For this year's Illinois Festival of Racing, two changes were made to the traditional Fall festival. First, it was split over three weekends with two stakes per weekend. Our second of three weekends is this weekend at Hawthorne Race Course and features the older routers. The open stakes is the Buck's Boy, whereas the female-restricted complement is the Illini Princess. Both races are handicaps, both races are at one and one-sixteenth miles, and both carry purses of $125,000. The second change was moving the two two-turn stakes to the turf. Both of the Saturday stakes were on dirt last year.
Hawthorne Race Course -- Race 6 -- Buck's Boy Handicap -- 1 1/16 miles on turf -- post time 4:40 pm CT
The race honors Buck's Boy, the only Illinois-bred to ever win a Breeders' Cup race. He won the 1998 Breeders' Cup Turf and that year's eclipse for Older Male Turf Horse. (He also won the 1997 Hawthorne Gold Cup.)
Before proceeding to the picks, we remind our "Picks and Ponderings" readers to look at the calendar. It's late October, and we've settled into Fall in Illinois. It's also known as "Snow or Eighty" weather. Forecasting the weather is a challenge in November, and handicapping horse races gets no easier. With fickle conditions, races can get rained off the grass (or snowed off) at a moment's notice. Or it could be like last year, and we're on turf after Thanksgiving.
As such, selections and analysis are "turf only". Now that the disclaimer is through, let's look at this race.
THE PIZZA MAN was slated to go in the Hawthorne Derby but was stuck on the Also Eligible list and couldn't draw in. Not to worry, he turned in a solid work last Sunday on a quicker-playing Hawthorne dirt to show he hasn't lost any zip. He won closing on the grass during the Hawthorne Spring meet on a course that had "No Passing Zone" signs at the top of the stretch. His only bad race was getting stuck in the rear of a paceless American Derby on Million Preview Day. He's a three-year-old gettting weight, the flammable Geroux/Brueggemann team swept both Illinois-bred stakes last week, and he'll have pace to chase. I wouldn't argue with anyone who used SUNTRACER on top in their picks for this race. He's taking a drop in class, the open company in the Carey Memorial to today's affair against Illinois-breds. He won the Carey, nipping Nikki's Sandcastle on the tape. He's been in form since a third in the G3 Stars & Stripes. Like THE PIZZA MAN, he's a one-run closer but he'll get up-front pace to run out. TAZZ was second to THE PIZZA MAN two back in the Tex's Zing on Pucker Up Day, third to SUNTRACER in the Carey on Gold Cup Day, and gets Homeister back in the irons. He can be a bit consistently inconsistent (such as defeating Workin For Hops in between two stakes duds). But trainer C. Janks usually scores at least one stakes victory in the Illinois-bred stakes festivals each go-around. Like the rider switch back to Homeister.
#7 THE PIZZA MAN (7/2)
#5 SUNTRACER (5/2)
#6 TAZZ (9/2)
Longshot: You can usually bank on Chris Block to win an Illinois-bred stakes of some sort at each festival. While he sends out SUNTRACER, take a look at the "other" Block, #4 MAVERICKING (5/1). Toss his dismal showing in the Arlington Handicap going ten panels, and instead focus on his efforts closer to a mile, where he's five of six in the superfecta. Don't be concerned over the switch to Jeffrey Sanchez, he took a call on a "other" Block horse, and that was Ioya Bigtime (who paid $80+ to win on Preview Day). And it's a 17% win combination to boot. Both SUNTRACER and THE PIZZA MAN are one-run closers, and if you think they don't fire their shot and/or the wagering gets heavy on them, this one is a worth a look.
Hawthorne Race Course -- Race 8 --Illini Princess Handicap -- 1 1/16 miles on turf -- post time 5:40 pm CT
Again, selections are "turf only".
KEPI was a so-so third in the Indian Maid on the Gold Cup Undercard back on opening weekend. Losing to a quality G3 horse in Romacaca is no shame against these types, and she won the Lady Lionel against these familiar foes two back at Arlington. She's the only horse in the field with multiple wins over the Hawthorne turf course, and I like that angle given how few turf races there are at Hawthorne compared to Arlington. It's the final career start for the lime-clad Two Bucks To Show syndicate and their mare, CUMULONIMBLE. She's set to head off to the Keeneland January Mixed Sale as a broodmare prospect after the sale, so the connections may trainer W. Catalano may have this one cranked for the farewell effort. Four wins in six tries at the distance, and she got a stakes win against most of these types in the Lincoln Heritage across town at Arlington. Don't like that she didn't make any headway in the stretch call last time. PEYOTE PATTY turned the tables on CUMULONIMBLE in the female-restricted division of the Illinois Owners' Stakes in August, then threw in a clunker last time in the Lady Lionel on Pucker Up Day. With regular rider Tim Thornton sidelined with a broken collarbone, there's a rider switch to Jeffrey Sanchez. As said in the last race, that's not a bad switch at all. PEYOTE PATTY is the defending champ in this race, but that was on dirt last October.
#10 KEPI (6/1)
#2 CUMULONIMBLE (7/2)
#4 PEYOTE PATTY (5/1)
Longshot: Captain Obvious above went 1-2-3 with each of the winners of the three turf stakes for older Illinois-based (although the Owners' Stakes is open to those not bred in Illinois, but those with Illinois-based majority ownership) turf females. One axiom of handicapping is to take the new face in a group of evenly-matched familiar old friends, and #5 OUR LADY IN RED (10/1) fits the bill. Third in the Murphy for sprinters two back, she chased Third Chance (who is undefeated on the year) and Algonquin Posse, who was second in last week's Powerless. She cleared the N3X condition three back on grass at Arlington, and wasn't that far behind PEYOTE PATTY last time in another upper-crust allowance across town. The Felix/Scherer jockey trainer team shows a positive ROI both here and at all tracks.