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Currency Swap Tepid Choice in Competitive Illinois Derby

Currency Swap breaks maiden at Saratoga.

By Claire Novak
Special to Hawthorne Race Course


Currency Swap brought trainer Terri Pompay the first Grade 1 victory of her career in the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga last September. This year after spending some time on the sidelines, the blaze-faced colt is back with another big goal – to win Saturday’s running of the $500,000 TVG Illinois Derby (gr. II) and secure a place in the Kentucky Derby field.

 

That First Saturday in May is on the minds of all connections for this 1 1/8-mile prep at Hawthorne Race Course, where 14 runners plus three also-eligibles were entered Wednesday. Nine of the 14 visited the winner’s circle last time out, including Repole Stable’s Todd Pletcher trainee Our Entourage (second choice at 9-2) and the promising maiden winner Morgan’s Guerrilla (10-1), who will be ridden by top jock Rosie Napravnik for trainer Michael Maker.

 

Currency Swap, the 4-1 choice on the morning line, returned to the races March 16 at Gulfstream Park and finished second to Wood Memorial (gr. I) contender Gemologist in a one-mile allowance event. 

 

“He was on the farm after we took the small chip out of his ankle following the Hopeful,” said Pompay. “We got him back and he’s been great, he’s moved forward all along, but still – in the quest to go on the Derby trail, we’re a little behind the eight ball.”

 

A win and the resulting $300,000 share of the Illinois Derby purse would certainly help this bay son of High Cotton secure his place in the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field; he currently ranks 27th by graded earnings with $150,000 from his 2-year-old stakes score for Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence. 

 

“I put him in the allowance race to get a race into him coming back off the bench and he ran well, but we ran into Gemologist who is a monster,” said Pompay. “We weren’t really as tight as we should have been in that race coming off a seven-month layoff, but it’s great to have him back and training well. I was crushed when we didn’t get to go to the Breeders’ Cup. I really thought we could win the Juvenile and I knew I had a really special horse – and I wanted to prove it and show him off.”

 

If headed to the Kentucky Derby, Pompay would become one of the predominant storylines – attempting to become the first female trainer in the race’s 137-year history to win.

 

“My dream is to go to the Derby, but I want to go to the Derby with a horse I think has a really good shot,” she said. “I’d love to be able to win the Illinois Derby and have that option, and if he won there and the owners said ‘Let’s go!’ I’d love to give Kentucky a try. He’s proved to me he’s a real special horse and I’m hoping he runs a terrific race on Saturday.” 

 

Converging from all points across the nation, contenders for the 55th running of the Illinois Derby last made starts in New York, Maryland, Texas, Arkansas, and Florida.

 

Kidwells Petite Stable’s Pretension, third choice in the Illinois Derby at 5-1, and Skeedattle Stable’s Hamilton Smith trainee Done Talking (20-1) were at Aqueduct Race Course on March 3 for the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes; they emerged a respective fifth and 10th from the New York prep.

 

“The Gotham race was kind of screwed up,” trainer Christopher Grove said of Pretension, a Bluegrass Cat colt who won the Sweet Envoy Stakes at Aqueduct on Feb. 11 and was never worse than second in five starts before missing the board in the Gotham. “Going into the first turn, a horse of Pletcher’s came over on him and he got shuffled back. He doesn’t have to be on the lead but he likes to lay up close, two or three lengths off the pace. So he was five or six lengths back which was a new spot for him, and he made a real nice move to be within two lengths of Hansen, but then Hansen just drew off.”

 

Jockey Javier Santiago, who will be back in the saddle this Saturday, fell ill on Gotham day – resulting in the substitution of Hall of Fame rider Edgar Prado.

 

“I asked Edgar if there was a question of distance, and he said ‘Not at all,’” Grove remarked. “He said he’ll get the distance, that’s not a problem, it was just the problem of losing a lot of momentum going into the first turn. He recovered from that race well and turned in his best mile work ever for me on March 23. That’s when I thought, now he’s growing up, he’s ready. We came back into the Gotham in three weeks which probably wasn’t ideal for him. We’ve had five weeks between races this time and that encourages us that he’s sitting on a big effort.”  

 

Harry and Tom Meyerhoff’s Hakama (6-1), runner-up by a head in the March 17 Private Terms Stakes at Laurel Park for trainer Michael Trombetta, could be setting that pace for Pretension to run at. So could Z Rockstar (10-1), sent in from the Oaklawn Park arsenal of trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel for owner Robert Zoellner. The steel gray son of Rockport Harbor ran a 96 Beyer Speed Figure while winning a March 16 allowance race in Arkansas by 2 ¼ lengths last out and was never worse than third before a failed sixth-place bid in the Feb. 20 Southwest Stakes.  

 

Chris Richard trainee Ring It Up (15-1) was fourth in the Southwest for owner James McIngvale, while two horses with similar odds – Orlano DiRienzo’s Romancing the Gold from the barn of Jeremiah Englehart and Stephen Baker’s Saturday Launch for Kenny McPeek – exit respective allowance wins at Aqueduct March 7 and Gulfstream March 11. Saturday Launch will mimic Our Entourage in switching from turf to dirt in the Illinois Derby; both the McPeek trainee and the Repole Stables runner have made multiple starts on the lawn. Our Entourage has more experience of the two, with a runner-up debut effort at Saratoga last year and a fifth in the Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct last November.

 

Bluegrass Hall LLC’s Skyring (20-1), a maiden winner last time out at Oaklawn March 17 for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, and a trio of 30-1 shots – Black Gold Racing’s Slamit for trainer Tim Ice, Jose Luis Gonzalez’s Frankie Is Rock for local trainer Rodolfo “Rudy” Aguilar, and Oak Knoll Farm and Team Wilcox’s Fastestwhogetspaid from the barn of Brian Williamson complete the field.

 

Midwest Thoroughbreds’ Brad Cox trainee Explain has first preference on the also-eligible list, followed by Arm Force from the barn of California trainer Eoin Harty and Defiant Flyer for horsewoman Liane P. Davis.

 

First run in 1923, the Illinois Derby was formerly scheduled between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, thus competing with the second leg of the Triple Crown. In 2001 it was moved four weeks prior to the Kentucky Derby and instantly became a major Triple Crown prep. The 2002 Illinois Derby (run at Sportsman’s Park) produced dual classic winner War Emblem, winner of that year’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Runners like 2003 winner Ten Most Wanted, 2004 victor Pollard’s Vision, 2005 winner Greely’s Galaxy, 2006 winner Sweetnorthernsaint, Recapturetheglory in 2008 and Musket Man in 2009 went on to prominent stakes careers following their Illinois Derby scores.

 

“We’re thrilled to have the largest field we’ve ever had for the Illinois Derby,” said track president Tim Carey. “We’re extremely proud that the race has shaped up the way it has, especially since we were able to raise the purse this year. It’s indicative of what we could accomplish and the kind of horses we could have running in Illinois on a regular basis if we had slots at the racetracks to fund a competitive purse structure.”

 

Post time for the Illinois Derby is an approximate 5:46 p.m. CDT. The race is ninth on the card and will be televised locally for the first time by WGN and nationally by sponsor TVG.

 

$500,000 TVG Illinois Derby
Post Position, Horse, Jockey, Odds

1. Romancing the Gold, Irad Ortiz Jr., 15-1
2. Hakama, Julian Pimentel, 6-1
3. Ring it Up, Lindie Wade, 15-1
4. Currency Swap, Shaun Bridgmohan, 4-1
5. Pretension, Javier Santiago, 5-1
6. Skyring, Ramon A. Vazquez, 20-1
7. Saturday Launch, Chris Emigh, 15-1
8. Z Rockstar, Quincy Hamilton, 10-1
9. Fastestwhogetspaid, Israel Ocampo, 30-1
10. Frankie Is Rock, Eduardo E. Perez, 30-1
11. Our Entourage, Eddie Castro, 9-2
12. Morgan’s Guerrilla, Rosie Napravnik, 10-1
13. Done Talking, Sheldon Russell, 20-1
14. Slamit, Channing Hill, 20-1
15AE. Explain, Francisco C. Torres, 20-1
16AE. Arm Force, Eddie Castro, 15-1
17AE. Defiant Flyer, Seth B. Martinez, 30-1

 

 

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