After a one-year absence, the Grade 3 Illinois Derby returns to Hawthorne this spring. Official entries will be drawn for the race on Wednesday, April 19. The race, a mile and an eighth on the dirt for three-year-olds, will be run on Saturday, April 22. First post that day will remain at its regular time, 4:10pm CDT. Here, Picks and Ponderings introduces you to the likely players in this spring’s marquee local race: seven probable runners and four possible, as identified today by Hawthorne Racecourse stakes coordinator Debby Lindsay.
In alphabetical order, the following horses are probable for the Illinois Derby.
- BALANDEEN – Trained by Chris Hartman and owned by Joey Keith Davis, BALANDEEN most recently finished seventh in the Sunland Derby (G3). The son of Bernardini has two wins in eight career starts, both of which have come at sprint distances. He graduated in a 5.5 furlong, $62,500 maiden claimer at Del Mar last August, then stretched out to win a six-furlong N2L allowance at Churchill the next month. He has finished on the podium twice in stakes company: second behind McCraken in the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill last September, and third behind Rockshaw in the Gazebo Stakes at Oaklawn on March 4. Both of those came at one turn; BALANDEEN has yet to hit the board going a route.
- DONWELL – This son of Divine Park broke his maiden April 7 in his fifth career start, a maiden special weight going a dirt mile at Aqueduct. He did defeat older horses in that race. Trained by Bill Mott and owned by Preston Stables LLC, DONWELL would be trying winners for the first time in the Illinois Derby. He has finished in the money in a pair of two-turn tries, once on turf and once on dirt, though has not yet tried a nine-furlong trip.
- HEDGE FUND – A late nominee to the Illinois Derby, HEDGE FUND hails from the barn of Todd Pletcher for owners WinStar Farm LLC, China Horse Club Ltd., and SF Racing LLC. The lightly-raced Super Saver colt has one win in three career starts, an second-out victory in a 1/16 mile maiden special weight at Gulfstream on February 4. From there, he headed west to New Mexico, finishing a well-beaten third in the Sunland Derby (G3) behind Hence and Conquest Mo Money. This makes HEDGE FUND the only probable entrant who has finished in the money going the same distance as the Illinois Derby, and the only probable entrant with a graded stakes placing.
- HOLLYWOOD HANDSOME – HOLLYWOOD HANDSOME, trained by Dallas Stewart for owner Mark H. Stanley, is both a late Illinois Derby nomination and a late nominee to the Triple Crown. The Tapizar colt has won once in seven starts, taking a 1 mile 70 yard maiden special weight at Fair Grounds over fellow Illinois Derby probable MULTIPLIER in January. A confirmed closer, like so many of Dallas Stewart’s prominent sophomores in recent years, HOLLYWOOD HANDSOME comes in off a fourth-place finish in the nine-furlong Louisiana Derby (G2). In the Big Easy, he missed show by just a nose after a wide trip. The Louisiana Derby had been his first attempt in stakes company.
- MR. MISUNDERSTOOD – This gelded son of Archarcharch was a late nominee to the Illinois Derby for trainer Brad Cox and owner Flurry Racing Stables LLC. Though the Illinois Derby will be his first try in stakes company, MR. MISUNDERSTOOD has shown that he likes to win horse races, with four victories in seven career starts. He scored at third asking last October in a turf mile at Indiana Grand, and has also won his last three starts. Two of those came in turf miles, but last out he won a washed-off N1X over the Fair Grounds slop. In a field of just four, MR. MISUNDERSTOOD sat well off a speed duel and closed to win by nine lengths.
- MULTIPLIER – Lightly-raced MULTIPLIER has won one of three career starts for trainer Brendan Walsh and owner American Equistock. All of those starts have come at a mile and seventy yards against maiden sophomores over the Fair Grounds main. That maiden victory came in his most recent start, on March 18. The son of The Factor would be facing stakes company (and winners) for the first time in the Illinois Derby. He will have tables to turn on HOLLYWOOD HANDSOME, who got his diploma in the January 21 race where MULTIPLIER debuted and finished third as the favourite.
- STAND AND CHEER – Expected to bear the standard for the Illinois locals, STAND AND CHEER was a late Illinois Derby nominee for trainer Scott Becker and owner William Stiritz. The son of Warrior’s Reward has won just one of his eight starts, but has hit the board in six of those eight tries. His maiden win, a 10 1/4 length romp, came in his only start over the Hawthorne dirt. STAND AND CHEER is the only probable or possible entry for the Illinois Derby with a victory over the course. Though the Illinois Derby will prove a class test, his form has held up on traditionally tougher winter circuits. STAND AND CHEER hit the board in a pair of classy sophomore allowances at Fair Grounds and Oaklawn — including finishing well ahead of promising Al Stall trainee Excitations in an allowance-optional at Fair Grounds on March 5.
In alphabetical order, the following horses are possible for the Illinois Derby.
- CARRADINE – CARRADINE, trained by Linda Rice and owned by D A S L Stable LLC, was a late nomination to the Illinois Derby. A New York-bred son of Grasshopper, CARRADINE has three wins in seven career starts: a NY-bred maiden win going a mile on the Aqueduct outer, and NY N1X and open N1X wins going two turns over the Aqueduct inner track. That open N1X win, at a mile and a sixteenth, came in his most recent start on March 10. CARRADINE has twice hit the board in NY-bred stakes races, but has yet to try open stakes company.
- GUEST SUITE – Thus far, GUEST SUITE is the most accomplished horse in the Illinois Derby discussion, having won the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds in January. Trained by Neil Howard and owned by W. S. Farish and Lora Jean Kilroy, GUEST SUITE looks to rebound after a disappointing seventh behind Girvin in the Louisiana Derby (G2). The gelded son of Quality Road has won three of his seven career starts including a maiden special weight at Keeneland last October, an N1X allowance at Churchill last November, and the Lecomte.
- IT’S YOUR NICKEL – Trained by Kenneth McPeek and owned by his Magdalena Stable, Harold Lerner, AWC Stables, and Nehoc Stables, IT’S YOUR NICKEL is a winner of three of his five career starts. The son of Dialed In claimed his stakes victory in the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes on Turfway’s polytrack, but also has maiden victory over the Saratoga turf and an allowance victory (by disqualification) over the Fair Grounds dirt. All three came at route distances. IT’S YOUR NICKEL was last seen on April 8, when he finished a well-beaten sixth behind Irap in the Grade 2 Blue Grass at Keeneland.
- RAPID DIAL – RAPID DIAL was another late nomination to the Illinois Derby, and was also a late nomination to the Triple Crown. The son of Dialed In runs for familiar local connections: trainer Ingrid Mason and owners Mason, Greco Racing Stable, and Michael P. Cloonan. RAPID DIAL has won both his career starts: a six-furlong maiden special weight at Oaklawn on March 11, and an N1X allowance over the same course and distance March 26. Both victories came in straight sophomore company.
Photo credit: Nicolle Neulist.
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