Let’s face it, the Illinois Derby is not the strongest of preps for the Run for the Roses, but on the other hand, last time I checked it was still a Kentucky Derby prep. Not so according to the decision makers at Churchill Downs. Kind of odd for a race that I always enjoy attending and in the past dozen or so years, has seen many good horses either run in or win the mainstay of the Hawthorne Race Course spring schedule.
Well, decision makers at Churchill Downs, you made a mistake by not showing even a modicum of respect to the lone Kentucky Derby prep in Chicagoland, and here are ten of my favorite reasons why…
1999 Vision and Verse – Could not win a Triple Crown race, but narrow losses in the Belmont and Travers, plus more than a million in lifetime earnings proved the last Illinois Derby winner of the 20th century’s class.
2002 War Emblem – Parlayed a win in Illinois into wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness on his way to an Eclipse Award as Champion Three-Year-Old.
2003 Ten Most Wanted – Bad luck in the Kentucky Derby left him with no chance, but the Illinois Derby winner came back to finish second in the Belmont and win the Travers to prove himself as one of the best of his generation.
2004 Pollard’s Vision – Blind Luck’s sire needed only one good eye to take the Illinois Derby as part of a career that saw this millionaire win four graded stakes, and finish in the money in seven more.
2005 Magna Graduate – He could only finish third in the big race at Hawthorne, but three years, six graded stakes wins, and nearly $2.5 million in the bank later, he called it a successful career.
2006 Sweetnorthernsaint – He didn’t get it done at Churchill Downs, but after winning the Illinois Derby he was so respected that he went off as the Kentucky Derby favorite. Two weeks later he came back to run second in the Preakness. 2008 Recapturetheglory – Does not possess the name of some on the list, but four years removed from his strong win in the Illinois Derby and subsequent solid 5th in the Kentucky Derby, he is still going strong and racking up good finishes in stakes races.
2009 Musket Man – After an impressive win at Hawthorne, this son of Yonaguska came back to finish a tough-luck 3rd in the Kentucky Derby and then 3rd in the Preakness on the way to completing a stellar career.
2009 Giant Oak – He did not have the Triple Crown success of the horse who beat him in the Illinois Derby, but the 2009 runner-up did become a multiple grade 1 winner and an earner of nearly a million-and-a-half.
2010 Yawanna Twist – Still a horse to fear in the big races, this New York-bred graded stakes winner parlayed a second place finish in the Illinois Derby two years ago into a Preakness effort that saw him finish 4th while beaten less than two lengths by winner Lookin at Lucky.