Live racing this weekend shifts from Arlington Park in the northwest suburbs to Hawthorne Race Course, a stone's throw from the Chicago city limits in Cicero, bounded to the east by Cicero Avenue and to the west by Laramie Avenue.
The opening weekend of the 2013 Fall meet that opens on Friday October 4th and runs until year's end sees two stakes on the grass. Both races headline Hawthorne's first Saturday of the card, set for October 5. The Hawthorne program this Saturday has a special first post of 5:00 pm central, offering a true "twilight racing" program, in comparison to the 3pm at Arlington/3:10pm at Hawthorne Friday first posts.
The featured Grade 3, $200,000 Hawthorne Derby headlines the card. As a prep race, it could be used for a Breeders' Cup race or even the Hollywood Derby on Thanksgiving weekend in Southern California but it typically is a late-season way to run against three-year-olds before tackling elders next year. The undercard features a race carried over from opening weekend, the Indian Maid Stakes with a slightly trimmed purse, set this year to $75,000.
Selections below are "turf only", anticipating a good or firm course. Morning line odds were not available at original publish time. (Update: odds were added on October 3.)
Hawthorne Race Course -- Race 3 -- Indian Maid Stakes -- 1 1/16 miles on turf -- post time 6:03 pm CT
This grass race honors Indian Maid, a locally owned mare who won the (now G2) Falls City at Churchill three times and had a record of sixty-six starts, twenty-two wins, fifteen seconds, and ten thirds.
A large field of three-and-up fillies and mares will take to the grass for seventy-five thousand.
With a good bit of outside drawn one-way speed (HONEY HUES, KATIE THE LADY and GOLDWAY), think that Channing Hill can get a comfy spot at the rail with GRANDMA'S RULES, winner of the Gaily Gaily earlier in the year across town and also a winner last out. Her only race out of the top two this year was early in the Arlington meet, but she ran into a quality G3-placed La Tia that would be 1-1 against this group. She's traveled around gobbling up minor mile-category female turf stakes, and here's another to take down. KEPI is a horse for the course, with five starts on the Cicero weeds and five money finishes. She cashed two checks last year on the Hawthorne grass, including a third in this event last year and a second in the Illini Princess for state-bred types. Beat the fellow aforementioned speedsters last out going a one-turn polytrack mile on the other side of town, but did get to be near a rail that was advantageous all year. Still, she broke wide last year in the Illini Princess and that was not a hinderance. STARRY EYED KATE nosed out GRANDMA'S RULES two back in a$50K stakes at Canterbury on the grass at an approximate 1 1/16 mile distance. Yet, she's a local runner from the Hugh Robertson barn that was fourth against La Tia in May (when GRANDMA's RULES was third) to start her campaign and a winner three back at Arlington. A bad break compromised her last time going a one turn polytrack mile against GOLDWAY, however.
#2 GRANDMA'S RULES (10/1)
#11 KEPI (9/2)
#4 STARRY EYED KATE (15/1)
Longshot: At publish time, advance weather for Hawthorne Derby Day calls for some thunderstorms on Thursday and a dramatic temperature (10-20 degrees) shift on Saturday night after the races. The possibility of a wet course is in play, and #5 MOURETTE (15/1) has run her best races on a wet course, both last fall and this past spring against state-breds. Even better, she's chased quite a few next out winners in her starts. She hasn't won since last August at Arlington, and that could keep the price up, along with hailing from the Chris Block barn that was in a funk across town. Usable at a price, but more so if there's a wet course.
Hawthorne Race Course -- Race 5-- Grade 3 Hawthorne Derby -- 1 1/8 miles on turf -- post time 7:04 pm CT
The Hawthorne Derby used to be run on dirt (up until the mid 1980s) and was first called the Hawthorne Diamond Jubilee. The first Hawthorne Derby winner was Bold Bidder in 1965, who won the Hawthorne Gold Cup the following year. He's as much, if not more, known as the sire of Spectacular Bid. Other winners of note include Sovereign award winner Rainbows for Life (1991) and this year's Washington Park H. winner Willcox Inn (2011).
As mentioned above, sophomores on the sod are in the spotlight for two hundred grand. At publish time, FIVE IRON is cross entered to this race and the G1 Jamaica at Belmont Park. (Update, October 3: he plans to run here and scratch from the G1 Jamaica.)
Once upon a time when handicapping the Secretariat, I looked down upon the G3 American Derby at Arlington as a weak race. I was wrong. The second place finisher won the Secretariat, the first place finisher was second in a division of the Del Mar Derby, and the third place finisher hit the board in a G1 in Canada. The fifth place finisher won a stakes near the Twin Cities.
Now that I've eaten my crow, I'll take the 1-5 finishers as the 1-2 in the Hawthorne Derby. INFINITE MAGIC had to chase around a slow-paced leader in the second division of the G2 Del Mar Derby last time, and he still made a nice closing run at the inside to grab second place. With MONGOLIAN SATURDAY (and cross-entered FIVE IRON) to provide pace, think there will be a target for the Team Valor trainee who won the G3 American Derby two back. The fifth place finisher, DORSETT, gets the nod for second and would be one to use in the top spot if the course turns wet (advance weather, as given above, has Thursday thunderstorms and a Saturday temperature swing). Third-placed-fourth in the G3 Arlington Classic on a good course, he won a first-level allowance on "yielding" Arlington turf against elders after that. It wasn't a strong field of older ones, but a good victory nonetheless. He, like INFINITE MAGIC, was a victim of the paceless Del Mar Derby. Think he can improve for a trainer that has won this race before. However, he did have a dull no-excuses fifth in the American Derby on firm ground. As is standard with a graded stakes on the grass, a "Kitten" horse is in the field that is owned and/or bred by the Ramseys. Presenting CHARMING KITTEN, who was off the board last time in an off-turf event at Saratoga. Cycle back to some minor awards in races like the Virginia Derby, Blue Grass, and Penn Mile. Trained by Todd Pletcher, who has wins in each of Hawthorne's three other graded stakes (Hawthorne Gold Cup, Sixty Sails, Illinois Derby), and usually a live force when he sends a runner to 35th/Laramie. The humans make this one get on the tickets, even if he hasn't won since a minor stakes at Gulfstream in the winter.
#4 INFINITE MAGIC (5/1)
#3 DORSETT (8/1)
#10 CHARMING KITTEN (7/2)
Longshot: Let's take one for the home team in Illinois-bred #6 ULTIMO TRAGO (15/1). Trainer Armando De la Cerda quietly had a strong meet across town at Arlington, and he could build off that as the action moves south. Putting ULTIMO TRAGO on the turf in a first-level state-bred allowance race jumpstarted his form, as he cleared both state-bred conditions and beat open company last time. The water gets deeper in this spot, but he's sharp as a tack on the sod. Using rider Israel Ocampo is a help, as the Ocampo/De la Cerda team gobbled up some victories together in the final days of the Arlington meet.
Whether you're heading to the track or the not, you can take "Picks and Ponderings" with you anytime, anywhere.
You can get Twitter updates (@heylaserbeam) for on-the-scene reports on major racedays at Hawthorne Race Course.
And you can get "Picks and Ponderings" in your e-mail by typing your email address in the box and clicking "Create Subscription." It's a FREE service, and you'll never get any unwanted spam.