2014 Illinois Derby Day Preview

The most important race of the Hawthorne spring meet is upon us.  It’s Illinois Derby Day, with the feature set for race nine on a ten race card set for April 19th, the day before Easter Sunday.  In a twist to the stakes schedule this year, two Illinois-bred stakes from next week’s Illinois Champions Day are now on the Derby program.  Both are for older sprinters at six furlongs, the Third Chance and the Molaro, restricted to those bred in Illinois and have a hundred grand in purse money on the line.

Both of the graded races (Illinois Derby and Sixty Sails) will be televised on WGN-TV in a program from 5:00 to 6:00 pm CT.  In addition, there will be a radio broadcast of Illinois Derby Day as well on WGN-FM. Terrestially it can heard on 87.7, The Game Chicago, with streaming audio of it available via the TuneIn and IHeartRadio mobile apps. Harry Teinowitz is scheduled to host the radio coverage.

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In addition to the TV and radio coverage is a Jack Van Berg/Chris Kotulak book signing from 2:00-4:00 pm in the Hawthorne grandstand’s first floor. (See photo above, photo courtesy of the author.)

(Morning line odds for only the Illinois Derby were available at original publish time.) Updated on April 17 to include morning line odds and rider switch in the Third Chance.

Hawthorne Race Course  — Race 5 — Third Chance Handicap — 6 furlongs — post time 4:15 pm CT.

Formerly known as the Governor’s Lady Handicap, this race for older sprinting females honors Third Chance. This locally owned mare won Illinois-bred stakes and was named a divisional champion at ages two, three, and four.  She closed out her career last year in the Cammack at Arlington in 2012.

A contentious, evenly matched group of familiar foes.  The wild card is new face MY OPTION, fourth in the G2 Falls City.  She started a solid three-year-old campaign at Hawthorne fifty-one weeks ago on the dirt.  However, let’s look to a proven face and select on top MISSJEANLOUISE, the two time winner of the Powerless – the fall complement of this race – who spent the winter collecting minor awards in higher level allowances at Oaklawn.  Second in both of those, she ships back north to Hawthorne and won’t, unlike others, concede a fitness edge.  Seven wins and ten money tries at Hawthorne makes her a must use, and she gets to stalk off the pace of C’MON FEET, a sharp starter allowance winner taking a crack at the varsity.  MY OPTION ran a campaign good enough last year to get a graded stakes win in the G3 Arlington Oaks and likely nail down some state-bred divisional honors.  I felt she was the best sophomore state-bred filly in the state last year, but now she must take on older runners.  Can’t fault the published winter works, and can’t argue against anyone who puts her on top.  There doesn’t appear to be a ton of speed signed on so maybe C’MON FEET, a winner of two straight hybrid starter ($10K) /optional claiming ($18K) races gets loose on the front end.  She’s found life on the West 35th dirt, bringing in a five race win streak dating back to the winter meet.  Dumped into a basement level nickel claiming never won two in October, then changed barns and has gotten wicked good since.  The water gets deeper, but she may be at her best with being controlling speed a boon.

Selections:

#1 MISSJEANLOUISE (3/1)

#4 MY OPTION (4/1)

#5 C’MON FEET (6/1)

Longshot: Everyone else has some kind of plus point and minus point among the remaining runners.  One more time, I go to #6 FIRE TRICKS (12/1) who finally got off the Hawthorne duck with a win on March 1.  With nine money finishes in twelve other starts, she’s the prototypical closing sprinter who I feel is better on polytrack across town.  Too bad last summer it played to speed and against her closing style.  With rewritten conditions she’s been able to run in second-level allowances even though she cleared it last summer at Arlington.  However, she made a nice inside-outside move in the Powerless last Spring and this year her three starts have all been top two, the last two on ovals kind to inside/speed.  Note the rider switch to Florent Geroux James Graham (Eddie Perez staying on My Option), but maybe she’s been pointed for this race all along.

Hawthorne Race Course  — Race 6 — Robert S. Molaro Handicap — 6 furlongs —  post time 4:12 pm CT.

For older male sprinters, this was race was formerly known as the Chicagoland Handicap. Honors the former state senator.

One-way speed in the form of MISH MOSH and CHATFIELD ROAD should give the senior citizen of the group, RIVER BEAR, something to chase down.  Now nine years old, he showed he was none worse for the wear when nailing a Grade 3 winner on the line last month over the local strip in an upper level allowance.  A winner of this exact race two years back and the leading money earner in the field by far, he’ll get something to chase at from a middle post and Tim Thornton takes the return call.  Had an off year in 2013, but that’s due to a disposable race first out on the cross-town Arlington polytrack and losing to the younger (and open stakes winning) Work All Week down at Fairmount.  HE’SARULER beat CHATFIELD ROAD a few days before Christmas last year in a second-level allowance/optional claimer and goes first start out of the mothballs.  There are plus signs with steady Fairmount works, a trainer hitting 18% wins when away for over ninety days, and he can sit off the pace that could be quick up front.  Four dirt starts with three wins and a bad break at Hawthorne also on the resume.  RADIANT DAY got quite good last fall and into the Spring over the Hawthorne dirt, with five straight money finishes while working his way through the Illinois allowance conditions.  Granted, he’s eligible for an open first-level allowance but he will get an outside post that is advantageous in sprints, doubly advantageous if Hawthorne’s dirt takes on an outside bias.

Selections:

#5 RIVER BEAR (5/2)

#4 HE’SARULER (12/1)

#8 RADIANT DAY (5/1)

Longshot: This is a case of “if you like you like the other”.  #9 FOUR LEFT FEET (6/1) is very much like RADIANT DAY: an off the pace type with a favorable post on the outside. Whereas RADIANT DAY is more of a mid-pack type, FOUR LEFT FEET is a dead closer that works best if the upfront pace is too quick (or, like three back, the track favors outer paths).  Yet he closed to be in the same zip code as RIVER BEAR and Hogy last time out over the dirt in an upper crust allowance.  Going seven-wide on winter polytrack at Turfway isn’t the way to go, and he has jumped up and won a state-bred stakes before closing from Midway airport.

Hawthorne Race Course — Race 8– Grade 3 Sixty Sails Handicap — 1 1/8 miles on dirt — post time 5:10 pm CT

The Sixty Sails Handicap honors Sixty Sails.  From New Orleans-based ownership, she won two runnings of the Arlington Matron in 1974 and 1975.  Past winners of note include Peach of It (who has a Illinois-Bred stakes in her honor), Fleet Indian, and Life at Ten. The race was formerly run in the Spring (like the Illinois Derby) at Sportsman’s Park.

The Racetrack Television Network (RTN) will sponsor the race.  Getting beat by G1 winner Close Hatches is nothing to be ashamed of when you’re trying a G3.  Consider FLASHY AMERICAN, a G3 runner-up last summer at Saratoga and twice a listed stakes winner.  She started her year in the Azeri, a G3 that functions as the local feeder to the G1 Apple Blossom, where she got beat by Close Hatches and an Oaklawn-loving Don’t Tell Sophia.  I think rider Emigh can carve out a nice pressing inside-outside trip on this runner that goes second off the winter time freshening for trainer K. McPeek.  Worth noting that the strong post-Azeri work at Oaklawn.  Getting off dirt was a wake-up call for DRESS THE PART, a Glen Hill/Proctor owner/trainer production that annexed the Wayward Lass, a fifty grand stakes at Tampa Bay last time out.  After middling around on the SoCal synthetics, she was shipped east and rattled off three wins in a row at Tampa while zooming through conditions.  She can be near the lead but not necessarily on it, likely a good spot as she flanks likely pace setter and Illinois-bred second-level allowance DISTINCTIVE REVIEW.  DIXIE STRIKE, like our top pick, chased around Oaklawn-adoring Don’t Tell Sophia in the minor stakes at Oaklawn that feed to races like the Azeri and Apple Blossom.  Still, she appears to have the yo-yo form in play this Spring, and the yo-yo went down in the Azeri meaning it could go back up in today’s nine furlong event.  Worth noting her best dirt ties have been when the paces have not been too quick, and she could get that this afternoon as there isn’t sprinter speed signed up in this event.

Selections:

#2 FLASHY AMERICAN (3/1)

#6 DRESS THE PART (8/1)

#4 DIXIE STRIKE (4/1)

Longshot:  How often is a last out G3 winner placed in this category?  That’s the case with #7 GAMAY NOIR (9/2), who closed off quick (or at least, that’s what the funky timer at Gulfstream says) mid-race fractions to win the G3 Rampart at over 40-1 odds on Florida Derby Day.  That day was one of the few where Gulfstream didn’t install “No Passing Zone” signs at the top of the stretch, making two prior races in the meet look perhaps better than they appear on paper.  Clunked up to be fourth behind DRESS THE PART two back at Tampa Bay, and this one will be helped if someone challenges DISTINCTIVE REVIEW on the front end.  Rider switch to Tim Thornton today, who’s been aces over the local strip as he was last winter.

Hawthorne Race Course – – Race 9 – – G3 Illinois Derby – – 1 1/8 miles on dirt – – post  time 5:42 pm CT

A historical look at this race can be found here.  And this portion of the piece is jointly submitted for Thorofan’s “Handicappers’ Corner.”

Advanced Deposit Wagering (ADW) service Xpressbet will sponsor the race.  Trainer Todd Pletcher will likely send of one his assistants to Hawthorne to collect a potential prize, just as he did with last year’s Sixty Sails and with prior runnings of the Hawthorne Gold Cup, Illinois Derby, and Sixty Sails.  He sends in KING CYRUS, who broke awfully in the G2 Louisiana Derby last time out and was compromised by that break that was more costly to Commanding Curve.  KING CYRUS went first off the lay and was second in a minor stakes at Calder going nine panels, not the easiest task to do given the quirky surface there.  Discarding the sloppy race in the Hopeful and the Louisiana Derby leaves a horse that’s never been off the board in three other dirt tries.  Pletcher also sends in GLOBAL STRIKE, cross entered at publish time to the G3 Lexington Stakes.  Another cross entry is DYNAMIC IMPACT.  His two starts at Oaklawn at three have been much better than his work at two.  Perhaps trainer M. Casse gave him time off to grow up, and it appears to have worked.  He’ll be one of those in the first flight, on pace, behind potential front end pace players MIDNIGHT HAWK and GLOBAL STRIKE.  The Mena/Casse team blew up the toteboard in the 2012 Hawthorne Gold Cup on Pool Play, proof of humans who know what to bring to Hawthorne.  The post time favorite, without question, will be MIDNIGHT HAWK.  It will be because of his races in Southern California against California Chrome.  It will be because of him part owned by Coach Q of the Blackhawks, that popular Stanley Cup wining hockey team.  It will be because he’s trained by Bob Baffert and he brings along go-to rider, Martin Garcia.  He could be alone on the front end (especially if the aforementioned cross entries defect), but he was shown to have distance limitations in the G2 Lewis and G3 Sunland Derby.  See him in this spot as someone you take a swing against who might hang on for third.

Selections:

#5 KING CYRUS (8/1)

#1 DYNAMIC IMPACT (6/1)

#3 MIDNIGHT HAWK (4/5)

Longshot: Sometimes in Illinois racing, it’s good to be a Block-head.  No, not what Lucy calls Charlie Brown.  But rather, to support Illinois-based trainer Chris Block.  After a loan job of #2 A STEP AHEAD (20/1) to Brian Williamson (who will be back on this circuit soon enough), he gets the full brother to Giant Oak back in his shedrow.  Second in the Edgar Futurity last December at a mile and a sixteenth and also a winner over the local dirt, he had four unsuccessful tries clearing the first-level allowance condition at Oaklawn Park.  But like his brother, he’s a one-speed plodder.  Discard the race two back on the slop with no pace.  Perhaps even discard the stakes try four back on a carousel is worth throwing out.  Two thirds in Oaklawn allowances may not be a ringing endorsement, but dismissing Block trainees at big odds is often a path to shredded tickets.

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