MULTIPLIER Takes the Illinois Derby; RECOUNT, MY MERTIE Conquer Illinois-Breds

Spring is the season of rebirth.  On a crisp, sunny April day, a local tradition came back to life: the Illinois Derby (G3) returned after a year's absence, with a well-matched field of three-year-olds seeking to become the next breakout star.

Two other stakes races, both Illinois-bred sprints that were also absent from the 2016 calendar, made their returns today as well.  The Robert S. Molaro Handicap and the Third Chance Handicap both took slightly different form than in previous years -- an extended six and a half furlong distance instead of its previous six.  But, as with so many of the previous renewals, each drew a talented and competitive group of older state-bred sprinters.

Illinois Derby: MULTIPLIER Takes Another Step Forward

On January 21 at Fair Grounds, Guest Suite may have won the Lecomte Stakes, but the buzz all day long hovered over MULTIPLIER.  Making his debut in the finale that day, he ran on well from off the pace but only hit the wire in time to finish third behind HOLLYWOOD HANDSOME.  It took two more tries, but MULTIPLIER finally broke through March 18 at Fair Grounds.  Then, it was straight on to Hawthorne to face stakes company -- and winners -- for the first time.

At 35th and Cicero, MULTIPLIER faced his old foe HOLLYWOOD HANDSOME and five others, including imposing favourite HEDGE FUND.  Coming out of a live Sunland Derby (G3), HEDGE FUND took money throughout the wagering, including a late rush of win wagering that pushed him down to 9/5 favouritism in the field of seven.  MULTIPLIER, clearly the second choice through much of the betting, drifted up to be the third choice at 4.4/1.  Late money had pushed MR. MISUNDERSTOOD down to 3.8/1, the second shortest price.

STAND AND CHEER, one of two entrants for local trainer Scott Becker, took the early initiative.  Left to dictate terms, he carved out a 23.47 opening quarter, and a 47.24 opening half.  As the field settled, HEDGE FUND tracked a clear second, with ST. LOUIE GUY (the other Becker) and Battaglia Memorial Stakes winner IT'S YOUR NICKEL comprising the next flight.  So they remained down the backstretch, with MULTIPLIER in fifth, coaxed along in hand by rider James Graham every step of the way.

Into the far turn, HEDGE FUND descended on STAND AND CHEER, who dug in.  ST. LOUIE GUY attempted a wide run, but could not sustain.  Meanwhile, IT'S YOUR NICKEL and MULTIPLIER on the rail commenced their rallies.  Approaching the three-sixteenth pole, STAND AND CHEER finally gave in, passing the lead to HEDGE FUND.  Graham angled MULTIPLIER off the rail to give that leader chase.

Passing the furlong pole, the top two separated themselves from the pack.  The favourite maintained a distinct advantage, but inside the sixteenth pole, MULTIPLIER found his next gear.  In the last three strides, MULTIPLIER made the front, edging HEDGE FUND by a neck.  It was another four and three quarters lengths back to IT'S YOUR NICKEL, who closed to cross the wire two and a quarter lengths past pacesetter STAND AND CHEER.  HOLLYWOOD HANDSOME, ST. LOUIE GUY, and MR. MISUNDERSTOOD completed the order of finish.

MULTIPLIER (1) drives past HEDGE FUND (2) to win the 2017 Illinois Derby.

MULTIPLIER (1) drives past HEDGE FUND (2) to win the 2017 Illinois Derby.

MULTIPLIER is a three-year-old bay colt by The Factor out of the Trippi mare Trippi Street.  Bred in Kentucky by Mark Stansell, he is owned by American Equistock (Joe Senkovich) and trained by Brendan Walsh.  James Graham got the call to ride for the first time in MULTIPLIER's career.  MULTIPLIER has now won two of his four career starts, and the $150,000 winner's share of the purse brought his career earnings to $187,310.

Trainer Brendan Walsh noted that placing him in the Illinois Derby was a question of both track configuration and the race's place on the calendar.  He noted that MULTIPLIER had liked the lengthy straight at Fair Grounds, so the long stretch at Hawthorne would likely suit.  Furthermore, "when he won his maiden, the timing [of the Illinois Derby] seemed right. It just seemed like a better idea to go there than anywhere else."  Walsh indicated that he has not yet finalized future plans for MULTIPLIER.

Walsh stated that MULTIPLIER "takes his time to get rolling", and jockey James Graham agreed with that assessment.  Though Graham had to push him along a little bit more than most horses throughout the race, "it's good, because when you do call on him, he gives you a burst, and a burst again, and a burst again."

Graham emphasized that MULTIPLIER still has growing up to do.  "He still feels like that," Graham noted, angling his arm sharply toward the ground.  "He still feels like he’s going downhill.  Wait ’til he catches up to himself...I don't know how good he is."

Though HEDGE FUND was beaten, rider Jose Valdivia, Jr. still sees talent and a bright future for the Super Saver colt.  "I felt like he was just waiting.  As soon as that horse [MULTIPLIER] comes up to me…two strides later, he just takes off after him again.  Hypothesized Valdivia, "I kind of wish that horse had gotten to him at the sixteenth pole.  I probably would have been able to fight him off."

MULTIPLIER stopped the clock in a sharp 1:47.98 for nine furlongs on the fast Hawthorne dirt, and paid $10.80 to his backers.  The $1 exacta over HEDGE FUND (1-2) paid $17.00.  A $0.20 trifecta with IT'S YOUR NICKEL below (1-2-3) returned $12.14.  The $0.20 superfecta with STAND AND CHEER to round it out paid $63.20.

Robert S. Molaro Handicap: RECOUNT Returns Home a Winner

RECOUNT as been as consistent an Illinois-bred as any in training over the last few years.  Winner of the Arlington-Washington Futurity (G3) in 2014, RECOUNT has been a fixture in stakes and top-shelf allowance races every year since.  He wintered at Oaklawn this year, and once again held his own.  He placed second behind Storm Advisory in the King Cotton Stakes in February, and though the likes of Whitmore in the Hot Springs Stakes proved a little beyond him, he bounced back with a confident allowance victory there on April 7.  Today was his first start at Hawthorne since winning the 2015 Blackhawk Handicap, and his first race on the Chicago circuit since racing at Arlington last July.

Thanks to his classy, consistent form, RECOUNT was the highweight in the Molaro; the handicapper imposed 125 pounds upon his back.  He also carried the weight of the bettors' expectations.  Favoured throughout the betting, RECOUNT went off the 1.1/1 choice among seven starters.

As usual, LEWYS VAPORIZER rocketed out of the gate.  GONEGHOST, who briefly delayed the start by breaking through the gate, sent with him early, with RECOUNT tracking a few lengths back in third.  GONEGHOST slowly lost ground on the pacesetter as LEWYS VAPORIZER ticked off an opening quarter of 22:21.  Toward the opening half of 44.85, previously undefeated GONEGHOST began to drop away in earnest, and RECOUNT gained on the leader.  INFINITE MISCHIEF, tracking in fourth through the early stages, mounted his run as well.

Just past the quarter pole, RECOUNT drew even with LEWYS VAPORIZER.  He edged clear past the three sixteenths pole, and INFINITE MISCHIEF looked the threat to his outside.  But, RECOUNT gained steam and began to draw away while that foe leveled off.

SCITECH, wide and over a dozen lengths off the pace early, had gradually narrowed the gap.  He regained touch with the main pack in shallow stretch, continued to edge along, and found his best stride passing the sixteenth pole.  By then, RECOUNT was gone.  But, SCITECH got rolling in time to win the battle for second: 3 1/4 lengths behind the winner, but a neck clear of INFINITE MISCHIEF.  Frontrunning LEWYS VAPORIZER was another four lengths back in fourth.  PURGING THE STONE, CAITLINS ROAD, and GONEGHOST completed the order of finish.  URBAN COOL was a trainer's scratch; BRIAR'S GOLD scratched and re-entered an Illinois-bred allowance carded for Thursday.

RECOUNT's class prevails, as he gallops home a comfortable winner of the 2017 Robert S. Molaro Handicap.

RECOUNT's class prevails, as he gallops home a comfortable winner of the 2017 Robert S. Molaro Handicap.

RECOUNT is a five-year-old bay gelding by Limehouse out of the Bold Badgett mare Lucky in Love.  Bred in Illinois by Barney and Anne Gallagher, RECOUNT is owned by Doubledown Stables, Inc. (Richard Templar) and trained by James DiVito, as he has been for his entire career.  In the irons was rider Robby Albarado.  Today's victory in the Molaro brought his career tally to 11 wins in 26 starts, with eight of those victories coming in stakes company.  The $27,960 winner's share of the purse brought RECOUNT's career earnings to $543,907.

Jockey Robby Albarado, who last rode RECOUNT to a third-place finish in a Keeneland allowance last October, carved out a plum trip in the Molaro.  "Today the race set up perfect for him with the two speeds inside," he recounted.  "I didn’t have to maneuver, make any drastic movements with him, and he was perfect."  Albarado praised RECOUNT's class and tactical versatility.  "He’s such a cool horse because — they’re never going to go too slow in a race, he’ll be on the pace.  Too fast, he’ll do what he did today."

Second-place SCITECH, who ran for claiming tags as low at $7,500 last year, has improved through the latter half of his three-year-old year and into this, his four-year-old year.  The Pleasantly Perfect gelding came into the Molaro off of an open $25K/N2X allowance-optional win at Hawthorne on April 6, where he was in under the allowance condition.  Rider Jose Valdivia, Jr. had confidence that SCITECH would run along for at least second.  "For a little bit, when I turned for home, I thought I might have a chance to get it all," he recalled.  "Then, when I saw Recount go on, I thought, well, I’m going to get up for second at least."

RECOUNT clocked in at 1:15.92 for six and a half furlongs over fast dirt, and paid his backers $4.20 to win.  The $1 exacta with SCITECH in second (5-8) returned $12.50.  A trifecta with INFINITE MISCHIEF third (5-8-2) came back $6.48 for each $0.20 base bet.  The $0.20 superfecta with LEWYS VAPORIZER fourth (5-8-2-1) paid $16.72.

Third Chance Handicap: MY MERTIE Breaks Through in Stakes Company

MY MERTIE had been consistent throughout her career, with 11 money finishes in 14 starts before today.  She had three wins to her name, but none had come in her home state.  Instead, they had all come at Tampa Bay Downs through the winter of 2016.  She returned to Tampa this winter, holding her own in stakes company -- including a second-place finish in the 2017 Minaret Stakes, ahead of class horses like Southern Ring, You Bought Her, and No Fault of Mine.  By coming home to Illinois, MY MERTIE got away from frequent foe and Tampa Bay buzzsaw Spanish Concert.  But, returning home would not be easy.  MY MERTIE was the highweight for the Third Chance, her 122 pounds a heavier impost than assigned to anyone else nominated.

Despite MY MERTIE's class, the betting action lavished on GAME TIME DECISION, a Brad Cox trainee who had two wins and a second in three allowance starts at Oaklawn this winter.  Odds-on for much of the wagering, GAME TIME DECISION went off a clearly defined favourite at 1.1/1.  MY MERTIE was comparably dismissed by the bettors -- DANDY GAL went off 3.4/1, and MY MERTIE settled as just the third choice at 4.3/1.

GAME TIME DECISION broke outwardly, bumping squarely into KARLA WITH A K.  Despite a domino effect of KARLA WITH A K then pushing into her, 50/1 shot EXQUISITE LADY still rushed to the front end and led the field through a 22.30 opening quarter and a 45.47 opening half.  It was pressured: she worked to clear, and both BELLA CARMELLA and MY MERTIE prompted her from just behind.  GAME TIME DECISION and GO LADY JAY comprised the next flight, with the rest further back.

Into the far turn, it was BELLA CARMELLA outside who first commenced a run on EXQUISITE LADY -- but it was MY MERTIE who sustained a bid.  Angled off the rail, MY MERTIE split the stalling pair of EXQUISITE LADY and BELLA CARMELLA, struck the front approaching the five sixteenths pole, and dared the tightly-bunched sextet behind her to catch her.

Into the stretch, GO LADY JAY was running best of the rest.  She kept MY MERTIE in her sights, but the leader had enough to maintain her advantage all the way to the wire.  MY MERTIE crossed the wire two and a quarter lengths in front of GO LADY JAY, who held by half a length for place over GAME TIME DECISION's mild outside rally.  KARLA WITH A K, last early, rallied well enough to get fourth, two more lengths behind the show.  DANDY GAL, BELLA CARMELLA, and EXQUISITE LADY completed the order of finish.

MY MERTIE sails home in the 2017 Third Chance Handicap.

MY MERTIE sails home in the 2017 Third Chance Handicap.

MY MERTIE is a five-year-old bay mare by Magna Graduate out of the Doc's Leader mare Kate the Great.  Bred in Illinois by Barr Three LLC, MY MERTIE is a half-sister to another Illinois-bred stakes winner 2013 Illini Princess Handicap winner Kate the Great.  MY MERTIE is owned by Oak Rock Racing LLC, Terry Biondo, Michael Bojarski, and Cherrywood Racing Stables, II, trained by Michele Boyce, and ridden to victory by Edgar Perez.  Today's win was MY MERTIE's fourth in 15 lifetime starts, and the $27,570 winner's portion of the purse brought her career earnings into the six-figure range, to $106,752.

Trainer Michel Boyce praised the rating gear that MY MERTIE showed in the Third Chance.  "We had speed, but I was so glad to be able to see her relax a little bit off of it.  She’s done it before — [Edgar Perez] has ridden her one other time and she ran a magnificent race at Arlington a year ago on her."  In the race to which she referred, MY MERTIE rallied from midpack to finish third beaten a neck in a salty six and a half furlong allowance last August, behind Illinois-bred stakes horses Stormin Elle and Church Road.  Boyce indicated that the Isaac Murphy Handicap, an Illinois-bred stakes race June 10 at Arlington, was a possibility for MY MERTIE, but that no next start had been decided for sure.  "They'll tell us," she declared.

Second-place GO LADY JAY had typically run her best races on the front end.  Jesse Lantz, who has ridden the four-year-old daughter of Run Away and Hide in all sixteen of her career starts, used that knowledge to his advantage.  "I wanted to be in front, but she didn’t.  Sometimes she hops out of the gate, and she hopped a little bit out of the gate today.  But, she can come from off the pace, so I thought, we’re okay.  I just relaxed on her."  Lantz was matter-of-fact about the outcome.  "She ran her race; she just got beat."

MY MERTIE stopped the timer in 1:17.09 for six and a half furlongs over fast dirt, and returned $10.60 to win.  The $1 exacta over GO LADY JAY (2-1) paid $47.90.  A $0.20 trifecta with GAME TIME DECISION third (2-1-3) rewarded backers with $20.84.  The superfecta with KARLA WITH A K fourth (2-1-3-4) paid $45.54 for each $0.20 base bet.

Photographs courtesy of Four Footed Fotos.

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