Between exactas at Canterbury, the resurgence of stakes action at Fairmount Park, and individual horses turning heads, the last few days have been eventful ones in Illinois racing. Let Picks and Ponderings make sure you're on top of all the action, with a romp through the latest news on the Illinois-bred Thoroughbred scene.
Illinois-bred exactas at Canterbury
Saturday night was the Northern Stars Racing Festival at Canterbury. Among the five stakes races on the card were two $50,000 dirt sprints. In both, Illinois-breds dominated. Two horses bred in the Land of Lincoln entered the open Dark Star Cup; two entered the Hoist Her Flag Stakes. In both, the pair of Illinois-breds formed the exacta.
The sixth race of the evening was the six-and-a-half-furlong Dark Star Cup for horses aged three and above. Six horses answered the call to post. One of the Illinois-breds was Devileye, a four-year-old gelding by Indygo Shiner out of the Petionville mare Deville. Devileye, trained by Michele Boyce and owned by his breeders S. D. Brilie LLP, was a three-time stakes winner going into the Dark Star. He was, at 2.2/1, the joint second-favourite in the race. The other Illinois-bred in the Dark Star Cup was a blast from the past: Creative Art, a Shore Breeze gelding out of Creative Miss, a multiple stakes-winning Michigan-bred by Creative. He was bred by John Haran, and he won the 2015 Robert S. Molaro at Hawthorne for trainer Scott Becker and owner William Stiritz. Creative Art's form went a bit south in 2016 and 2017. Now eight, trained by Shawn Davis and owned by his trainer and Frank Bemis, the gelding held good form at Turf Paradise through the winter, and won a pair of races to kick off the Canterbury meet.
Devileye ran his race: he settled at the rear, saved ground into the lane, and found a place to make his trademark late run. Things were a bit more eventful for Creative Art: he was fractious in the gate, blew the break, forged forward to join the vanguard just outside frontrunning favourite Wings Locked Up, and then dispatched the chalk as he turned into the stretch.
Devileye came off the rail for a run. Creative Art drifted out; Devileye shifted out for more room. Wash, rinse, repeat for the length of the stretch. Devileye never appeared to take up, but he kept having to find another path out of Creative Art's way. Carlos Marquez, who rode Devileye, lodged an objection -- at which point an Illinois-bred exacta was assured, but its direction was not. The stewards ruled Creative Art was clear, and made no change. It was Creative Art's third win of the year -- his second career stakes score, and his sixteenth victory in 70 career outings. And, Devileye? Few horses are as dependable as he. He lost nothing in a tough defeat, and still has a shining record of seven wins and three seconds in ten career starts.
The very next race was the Hoist Her Flag Stakes, a six-furlong sprint for fillies and mares aged three-and-up. Puntsville, who came to defend her crown in the race, is a six-year-old Cashel Castle half-sister to Devileye; she is trained, owned, and bred by the same connections as Devileye. Most recently, she took the 2018 Isaac Murphy Handicap at Arlington gate to wire, well clear of Go Lady Jay. This race was her rematch with Shar Ran, who ran her down in the Powerless Handicap at Hawthorne last November. By Munnings out of the Silver Deputy mare Mean Imogene. A homebred for Suzanne Stables, Shar Ran is conditioned by Bernell Rhone.
Unlike in the Powerless -- and much like in the Hoist Her Flag last year -- Puntsville got a comfortable lead. Shar Ran did the dirty work of trying to prompt Puntsville along, but into the lane, the dependable grey mare slipped away. Puntsville held safe to the wire, a length clear of Shar Ran -- who dug in, finding everything she had to hold by a nose over Thoughtless for place.
Stakes are back at Fairmount
Fairmount Park last ran a stakes race on September 10, 2013. Most of the horses who raced that day have since moved on from the racetrack. 2013 Tex's Zing Stakes winner Work All Week is now a track pony at Arlington, having won a Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) crown and an Eclipse Award in the interim. River Bear ran third behind Work All Week, and he is now living the easy life, mugging for funny Facebook pictures. Seans Silverdancer, off the board in the 2013 Bungalow Stakes, now has a two-year-old by Spotsgone named Gone Dancing. Sasy Ms Elizabeth, who left seven other juvenile fillies far adrift in the All Sold Out Stakes, was bred to Sky Mesa last year and sold to Korean interests in November.
A few horses in training may remember stakes races at Fairmount Park.
Luv Bandit, now nine years old and running again at Lone Star Park in a few days, won the 2013 Pete Condellone Memorial Stakes that day. Rosie My Rosie, third behind Our Domain in the Bungalow, won at Santa Anita earlier this year. She's now eight. Four Left Feet didn't run in the Tex's Zing that day -- he scratched -- but he's ten years old and going strong. He has two wins in three starts this year, and is entered this Tuesday in an allowance-optional at Fairmount.
Even the juveniles who raced that day in the juvenile dirt sprint stakes are now old pros. Solar Flair broke his maiden in the 2013 Troy Our Boy Stakes that day at Fairmount; now seven, he does his best work going long on the grass. Bad Boy Peter, second behind him in that juvenile dirt sprint, has gone the opposite way; he's a two-furlong dirt sprint specialist at Mountaineer, and he has spent the last few years knocking heads with Appealing Yankee, Bebopaleon, and the inimitable Huntress Helena.
Church Road, most recently fourth behind Puntsville in the Isaac Murphy Handicap, ran third behind Sasy Ms Elizabeth in the 2013 All Sold Out Stakes that day at Fairmount. Dreamofjean E. ran last in that field of eight, though finally found her stakes glory in the Mike Spellman Memorial Handicap two weeks ago.
Soon, not only old-timers will remember stakes races at Fairmount Park.
Tuesday's card features the first stakes races that Collinsville has seen in in five seasons. The track will host a pair of $50,000 stakes races, six furlongs on the dirt, for three-year-old Illinois-breds. The races fill a void in the Illinois stakes calendar: a opportunity for true sprinters, particularly those who favour dirt over polytrack.
The Southern Illinois Sophomore Stakes drew six three-year-old males. Larry Rivelli trainee Pass the Gravy, twice a stakes winner at Hawthorne last fall, will try to bounce back from a fourth-place run behind Chief Oakie Dokie in the Springfield Stakes. Trainer Scott Becker sends out three, including Ghaaleb's Winner, who finished a longshot third in last year's Arlington-Washington Futurity. Halo Hunter, for trainer Eddie Essenpreis, may also prove tough -- he has figured it out in a big way this summer at Fairmount, winning three straight, including a last-out victory over classy Illinois stalwart, eight-year-old Shanghai Red.
The Peach Queen Stakes, a six-furlong sprint for juvenile fillies, drew seven: including two from the Larry Rivelli barn and three from the Scott Becker barn. Jean Elizabeth and Richie'slilwildcat both try to recapture their winning form -- or, at least one of them, as Rivelli has often entered both and scratched one. Three from the barn of Scott Becker line up as well, including Ghaaleb's Appeal, a ten-length maiden winner at Fairmount on June 2. Essenpreis also has a flashy maiden winner heading into the Peach Queen; Lil Bit Tipsey won by seven and three quarters lengths at Fairmount on May 29, living up to her 1/5 favouritism.
Go Lady Jay sharp at five
Go Lady Jay might be the best Illinois-bred no one's talking about. By Run Away and Hide out of the Include mare Military Mama, the five-year-old mare won the Purple Violet Stakes at Arlington two years ago against state-bred sophomore fillies for trainer Bradlee Rainwater and owners Bradlee and Mary Elizabeth Rainwater. At age four she did finish second behind My Mertie in the Third Chance Stakes at Hawthorne, but after a pair of disappointing races at Arlington in May and June she was put away for the year.
Go Lady Jay returned at Hawthorne on April 12, and was risked for $25,000 in an allowance-optional claiming sprint. Go Lady Jay put away odds-on favourite Emily's Entourage and gamely held an in-form Lu Sea at bay. Her next two starts were second-place finishes in stakes company. Later in April she missed by a neck to a game Dandy Gal in the Third Chance Handicap. June 2, in the Isaac Murphy Handicap, she ran into a buzzsaw; Puntsville ran away with it, but Go Lady Jay chased on for second, two and a quarter lengths back.
On June 22, it was Go Lady Jay's turn to come out from the shadows and be the runaway victress. She returned in a six-and-a-half-furlong N2X/$40K optional claimer on the polytrack -- in which she raced under the condition, and not for the claiming tag. She battled with My Darling Sofia early, but from the three eighths, it became clear who was boss. Go Lady Jay inched forward, opened up into the lane, and beat late-running Hidenseek Sally by six and a half easy lengths as Jose Valdivia rode her out in hand.
Flashy Auction Purchase Returns
Though he's not the most expensive Illinois-bred ever sold at auction -- that honour goes to Sassy Pants, after she produced Grade 1 winner Dubai Escapade -- Formula One (Smart Strike - Glamorista, by Unbridled's Song) turned heads when he sold for $1.7 million to Lane's End Bloodstock at the OBS March sale two years ago. He raced twice for trainer Shug McGaughey at age two, missing the board both times. Unraced at three, he made his four-year-old debut in Saturday's Churchill Downs 7th, a six-and-a-half-furlong dirt sprint against maiden special weight foes. He finished fifth, seven lengths adrift of winner Travelling Midas. It's too early to give up on Formula One's four-year-old season; trainer Shug McGaughey tends to need a race or two before his charges get into peak form, and the colt's breeding suggests he needs longer than six and a half furlongs. But, on the other hand? Breeder Brinker Hill Farm must be feeling good. They got $1.7 million for a colt who is still an unknown quantity. And, his three-year-old Arch half-sister Hayworth, already a winner, races in their own colours. She won a maiden special weight on the Illinois Derby undercard, and came home third behind Strollin the Bayou in the Purple Violet Stakes at Arlington on June 16.
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