Illinois has a budget! Hooray!
Yes, that’s a strange way to begin a preview of a horse race…but it’s apt. Hawthorne’s stakes schedule last year had been pared down to just the Jim Edgar Illinois Futurity and the Pat Whitworth Illinois Debutante, races that virtually must go on because breeders pay into them when Illinois-breds are just foals. But, with a state budget back in place, the Illinois Department of Agriculture released a pot of purse subsidy money — just in time for Hawthorne to restore its stakes schedule back to something on its previous scale.
The stakes portion of this fall’s meet begins with the Hawthorne Derby, a nine-furlong grass race for three-year-olds. The Hawthorne Derby was last run in 2015; it was previously Grade 3, but became ineligible for grading after not being run in 2014 and 2016. Still, it drew a competitive field of eleven sophomore turf horses to contend for a $100,000 purse.
The Hawthorne Derby is the continuation of a race christened in 1965 as the Hawthorne Diamond Jubilee, and was originally run on dirt. Beginning with its 1984 running, the Hawthorne Derby was moved to the grass, and it has been run at its current nine-furlong distance since 1988. In its dirt era, its most important winner was its first one, Bold Bidder (1965). He would win both the Hawthorne Gold Cup and the Washington Park Handicap. At stud, he sired a pair of Kentucky Derby winners: Cannonade and Spectacular Bid. In its turf era, its winners have included Sovereign Award winner Rainbows for Life (1991), multiple graded stakes winner and durable Illinois mainstay Scooter Roach (2002), and multiple Grade 1 placed Willcox Inn (2011).
The Hawthorne Derby, as all races at Hawthorne, will stream live on the Horse Races NOW mobile app.
Race 6: Hawthorne Derby, three-year-olds, one and one eighth miles on the turf, post time 5:30pm CDT
This race drew a lot more speed than your usual mile and an eighth race on the grass. There’s enough quality speed that an all-out collapse is no guarantee, but it’s not out of the question, and the pace should be at least honest. If speed survives, it’s VOODOO SONG who looks the best of it, and seems the most likely to be there at the end. Perhaps he has peaked after his historic four-win season at Saratoga, as VOODOO SONG was caught at the wire in the Commonwealth Derby (G3) last out. But, he has proven he can see out the nine-furlong trip, and he has stayed on until the end even when sent very fast early. He also gets excellent local front-end rider Edgar Perez in the irons. VOODOO SONG may not be the value of the race, but he’s the class of the race, and merits a long look as a defensive use.
However? There is enough speed in the race, and enough chance VOODOO SONG is over the top, to make others more interesting to bet. Thanks to other early-speed types like PHAT MAN, ADONIS CREED, ALL RIGHT, and THIRSTY ACTOR, a credible closer is good to find. There are two who stand out, and both are local runners who will be good prices.
BLUE SKY KOWBOY makes his stakes debut here, but has shown good enough recent form to make this a reasonable move. Yes, all his best form has come against Illinois-breds. But, it has come against older horses, and he goes against straight three-year-olds here. Since moving to the turf and getting rider Julio Felix aboard, he has emerged as a closer who always fires, and this race may give BLUE SKY KOWBOY the feistiest pace he has seen in front of him yet. The question with BLUE SKY KOWBOY is the turf condition, as his best races have come over firm turf, but it will have some cut this week. But, he is better breaking out of the gate now than he was in his race over yielding going earlier this year, and in his race over good turf, he missed by a head after a slow pace in front of him as well as being hung wide. At the price BLUE SKY KOWBOY will be here, it’s worth betting those were more questions of race circumstance than turf condition. He should be moving best late, and given the likely setup, that stands to get him home.
MY BARILEY is a consistent, classy horse who should also be finishing strongly. If he runs back to his American Derby (G3) effort at a mile and an eighth, he could be very tough here. That day, he ran a monster effort; he fell to his face at the start, but settled and kicked on to finish third behind a lone speed. Santo Sanjur returns to the irons for the first time since that effort, and MY BARILEY gets a better setup here. He also has form over the softer going, some of the best softer-turf form in the field. Two back, he missed by just a length in the Mystic Lake Derby over yielding Canterbury turf; he also finished second beaten a neck on good turf at Tampa, in his first ever try against winners.
#7 BLUE SKY KOWBOY (12/1)
#10 MY BARILEY (10/1)
#3 VOODOO SONG (9/5)
Longshot: #5 THIRSTY ACTOR (15/1) has class to prove against this group, as this will be his first start in which he is not up for a claiming tag. It took him nine tries to break his maiden, but since he got his diploma in his first career turf race, it is safe to say the light has come on. His maiden win begun a four-win streak that he carries, intact, into the Hawthorne Derby. Trainer Wayne Catalano has shown confidence in him: he took THIRSTY ACTOR two starts back for $32K, won back with him about a month later for $50K, and now brings him here. That last-out victory came at the same mile and an eighth distance as this race. Though that came on the front end, THIRSTY ACTOR looks the most able to rate among any of the front-end sorts, as all his other victories came from varying places off the pace. THIRSTY ACTOR will have to improve to beat this company, as his foes here are just faster horses, but it’s a reasonable enough step up from his turf races to suggest he could run to his company at long odds.
You can take “Picks & Ponderings” with you anytime, anywhere. You can get Twitter updates @picksponderings for on-scene reports from Hawthorne Racecourse. And you can get “Picks and Ponderings” in your e-mail by typing your email address in the box and clicking “Create Subscription.” It’s a FREE service, and you’ll never get any unwanted spam.