2019 Illini Princess Handicap Preview

The stakes portion of the Hawthorne fall meet gets underway on Friday...yes, Friday!  Hawthorne is running eight stakes races over the course of the fall meet, all for Illinois-registered horses.  Each stakes weekend, they're running the fillies' and mares' races on Friday and the races open to males on Saturday.  This piece will focus on the Illini Princess Handicap, a turf route for older turf fillies and mares; in a separate piece we will shine a light on Saturday's Buck's Boy Handicap, its sex-unrestricted complement.

Though Illini Princess make sense as the name for an Illinois-bred racemare for whom the race to take its name, 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 suggested one last year in our preview, and we're sticking to it!)

Last year's edition of the Illini Princess went to Streamline: a two-time graded stakes winner on the dirt at Oaklawn, she could run on any surface, and did her best work in her final racing year on the lawn.  By winning the 2018 Illini Princess Handicap, she matched the feat of her third dam Hip, who won the race in 1994, when it was still run on dirt, in a 38/1 surprise.

The race has been moved from dirt to turf several times.  Peyote Patty won the race in both 2011, its last year originally carded on dirt, as well as on the grass in 2012.  Now a broodmare, she is the dam of Wile E Peyote (City Zip), who has yet to win a stakes race though has proven himself as surface-versatile as his dam.  Wade For Me (1999, 2000) matched Peyote Patty's feat: not only by winning the race twice, but by winning it when carded on turf in 1999, then winning again when it was switched to the dirt in 2000.

Race 6: Illini Princess Handicap, three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, Illinois-registered, one and one sixteenth miles on the turf, post time 5:30pm CDT

The Illini Princess drew a field of eight runners.  There's not a lot of dedicated early speed, but what it did draw was interesting.  There's KOOL KATE, who is an interesting character.  She's a good horse...but even at five years old, with 19 starts and 9 wins underneath her, she is as keen as it gets early.  She pulls, she opens up early, and often she hangs on, or comes darn close. She has only tried stakes company once...but she did her thing.  She pulled, she opened up, and she just got run down late by the soft-turf-loving EMBARRASSING on a yucky, rainy day.  Now she gets back on the firm turf.  Though there's been a change in management -- she was claimed to the Marvin Johnson barn for $40,000 last out.  But, Johnson does well off the claim, and her previous connections putting her up for $40,000 wasn't suspicious.  After all, she was out of conditions, it was getting to the end of the turf season, and she was about to lose that sweet $16,000 starter condition that she got so much out of over the last two years.  It makes sense to expect the same keen but good KOOL KATE.

This time, though, she's going to have a better horse giving chase than she has ever had: LOVELY LOYREE.  It's amazing to think back to the fact that LOVELY LOYREE ran third in this race five years ago.  Four years ago, she won the Stickney Handicap, the race Hawthorne ran instead of the Illini Princess, a race that was Illinois-preferred instead of Illinois-restricted.  Now, LOVELY LOYREE is eight years old, and still all class.  Sure, she is seeking her first victory in four starts this year -- but look at the class she has been keeping.  She was third after setting a pressured pace in the Lady Canterbury, and then ran fourth in the Indiana General Assembly Distaff, both of which were open stakes for fillies and mares.  Last out, in the allowance at Churchill, she had an excuse: she stumbled, tossed a shoe, and never even got near the pace.  But, LOVELY LOYREE now drops in class, and even though she probably won't get the lead on top of a keen KOOL KATE, she should be kind sitting in second -- she's had to deal with that once before, a horse who just ran off and opened up.  It was a few years ago, the Grade 2 Hillsborough Stakes in 2016, where LOVELY LOYREE sat in second behind a runaway Isabella Sings, who was trying to steal the race from a razor-sharp Tepin.  As we all know, that only turned out to be attempted larceny...but LOVELY LOYREE didn't panic, kept on going, and at 90/1 she finished ahead of every horse not named Tepin or Isabella Sings.  KOOL KATE is no Isabella Sings, and LOVELY LOYREE's first run has an excellent shot to be best run.

BRAMBLE QUEEN invades from the northeast, a rare Illinois-bred who doesn't race her regularly.  But, when Mike Dini ships a horse, he's not goofing around.  She shipped out to Arlington last year with solid results, a fourth-place finish in a state-bred stakes on the poly, and then a close second and a victory on the turf.  This year, she held her own in the allowance ranks at Monmouth, and then lost a whisker-tight photo at Saratoga in a $40,000 starter allowance.  BRAMBLE QUEEN isn't without a few questions.  She comes out of perhaps her flattest races this year, a race in which she finished fifth of six in an optional N2X at Belmont -- but now she drops among Illinois-breds for the first time this year.  And, she might be better at a flat mile -- but she's still a two-time winner at a mile and a sixteenth, and has won going as long as a mile and an eighth.  BRAMBLE QUEEN is pace-versatile, able to win a race from several different shapes, and well spotted in the Illini Princess.

Selections:

#6 LOVELY LOYREE (8/5)
#8 KOOL KATE (5/1)
#5 BRAMBLE QUEEN (3/1)

Longshot:   #4 GWENDALYN SUE (15/1) has class to prove on this kind of field, and it's hard to see her beating all of the bigger contenders in this race.  In fact, she's not a big win type at all, with one win in 11 starts.  She does, however, keep showing up: she has hit the board in 9 of those 13 runs, and even in the two times she hasn't hit the board, she hasn't been well beaten, either.  So, she's the kind of filly who shows up and runs to her company.  This will be a class test for GWENDALYN SUE -- it's her stakes debut, and she's never run against horses as classy as the top contenders in this race.  But, in her favour, she has tactical speed, and her rider Jareth Loveberry has started the meet hot.  This may be enough to get her a piece.

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