The Hawthorne stakes calendar rolls on this Saturday with the feature event for Illinois-bred juvenile fillies: the Pat Whitworth Illinois Debutante. The race, instilled in 1983 as the Illinois’ Breeders’ Debutante, has carried the name of the name of longtime Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Foundation (ITBOF) board member Pat Whitworth (1936-2011) since 2003. This year’s edition of the Pat Whitworth Illinois Debutante drew a field of just six for a share of a $50,000 purse — all six return from the Showtime Deb Stakes last month, and almost oddly for an Illinois-bred two-year-old stakes, all six entrants have broken their maidens.
Looking back across the history of the Pat Whitworth Illinois Debutante, a trio of winners have gone on to win in graded stakes company. My Option (2012) won both the 2013 Arlington Oaks (G3) and the 2014 Chicago Handicap (G3). Rolling Sea (2005), a 28/1 upset winner of the Pat Whitworth, won the Allaire DuPont Breeders’ Cup Distaff Stakes (G3) and the Chilukki Stakes (G2) in 2007. Valid Vixen (1987) won the Sixty Sails Handicap (G3) at Hawthorne two years later, in her graded stakes debut. The most recent winner of this race, Babybluesbdancing, hasn’t joined the ranks of the graded stakes winners yet — but she did continue her dominance of her Illinois-bred class into her sophomore year, and she finished second in the Iowa Oaks (G3) this past July.
Though Showtime Deb winner RICHIESLILWILDCAT has been instilled as the 2/5 morning line favourite, race history is not on her side. In the 34 previous runnings of the Illinois Debutante, only one horse has parlayed a Showtime Deb victory into top honours in the two-turn race: Class Break, who swept the pair for trainer Wayne Catalano in 2011. In a sense, it’s ironic that Showtime Deb winners have so rarely won the Debutante — after all, Showtime Deb herself won this race in 1988.
Saturday, December 2 – Hawthorne Race Course
Race 3: Pat Whitworth Illinois Debutante, two-year-old fillies, Illinois-registered, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 3:55pm CST
One question hangs over every horse in this field’s head: can they get two turns? Among them, the six horses in this field have made a combined zero two-turn starts, and none has even hit the board (much less won) at a distance longer than six furlongs. RICHIE’SLILWILDCAT will be the heavy favourite here — and she’s the best kind of heavy favourite, in that she’s so worth taking a shot against. Yes, dam Richiesgirlgotgame has produced a pair of two-turn stakes winners, Jim Edgar Illinois Futurity winners Dom the Bomb and Richie the Bull. But? RICHIE’SLILWILDCAT was dropping anchor in the final furlong of the Showtime Deb in a way neither of her half-brothers did in their races leading up to their two-turn stakes scores. If that had happened after RICHIE’SLILWILDCAT had to fight early, that would be one thing, since she looks the speed of this race on paper. But, the daughter of Wildcat Heir had an uncontested lead, then barely held. If she wins, it will be on experience and class — but she’s a defensive use at best, and there are other good places to go here.
The best two-turn breeding in the field belongs to ROYAL’S POSITION, who this space will tab for the upset. She is a son of Well Positioned, a two-turn stakes-winning son of Awesome Again, out of Wildwood Royal, a two-turn stakes-winning daughter of Royal Academy. ROYAL’S POSITION disappointed last out in the Showtime Deb, but there are suggestions that she can run a better race here. She sat well off the pace last out — whereas, with the longer distance and the shorter field, she should be able to reprise the more tactical style that captured her maiden win two starts back. She also gets a jockey upgrade to Santo Sanjur. Sanjur is riding as well as anyone in the jockey colony at Hawthorne, and though Victor Santiago (trainer Scott Becker’s “A” rider at Hawthorne, now that Chris Emigh has shipped to Fair Grounds) defects to ISABELLACANNETELLA, Sanjur has ridden enough live ones for Becker over the years to suggest that he’ll slip confidently back into the Stiritz green and red on ROYAL’S POSITION.
Last out in the Showtime Deb, COWGIRL CALLIE improved on her dirt debut. In her debut for new trainer Eddie Essenpreis, she tracked the pace set by RICHIE’SLILWILDCAT, came running late, and finished a close third inside. On pace, her tactical speed should be an asset; she won’t be taking it to the chalk early, but she ought to be tracking in range. The two-turn distance is a question, as her breeding isn’t the best for it. But, she had a lot more in the tank last out at the end of six furlongs than RICHIE’SLILWILDCAT did, and will be a better price, to boot. That is enough to put COWGIRL CALLIE in the picture.
#6 ROYAL’S POSITION (10/1)
#2 COWGIRL CALLIE (9/2)
#3 RICHIE’SLILWILDCAT (2/5)
Longshot: #5 ROMANTIC ATTACK (30/1) disappointed last out in the Showtime Deb, her first start on dirt. It may just be that she doesn’t love the dirt, so she’s certainly not a horse you can take at chalk odds. But, she’ll be the longest shot on the board — so the longshot writer will stay in her corner for one more race. ROMANTIC ATTACK switches from bug rider Javier Diego (who rode her, without the apprentice allowance, in the Showtime Deb) to experienced journeyman Angel O. Stanley. From a pedigree perspective, as well, she has some upside. Though sire Forest Attack’s winners have tended to prevail at one-turn trips, dam Romantic Reason has produced four other winners — all of whom have gotten win photos going two turns. Particularly if the first few races on Saturday suggest the track is playing well to closers, ROMANTIC ATTACK may be the right price to take a crack.
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