The lack of Kentucky Derby qualifying
points assigned to the Illinois Derby has been thoroughly discussed,
but the state's richest dirt race will go on as it has for the last
40 years (it was run first in 1923 until 1938, then again from
1963-1969.) While none of its 14 entries will be in the Churchill gate on May 4th, the race is not without its share of quality runners.
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire
Last year's rendition was won by Done Talking, who had recently finished second in an allowance optional
claiming race at Laurel. Done Talking came to Hawthorne with a 6:
2-0-2 record. He ran in the Remsen and the Gotham in his two prior
races, finishing fourth and tenth, respectively. In the Illinois
Derby, Done Talking raced near the back of the pack throughout, moved
up to fourth at the quarter pole, and gained steadily on Morgan's
Guerilla before drawing off to a ¾ length win. This was unusual,
since the race has so rarely been won by deep closers.
American Lion, Recapturetheglory,
Cowtown Cat, Pollard's Vision, and of course War Emblem all won on
the front end. Joe Vann, Musket Man, Sweetnorthernsaint, and
Greeley's Galaxy all sat close or fairly close. Ten Most Wanted was
the only other horse in the last decade to come from near the back.
Those I prefer have drawn outside, but
we will start at the rail:
1. Bells Big Bernie has run
exclusively in Illinois. Were he to win, which I do not think he
will, he would be the first horse to win in at least ten years who
has had his last prep at Hawthorne. None of the winners in the past
decade ran their prep race at Hawthorne (or Sportsman's Park).
Indeed, many had never run at Hawthorne and would not return. The
son of versatile Bernstein does have two route victories in his last
two starts, but he is outclassed here and stuck on the rail in this
2. Dewey Square comes in from
Gulfstream for Dale Romans. He broke his maiden at first asking at
Hoosier and had no problem moving to optional claiming company at
Churchill. In his last three starts, he was gaining at the end in
the Jockey Club, never engaged in a poor Holy Bull start, and was
steadied but even on the turf. He has shown the ability to win on
and near the lead (see: first two career starts) and would likely be
much lower in price were it not for the Holy Bull. Dewey Square
could enjoy his return to the midwest.
3. Street Spice is another Illinois
horse who was recently beaten by Bells Big Bernie. My opinion of
Bernie carries down to Street Spice. I will be passing.
4. For Greater Glory has been running
late on synthetics recently, but he has been unable to get out of the
gate in any good order. Two back in the John Battaglia, horses to
his inside stumbled, which may excuse the poor start there; however,
coming into the stretch, For Greater Glory swung outside suddenly and
bumped another horse. In the Spiral, he simply left the gate
awkwardly. While he ran close to the pace in his maiden races, For
Greater Glory has been a deep closer lately. Facing the largest
field of his young career, I find it difficult to back a horse who
has had recent issues at the gate and has made his own traffic
5. Ground Transport has raced four
times and twice finished behind favored Departing. He has been
running exclusively at Fair Grounds and working almost exclusively
bullets. Ground Transport always gets away from the gate quickly,
but he was fading at the end of the Louisiana Derby. He was stuck in
post 13 in that race, however, and should prefer post 5. His good
gate speed will put him in contention early, but his weak finish at
nine furlongs is troublesome.
6. Taken by the Storm has shown little
in his two career dirt starts. I don't see a win here off of his
7. Dakota Mac does not look poised to
extend his 2/2 lifetime streak (one via DQ) here. Ron Uchman
correctly made him the longest shot of the race at 30-1.
8. Abraham was a horse that first
caught my eye due to stamina influences in his pedigree, but his form
has called them into question. When broke his maiden at nine
furlongs, he drifted all over the stretch. Last out in the Sunland
Derby, Abraham sat in the same position as winner Governor Charlie,
but looked drained in the stretch. He comes in with some very nice
credentials on paper, but I did not like what I saw in his last two
races. A turnaround would not shock me, but it would be unexpected. Todd Pletcher has won this race four times.
9. Show Some Magic also exits the
Sunland Derby, where he finished a clear second to romping Governor
Charlie. He is 4: 1-2-1 since being claimed. I think Govenor
Charlie is quite a good horse and that Show Some Magic has a shot
here. He broke his maiden for $80,000 at Saratoga and finished ahead
of Louisiana Derby runner-up Mylute in his second career start. He
should also sit a good trip.
10. Fordubai is another who has run
maiden and optional claiming races only in Illinois. Forced to
choose a Hawthorne-based horse, however, he would be the one. If
anyone has a reason why I should not be tossing any of these
Hawthorne runners, please enlighten me.
11. Stormin Monarcho, another
Hawthorne-based horse, has left the state of Illinois. Once. He
finished behind For Greater Glory in the John Battaglia at Turfway.
In his support, he has been quite consistent: 5/8 in the money from
4.5 to 8.5 furlongs. I don't see him winning, but he could be a nice
12. Siete de Oros, evidently a tarot
card known as seven of coins in English (I had to check), gave Vyjack
all he could handle in the Jerome, then took the field most of the
way through the Withers before stubbornly succumbing late. He was
stuck in traffic at the beginning of the Gotham, but managed to put
in a decent late bid for fourth. I would in no way leave Siete de
Oros off of exotics and give him a fair shot to win. He has been
facing good horses and is a tough, versatile runner.
13. Departing deserves to be the
favorite. I bet him at 5-1 in the Louisiana Derby (he was much
higher on the morning line) and would gladly bet him at 7/2 here.
Unfortunately, I don't see him staying even that high and I would not
take under 3-1 on much better horses than Departing. That said, he
went into the Louisiana Derby looking good, ran well for a wide trip,
and came out working even better. He will want to stay closer to the
pace than he was in the Louisiana Derby as he did previously. He
will run on Lasix for the first time on Saturday. Look out.
14. Of the five 20-1 and up horses in
this field, Narvaez is the only one not based in Illinois. He is
based in south Florida where – and I make this obvious as a proud
Chicagoan – they have higher-level thoroughbred racing. He
dead-heated recent Bay Shore winner Declan's Warrior two back and was
certainly not disgraced at 104-1 in the Florida Derby. He is stuck
all the way outside, but he is bred to run long and has long odds.
Overall, I think Departing is a
deserving favorite who could be quite good. However, he will be
cheap. Show Some Magic, Siete de Oros, and Dewey Square all look
dangerous and, at the moment, I like them in that order. Narvaez is
also a very live longshot, but I see that price coming down.
These early selections are subject to
change. I don't know how I will bet this race yet, but I will be at
Hawthorne on Saturday posting opinions from the track as they