2014 Illinois Champions Day Preview

Thoroughbred Rescue Day April 26

We head into closing weekend at Hawthorne Race Course of the Spring 2014 meet. This weekend, the Illinois-Breds get a chance to shine.

While on-track the main focus will be the state-bred stakes showcase, Hawthorne has designated the final Saturday of the meet — April 26 — as “Thoroughbred Rescue Day”, with information found in the picture (picture courtesy of Hawthorne Race Course) and proceeds to benefit various not-for-profit (NFP) equine rescue organizations based throughout Chicagoland.

For punters, the four-pack of stakes is also a nice handicapping tune-up for the stakes-laden Kentucky Oaks Day and Kentucky Derby Day programs the following week.  Hawthorne will also play host to a National Handicapping Contest (NHC) qualifier on each of the final three days of the meet. Note that Friday is a one-off twilight card with first post at 5:00 pm CT.

Back to the on-track action.  In prior years, there would be six stakes on this day, but the two stakes for older sprinters, the Molaro and Third Chance, were contested one week ago on Illinois Derby/Sixty Sails Day.  Like last week’s Sixty Sails, these four stakes all trace back to Sportsman’s Park just north of Hawthorne at about 33rd Street/Cicero Avenue.  And all of the stakes discussed below will be contested at Hawthorne Race Course on the dirt on the April 26th program and carry a $100,000 purse.

Race 3 — Land of Lincoln Stakes — 6 furlongs — 2:48 pm CT.

The male complement of the Pretty Jenny Stakes, for state-bred three-year-old colts and geldings.  Pace makes the race, so they say, so SOLAR FLAIR appears to be the only horse with any sort of closing ability, as the remaining five runners have all gone wire to wire in the past and haven’t yet shown rating ability.  SOLAR FLAIR did that four back in the Sun Power, second that day behind RAMBLING RICHIE.  Toss the two-turn effort and do note he is dropping from older open company like Radiant Day (4th in the Molaro last weekend) down to the Illinois-bred age-restricted group.  Two October maidens at Hawthorne that caught a lot of people’s eyes were Spot (who changed owners and won the G3 Swale) and I GOT IT ALL, who won by a zip code in start two for trainer Tom Swearingen.  He goes second start off the winter layoff and did hook up with High Roll, a DiVito product that the connections thought highly enough to maybe try the Illinois Derby.  He probably projects as the speed of the speed here (thinking the returning Emmanuel Esquivel takes EASY SOLUTION back), and he might be able to hang on like he did last time out in an open first-level allowance/optional claimer.  RAMBLING RICHIE makes his first start for new connections, the Sandfords.  You may recall these folks as the owners of G1 winner Take Charge Indy.  They paid an undisclosed amount for the winner of both stakes at two last year – the Sun Power and the Edgar Illinois Futurity — at Hawthorne.  Switch to St. Julien doesn’t inspire confidence, but he does wheel back to one-turn races. New trainer Patrick Byrne has tried the route-to-sprint move twice this year, and it’s worked for a win once.

#5 SOLAR FLAIR (5/1)

#4 I GOT IT ALL (2/1)


Longshot: Welcome to the Larry Rivelli Breeders’ Invitational Handicap.  There are six horses in the box for this stakes and Rivelli is co-breeder to three of these, trainer to two of them (he formerly trained RAMBLING RICHIE).  I think the :34– bullet work tips off that #6 BANGTHEDRUMSALLDAY (10/1) is sitting on a duplicate performance at worst, a progression from start one to two perhaps.  The bullet work comes after his last race where he went wire-to-wire in a state-bred maiden special.  The pace wasn’t that quick when he graduated, but he’ll have the outside post which is advantageous in sprints and the meet’s leading rider to take the mount.

Race 6 — Peach of It Handicap — 1 1/16 miles — post time 4:18 pm CT.

This stakes is for older females going two turns, and is in honor of the Illinois-Bred 1992 G3 Sixty Sails Handicap winner.

In the Illinois-bred stakes universe, there’s always a winner from trainer Chris Block’s barn on major stakes days.  I think ALETTE makes the universe spin on its proper axis. His go-to rider Eduardo Perez is aboard, half of a Perez/Block team hitting at a strong 25% wins at Hawthorne.    Second off the layoff and was compromised last time out by the carousel-like nature of Gulfstream’s turf course.  Three for three in the win column over the Hawthorne dirt, including a win two back in open company just before Turkey Day.  Good tactical runner that can be forwardly placed on the lead like a win three back in a state-bred two-other-than but taken back if needed like two starts ago.  OUR DOMAIN tangled in an open stakes with Oaklawn buzzsaw Don’t Tell Sophia last time, and the second place finisher was good enough to try the Sixty Sails.  Two back she won a twice-other-than at Oaklawn and likely projects as speed of the speed in this short field for the productive Emigh/Becker/Stiritz jockey/trainer/owner team, the last third at the top of the standings for the meet and the jockey/trainer also hitting at 25% wins.  DIVA’S DIAMOND is the race’s defending champion, and got a shrewd ride from Tim Thornton last year to win this race.  The form went sour when Hawthorne shuttered last summer, as her turf and synthetic tries were forgettable, but it perked up downstate in the Bungalow Stakes.   Started the year with a win in a twice-other-than allowance and gets Rafael Hernandez aboard in a return call.  Thirteen of fourteen in the money over the local course.

#6 ALETTE (3/1)

#3 OUR DOMAIN (5/2)


Longshot: Same team, different horse.  We go back to the Thornton/Rivelli team again (that we touted on the Land Of Lincoln longshot) that’s hitting at 43% wins during the past three Hawthorne meets. They converge on #4 SYDNEYRELLA (5/1), who would be helped if OUR DOMAIN and ALETTE hook up in a speed duel, but certainly has a nice closing kick as shown two back in an allowance win.  She’s fine with the surface, having a pair of top-two efforts last Fall.  Toss the wide trip last time where she lost to a loose-on-the-lead type and the form looks better.  Worth noting: Thornton has won this race the past two years in a row.

Race 8 — Pretty Jenny Stakes — 6 furlongs — post time 5:18 pm CT

This sprint stakes for sophomore fillies honors the Christine Janks-trained, Illinois-bred earner of over $500K.  Formerly known as the Lady Hallie Stakes.

http://brandonmorton.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/TheBombSquad.jpgThis is a dicey group of fillies, featuring runners with a lot of questions.  It also seems right to call in the Bomb Squad, to give us the requisite Illinois Stakes Day Crazy Longshot (I’m looking at you, Purgingthestone last year in the Land of Lincoln).

Our play here is a maiden.  However, Fair Grounds maidens are likely a stronger set than Hawthorne maidens.  And our maiden has two trouble lines in her last two starts.  Presenting DIVIDED HUMOR, a St. Julien/R. Scherer production, as the top choice.  Team got together once before at Hawthorne and got a picture taken, and should get some pace set up from outside speed RICHIES SWEETHEART. Ascending speed figures in play as well and meets a field where seven of the nine runners are still eligible for an entry level allowance (she’s a maiden, but…)  RICHIES SWEETHEART projects as speed of the speed from the outside box.  The game plan on her will be simple: catch her if you can.  The rub is her lack of passing gear was exposed on Hawthorne Gold Cup Day and in a field like this someone is going to lock eyeballs with her.  Still, she can cash a check on speed and she was second in the Showtime Deb last November.  Four career starts on the resume are present for MIRACLEINOURMIDST, who gets a rider switch today to Florent Geroux.  Graduated in career start four last time, but this one is inside close-up speed compared to the outside speed, and not as quick from the gate.  Perhaps Geroux can put in a patient ride, or, get this to press and stalk as she did in the last two starts.




Longshot: #2 HEIR TO GLORY (12/1) ran a figure in the career debut at Tampa that puts her in line (or just below it) for the other runners.  She could jump up and make a progression from start one to start two and such up-tick could be enough to both get the diploma and the victory.  Like the top selection above, this one is a maiden, sporting an even second in her only career race.  But trainer Granitz has hit the board with all three of his Hawthorne starters this meet and won at a 24% clip throughout the winter.  As the Jim Versus loser said above, this is a field with question marks everywhere so taking a runner with upside might be best.

Race 9 — Milwaukee Avenue Handicap — 1 1/16 miles — post time 5:48 pm CT

This stakes going two turns for older males honors Milwaukee Avenue. No, not the diagonal street near Wicker Park in Chicago.  Rather, Milwaukee Avenue was an Illinois-bred who was the runner-up in the 1977 G2 Hawthorne Gold Cup and an earner of nearly $375K over five seasons.

I think DAD ARE WE HERE, the third-place finisher of this race last year, has been facing classier company over the winter in New Orleans than morning line favorite LUV BANDIT, who stayed close to home over the winter.  Edge to DAD ARE WE HERE, who brings a two-race win streak in and was in the same zip code three back as Ground Transport, a stakes winner in Maryland.  Won an upper crust allowance on the turf last time at Fair Grounds, unleashing a closing kick that will be helpful if the assigned speed all shows up.  Both DAD ARE WE HERE and LUV BANDIT have been grabbing checks in dirt events like the iteration of this race last year and the off-turf Buck’s Boy last November.  They’ll go head-to-head for the fifth time, with each having a win and a relatively even form between them. LUV BANDIT won this race last year and was second in the off-turf Buck’s Boy.  He’ll be setting the pace, but he can pull off if it’s too quick like he did last time losing to a Claiming Crown check cashier.  Second start off the winter layoff.  On paper, there’s a lot of pace in here with HOPE FOR TODAY and FLATHEAD RIVER among it.  Maybe NO APOLOGIZES gets a set up here.  A winner four back in a two-other-than allowance/optional claimer, he’s been tangling with the best routers on the grounds in Hattaash and Francois, and they’re not here.  Third last time out (when LUV BANDIT was second) in a three-other than and makes start three of the winter layoff.

#7 DAD ARE WE HERE (6/1)

#5 LUV BANDIT (4/1)


Longshot: The man who gave Emmanuel Esquivel his tutelage early in his career and during his apprenticeship was trainer Mike Reavis.  This team gets together on #10 TALL GRASS CAT (15/1) who is a half brother to double G1 winner Giant Oak Choke.  (Send all rotten vegetables to “Picks and Ponderings”.)  After Reavis claimed this one for five grand last winter, he moved up and has him winning starter allowances by being on the lead in a slow-paced affair.  Perhaps if the pace is quicker, Esquivel can take back and press.  In any case, he’s as in form as they come and sometimes hot form can take these races, as seen with C’Mon Feet in the Third Chance.  Also worth noting is Reavis got off to a hot start at meet’s start but has maintained as the weather has warmed.


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