrow it down to one,” said Willick. “Each horse has taken me to different points in my career, taken me through different stepping stones.”
There was Zip Code, a rapid 2-year-old who cleaned up at Ajax, Jumpin Guitar who took Willick on her first road trip and Eye Zoom, who had all his races with Willick aboard and now is retired on her family’s farm in Fort Erie.
As Willick reflected on the start of her riding career six years ago, however, she talks about one horse who began her rise to the top of the charts.
“Had to Be Fandango,” said the Fort Erie, ON-born Willick. “It had to be her.”
Owned by Carol and Bryn Robertson, Had to Be Fandango was a foal of 2008 who grew into her large frame to become one of the top runners at Ajax Downs in 2011 and 2012.
Willick began riding the filly for the Robertsons in the spring of 2011, guiding the daughter of Hadtobenuts to a second-place finish in a trial race for the Maple Leaf Derby.
Three weeks later the pair stunned the fans with a powerhouse score in the $60,000 Maple Leaf Derby final as the longest shot on the board at 15 to 1.
“She is the horse that got me noticed,” said Willick. “I won my first stakes race on her and rode her for two more seasons.”
Willick, who took 2015 off from riding but plans to return to the Ajax jockeys room this year, said Had to Be Fandango helped her confidence as a young rider.
“She was all heart. It was if she said ‘If you hang on, I’ll get you there’. “
Had to Be Fandango retired to the breeding shed in 2013 with seven wins from 24 starts and earnings over $150,000.
“She was a huge, beautiful mare,” said Willick. “She was a horse that that everyone should be able to ride at one point in their life.”
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