2018 Buck's Boy Handicap and Illini Princess Handicap Preview

The stakes portion of the Hawthorne meet begins this Saturday, as Hawthorne hopes to get the pair of Illinois-bred turf stakes in before the weather turns too cold (or, too flighty) to keep them on the grass.  It looks like Mother Nature is going to cooperate, and both of the Illinois-bred turf stakes drew deep, classy fields.

Selections are made for turf only.  Morning lines were not available at original publish time.

Race 5: Illini Princess Handicap, three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, Illinois registered, one and one sixteenth miles on the turf, post time 5:02pm CDT

Though Illini Princess would be a perfectly cromulent name for an Illinois-bred racemare, there is none on record, making this race ripe to be renamed for a top-level Illinois-bred turf mare when the time comes.  (We have an idea.)  The Buck's Boy may have been an early stakes success for one recent Illinois-bred Grade 1 winner, but the Illini Princess was the site of a surprising defeat for another.  Speedy mare La Tia, winner of the 2014 Matriarch (G1), never got the front end she loved so much in the 2013 Illini Princess.  Instead, the one who found the early lead -- and the early lead -- was Katie the Lady, herself a half-sister to stakes winner My Mertie and to the horse who finished second in last year's Hawthorne Derby, Blue Sky Kowboy.

No matter what, LOVELY LOYREE would be a tough contender in this race. The consistent mare has been a contender in Illinois-bred stakes as well as open stakes, and she has shown her best going a mile and a sixteenth. But, in a race in which no one else is likely to send to the front? This classy racemare holds the cards in a game of catch-me-if-you-can, and she looks difficult to catch. Even if someone were to throw a wrench in the most likely on-paper pace scenario and outjump LOVELY LOYREE to the front -- perhaps COWGIRL CALLIE? -- LOVELY LOYREE can hound a leader and outgame them, like she did when she wore down Hachi in the Indana General Assembly Distaff this summer. That gives her a backup just in case the most likely scenario does not unfold, and only makes her tougher.

The "pulled up, vanned off" line from Kentucky Downs may give a few people pause about PRADO'S SWEET RIDE, but she has every reason to be fit and ready for this. Trainer Chris Block is not one to rush his horses back into action if they need time -- he'll give his horses all the time in the world if they need it. (Perhaps the most prominent case in point is Block's Buck's Boy entrant Cammack, who has a year and a half layoff line in his career, and returned to be a monster after that break.) Classwise, PRADO'S SWEET RIDE is a perfect fit for this field, a consistent presence in both state-bred and open stakes over the years. And, she can sit close enough to the pace to have a better chance than most of her foes to run down LOVELY LOYREE. As long as PRADO'S SWEET RIDE takes to the Hawthorne course -- this is her first time over the grass there, after last year's Illini Princess got washed to the slop -- she looks like the top selection's biggest threat.

STREAMLINE disappointed in the Locust Grove (G3) last-up, but can be better here. In the Locust Grove she bonked heads with eventual winner (and next-out Grade 1 winner) Blue Prize on the front end, then faded late. Her better running style has her a bit off the pace -- like she did when she won two starts ago, on grass, with Edgar Perez in the irons. She returns to grass and reunites with Perez for this. The setup looks a bit different than that top-shelf allowance she won -- after all, LOVELY LOYREE wasn't on the lead that day, but this time it would be a shock not to see that foe on the front. Still, a return to her best style and form will make her a threat down the lane.

Selections:

#5 LOVELY LOYREE

#1 PRADO'S SWEET RIDE

#8 STREAMLINE

Longshot:  #3 GODDESS OF KIP ran a surprisingly disappointing race on October 18, but should get better ground for this race than she did that day.  She also gets a rider change to Carlos Marquez, who may just set her a little closer to the pace than Sophie Doyle did.  The pace for this race looks about the same as GODDESS OF KIP's last -- Embarrassing wired that allowance, as LOVELY LOYREE looms large to wire the Illini Princess. But, GODDESS OF KIP showed form over the summer from closer to the pace, and if she can run that kind of race this time, her affinity for the Hawthorne grass could kick in and nab her a share.

Race 7: Buck's Boy Handicap, three-year-olds and up, Illinois registered, one and one sixteenth miles on the turf, post time 5:58pm CDT

It is fitting that Hawthorne runs the Buck's Boy Handicap so close to the Breeders' Cup, as Buck's Boy is one of just two Illinois-bred horses to have won a Breeders' Cup race.  The Bucksplasher gelding wired the 1998 Breeders' Cup Turf (G1).  That was one of his six wins in ten starts that year, a tally that also included the Turf Classic (G1) at Belmont; on the strength of that record, Buck's Boy earned the 1998 Eclipse award for Champion Grass Horse.  Since then, only one Illinois-bred has joined those ranks: Work All Week, who won the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) in 2014, and went on to win the Champion Sprinter Eclipse that year.  The most illustrious winner of the Buck's Boy Handicap so far has been Work All Week's stablemate in the Roger Brueggemann barn: multiple Grade 1 winner The Pizza Man.  Before he was winning graded stakes, he was winning Illinois-bred stakes, and his second career stakes victory was a comfortable score over Star of Paradise and Ice Climber in the 2012 edition of this race.

There are precious few things in this world you can depend on: death, taxes, and the furious late charge of BLUE SKY KOWBOY. The four-year-old gelding always fires, even when the pace in front of him is less than lively, and no one in this field has the devastating late rally he does. His one race at Hawthorne was a good one, a close second in the Hawthorne Derby, and he will like the better going on Saturday far more than he appreciated that bog last fall. Whether it'll get BLUE SKY KOWBOY all the way there is the question, given how well Hawthorne's grass has played for speed in the first few days of the meet -- but it'll be no surprise to see him bearing down late, willing his head into the frame. And, unlike his last couple of starts, he won't be the favourite -- not with the likes of CAMMACK and GONEGHOST in the field. With so many questions around the pace brigade -- GONEGHOST is untested on turf, SUPER SOLDIER returns from a long layoff, and IN THE CHAMBER has always been just a rung or two below the best of the Illinois-bred turf set -- this is the day to bet that BLUE SKY KOWBOY will get all the way there.

Especially if the turf plays for speed through the week, GONEGHOST may just prove himself on the lawn. There are a few others in this field who can gun to the lead (like IN THE CHAMBER and SUPER SOLDIER), but GONEGHOST is a rocket -- sprint or route, you've got to be fast to catch him. And, though he has not raced since finishing second behind DEVILEYE in the Addison Cammack Memorial Handicap (a polytrack sprint), GONEGHOST has run well fresh before for trainer Scott Becker. The biggest question is the turf, as he has never tried grass and sire Cherokee Rap isn't known for producing lawnmowers. However, if he can handle the grass, he may be tough to catch.

The third slot, it was like splitting hairs between a few of the contenders.  CAMMACK fits the class cozily, but in recent times has needed a race off a freshening to find his best.  As the likely favourite, we'll just keep him in our pocket for undersides here, and wait for a win down in Florida this winter.  MEMORY BANK fits at his best, but is another who is preferred for rounding out a trifecta or superfecta -- in his better form he is just almost as good as these.

Instead, we'll look at another who is trying the green stuff for the first time: DEVILEYE.  DEVILEYE has been a model of consistency in his ten-race career: never out of the exacta, including seven wins.  Though he hasn't tried grass yet, he has been a force sprinting or routing, on all-weather or dirt.  Grass has been a possibility for DEVILEYE for a while; he was considered for a turf stakes before Arlington hung the Arlington Heights Stakes last year, and he raced in Buck's Boy last year (though it was washed off to the slop).  Two of his half-siblings have won on the grass, Puntsville (Cashel Castle) at one turn and Speed Devil (Brilliant Speed), at two.  Finally, DEVILEYE drew beautifully: he loves to hug the rail and kick on in the lane, and with only a speed horse inside of him, he should get a nice trip.

Selections:

#7 BLUE SKY KOWBOY

#3 GONEGHOST

#2 DEVILEYE

Longshot:  #5 IN THE CHAMBER has been banging heads with many of these foes over the years and nabbing the odd placing.  So, he will need to run his best to score.  But?  His form this summer suggests that he doesn't need the lead, a positive with GONEGHOST so fast up front.  He has two wins in three tries over the Hawthorne grass, and also a pair of victories going a mile and a sixteenth.  And, rider Orlando Mojica skips a day at Indiana Grand to ride IN THE CHAMBER.  Mojica has ridden this horse once before: to a second-place finish in a conditioned open allowance at Indiana Grand, first off the claim by trainer Cheryl Winebaugh.  The only horse who finished ahead of IN THE CHAMBER, Baratti, is a seven-year-old gelding in the best form of his life.  He has six wins in nine starts this year, including a victory over BLUE SKY KOWBOY in a boggy edition of the Preston Madden Stakes.  That's a good form line for IN THE CHAMBER, and helps make him the most attractive among the longer shots in the Buck's Boy.

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