2014 Illinois Derby Day Recap

STICKNEY/CICERO — Spring came to Chicago with the year’s first turf race and the year’s first stakes at Hawthorne Race Course.  Four stakes, two for Illinois-breds sprinting and two Grade Three stakes, were contested on a picture-perfect Spring afternoon.

Third Chance Handicap: C’MON FEET Steps Up in Stakes Triumph

Early tote action saw G3 winner MY OPTION be made a strong favorite from the opening bell and a final price of 7/5, making her the favorite in the Third Chance, the first of the stakes quartet for older female sprinters bred in Illinois going six furlongs.  A pot of hundred thousand was on the line, with MISSJEANLOUISE breaking from the rail and quickly putting herself on the front end, with C’MON FEET flanking her to her outside.  The pair clicked off sensible splits of :22.82 for the opening quarter and :46.38 for the opening half.  The pair continued their terms, with C’MON FEET shadowing the stakes winner for the entire duration of the sprint.  For most of the body of the race, MISSJEANLOUISE had a short lead of less than half a length, with C’MON FEET getting on even terms in deep stretch, then prevailing in a stretch battle.  The 1-2 pair around the track would finish 2-1, C’MON FEET victorious over MISSJEANLOUISE.  Final margin was a neck and final time for the six furlongs on a fast dirt track was 1:10.78. Betting favorite MY OPTION was third, a half length behind the top two and two and a half lengths ahead of SCARLET POWER, who was fourth.


C’MON FEET (outside, blue cap) scores in the Third Chance.

C’MON FEET, a four-year-old Illinois bred filly by Purge, was sent off at 7-1 odds and returned $17.20 to win.  Tim Thornton was aboard the winner for trainer Ray Tracy, Jr.   C’MON FEET extended her win streak to six after being claimed for $5,000 during last fall’s Hawthorne meet.

Winning rider Tim Thornton, in a post-race interview with Picks and Ponderings, wanted to keep forwardly-placed C’MON FEET close to the early pace of a couple of front speeds.  Further, he said that “I didn’t want the horse on the lead [MISSJEANLOUISE] to get away and I felt she could rate.”

Chris Block, trainer of third-place finisher MY OPTION, felt her horse was “digging down in the lane”, citing an effort not quite so representative.

The $2 5-1 exacta of C’MON FEET and MISSJEANLOUISE returned $76.40.  The fifty-cent 5-1-4 trifecta of C’MON FEET, MISSJEANLOUISE, and MY OPTION yielded $63.45.  Dime 5-1-4-3 superfectas with SCARLET POWER in the fourth slot netted $38.38 to their backers.

Robert S. Molaro Handicap: River Bear Scores Again

Two years ago, in 2012, RIVER BEAR came to Hawthorne and won the Molaro Handicap, the open complement of the Third Chance.  This year, in his second start of 2014, the nine-year-old Unreal Zeal gelding showed his age and class with a half-length victory.  It would be the second win in three years and third overall triumph for the Illinois-bred, whose career earnings are steadily climbing towards seven figures.

River Bear

RIVER BEAR triumphs in the Molaro.

RIVER BEAR didn’t get the cleanest of breaks from the gate, and neither did RADIANT DAY.  In an unexpected move, it was LUCK WITH A KISS who would be on the front end, as he whipped off zesty opening fractions of :21.88 for the opening quarter and :45.25 for the opening half.  On the turn, the parachute went out on LUCK WITH A KISS and CHATFIELD ROAD, strangely in mid-pack, had the lead at the head of the stretch.  Swinging wide in the stretch, six-wide according to the charts, was RIVER BEAR. Eighth in the early stages, sixth at the top of the stretch, he unleashed his stretch kick to mow down the top finishers.

RIVER BEAR would be clear by a half-length at the wire and gave Tim Thornton a stakes double for the day (the stakes 5-5 double paid $30.60 for each dollar).   He and MISH MOSH would trade favortism in the late stages of wagering, with RIVER BEAR sent off as the 5-2 second choice.  RIVER BEAR, owned by bred by Dana Waier Thorougbreds, LLC and trained by Rusty Hellman, rewarded his backers with $6.80 win mutuels. Final time for the six furlongs of the Molaro, contested one race and about thirty minutes after the Third Chance Handicap on the Illinois Derby Day program, was 1:10.18 on a fast track.

A half-length behind RIVER BEAR in second was FOUR LEFT FEET.  SACRED GIFT was another three-quarters length behind the top and completed the trifecta.  RADIANT DAY was fourth, three-quarters of a length behind the trifecta.  2-1 favorite MISH MOSH reported home in seventh.

Owner Dana Waier, present as the nom de plume of her stable operation, commented that RIVER BEAR “has been a dream and he hasn’t missed a step.”  Waier commented her charge had the Molaro on the radar after the win in an upper-crust allowance in March over the local strip against a G3 winner.  Waier also told Picks and Ponderings that RIVER BEAR is slated to be nominated to the G2 Churchill Downs Stakes, a seven furlong sprint on Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs.

The $2 exacta of RIVER BEAR and FOUR LEFT FEET netted $25.60.  The fifty-cent 5-9-6 trifecta of RIVER BEAR, FOUR LEFT FEET, and SACRED GIFT paid $47.05.  Dime superfectas with RADIANT DAY in the fourth slot returned $49.43.

Sixty Sails Handicap: FLASHY AMERICAN Scoots Up Rail

WGN-FM and WGN-TV provided, respectively, radio/streaming and TV coverage of the day’s graded stakes and the first graded stakes of the year in Illinois.  The first of those two graded stakes was the Grade 3 Sixty Sails Handicap, for older fillies and mares traveling nine furlongs on the dirt course. A purse of $150,000 was on the line.

The scratch of Illinois-bred DISTINCTIVE REVIEW put SONJA’S ANGEL on the front end and she galloped along through reasonable fractions of :24.17 for the opening quarter, :48.74 for the opening half-mile, and 1:13.31 at the three-quarter mile mark, maintaining a two-length advantage throughout.  Rider Martin Garcia of SONJA’S ANGEL kept his mount off the rail for the entire race, leaving it open for FLASHY AMERICAN, who was third in the early stages and second at the top of the stretch, to spurt on through.  Rider Chris Emigh kept FLASHY AMERICAN stapled to the rail for most of the race, getting past SONJA’S ANGEL at the top of the lane and sputing away for a victory by three-quarters of a length.  SONJA’S ANGEL reported home second, 3 3/4 lengths ahead of last-0ut G3 winner GAMAY NOIR.  GAMAY NOIR was a length and a half to the better of ANA LUISA, who rounded out the superfecta.


FLASHY AMERICAN becomes a Graded Stakes winner in the G3 Sixty Sails.

Emigh was aboard FLASHY AMERICAN for conditioner Kenny McPeek.  She stopped the timer for a mile and an eighth on a fast track in 1:50.36.  She was the second choice in the wagering, sent off at 3-1 odds with SONJA’S ANGEL favored by only a small amount of dollars over FLASHY AMERICAN, a five-year-old mare by Flashy Bull.

Winning rider Chris Emigh commented post-race on his strategy, saying he “didn’t get any dirt in my face, I could do what I wanted.  I went as slow as I could go and then I went through.  [Trainer] Mr. McPeek told me she’s not complicated, she’s very easy to ride and she does whatever you want.  I just sat up on her to tell her it’s time to go, and that’s when the ran.  I had a little better trip than I expected but I’ll take it.”

Matt Shirer, assistant to trainer Kenny McPeek, felt that the Sixty Sails was good timing and she liked nine furlongs, putting this local Grade 3 on the radar after her last out at Oaklawn Park.  Shirer told Picks and Ponderings that a spring/summer race at Churchill, perhaps the G2 Fleur de Lis, would be a potential next out for FLASHY AMERICAN.

The $2 2-1 exacta of FLASHY AMERICAN and SONJA’S ANGEL yielded $22.00.  The fifty-cent 2-1-7 trifecta of FLASHY AMERICAN, SONJA’S ANGEL, and GAMAY NOIR netted $27.25.  Dime superfectas with ANA LUISA in the fourth slot yielded $19.09.

Illinois Derby: DYNAMIC IMPACT Noses Out an Upset Win

The feature on the afternoon, and for the Spring meet at Hawthorne, was the Grade 3 Illinois Derby.  Restricted to three-year-olds, it carried a purse of a half-million and attracted Grade 3 Sham Stakes winner MIDNIGHT HAWK, the favorite in wagering from the opening bell whose final odds would be 2-5, primarily based on his profile part owners.  MIDNIGHT HAWK was the name on the marquee and who the majority of the 6,557 in attendance at the oval on West 35th was out to cheer for.

MIDNIGHT HAWK would bobble at the start, but still managed to get to the lead and would be a half-length in front at the opening quarter, timed in :24.11.  Behind the strong favorite was DYNAMIC IMPACT, and further behind were CLASS LEADER, A STEP AHEAD, and KING CYRUS.  MIDNIGHT HAWK and DYNAMIC IMPACT continued 1-2 around the Hawthorne oval, with the half mile in a sensible :48.06 and three-quarters posted in 1:12.19, with the favorite holding a lead that would extend to a length and a half at the head of the stretch, with MIDNIGHT HAWK and DYNAMIC IMPACT having the race to themselves.  DYNAMIC IMPACT slowly and steadily put in a late response, getting to even terms with MIDNIGHT HAWK just before and getting the better end of a head-bob at the wire, a tight photo between the two.  Rounding out the trifecta was IRISH YOU WELL, eight and a half lenths behind the top two.  Another length and a quarter behind the top three was CLASS LEADER.


DYNAMIC IMPACT with jockey Miguel Mena on his way to the Illinois Derby winners’ circle.

DYNAMIC IMPACT would be posted the victor of the Grade Three Illinois Derby, winning by a nose and stopping the clock in 1:49.07, over a second faster than the older fillies and mares that raced in the Sixty Sails a half-hour prior.  Sent off at 9-1 odds, he rewarded his backers with $21.20 win payouts.  Miguel Mena was aboard for trainer Mark Casse, the same jockey/trainer pair that upset the G2 Hawthorne Gold Cup in October 2012 (with Pool Play).  DYNAMIC IMPACT, a three-year-old by Tiznow, won the race on his natural three-year-old birthday (having been foaled on April 19, 2011).

Winning rider Miguel Mena post-race mentioned that “we were very confident in this horse. Nobody chased the favorite so it was up to do it. I was able to put some pressure on him. I was glad I was able to put my house on the outside at the quarter pole because he wasn’t liking it on the inside.  By the eighth pole I knew he was coming back. I kept encouraging him. I’m glad we got it at the end.”

Assistant trainer Norman Casse, son of winning trainer Mark Casse, feels DYNAMIC IMPACT “could be a serious horse down the line.”  With the Illinois Derby retooled into a Preakness Stakes prep, trainer N. Casse told Picks and Ponderings that “the Preakness is possible but not definite.” However, he told Daily Racing Form that DYNAMIC IMPACT will ship to Keeneland tonight then move over to Churchill Downs.

The $2 1-3 exacta of DYNAMIC IMPACT and MIDNIGHT HAWK returned $38.00. The fifty-cent 1-3-4 trifecta of DYNAMIC IMPACT, MIDNIGHT HAWK, and IRISH YOU WELL yielded $105.85.  Dime superfectas with CLASS LEADER in the fourth slot paid $69.74. The stakes double linking the G3 Sixty Sails and the G3 Illinois Derby returned $50.40 for each dollar invested.

All photos courtesy Four Footed Fotos. No photo of the Molaro Handicap was available at original publish time. (Update, April 20: added a Molaro photo.)

Final attendance for Illinois Derby Day at Hawthorne was 6,557.


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