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Currency Swap and Our Entourage headline the 2012 Illinois Derby

2012 Illinois Derby - Chicago Dark Horse Race Preview
(Drawing by Marcy Leonard!)

I’ve been looking forward to this day for some time.  What day is that?  I’m glad you asked yourself that very question in your mind.  Saturday is the 2012 running of Chicago’s one and only Kentucky Derby prep race - the Illinois Derby! This is the official and exclusive race preview for Horse Racing Nation.  

This year’s edition sends 14 runners to the gate with 3 also-eligible entries at a distance of 9 furlongs at Hawthorne Race Course.  What’s also special about the 2012 running is that for the first time ever the race is being broadcast in Chicago on WGN!  Jim Miller, Assistant General Manager at Hawthorne, has been very busy putting together this great race (and a great Saturday card too) while working closely with WGN and TVG for ultimate TV and media coverage.  Post time for the derby is about 5:45 PM central time and you can count on exclusive Horse Racing Nation coverage of the event.  

Let’s take a close look at the field and see if we can find a winner…

#1 Romancing the Gold (5-2-0-1):  Medallist-Mass Romantic by Not for Love

Connections:  Englehart/Ortiz Jr

Analysis:  Shipping in from New York, this Pennsylvania-bred gelding has an on-again/off-again running style.  This horse also seems to run well when he has long odds!  Most recently in 2012 he broke his maiden at the “Big A” at one mile on the inner track (also at 41-1), then tanked (or bounced) at the allowance level only to come back and win his next race after that (at 12-1 odds).  He has two solid works at Belmont at the end of March and if form holds, he could factor in this race.  However, this will be the longest race if his short career so we’ll have to see if he can get the distance.

Interesting Stat:  Trainer Jeremiah Englehart wins at an enormous 32% clip when his horses won their last start.

#2 Hakama (6-2-2-1):  First Samurai-Check by Unbridled

Connections:  Trombetta/Pimentel

Analysis:  This colt, also shipping in from the East coast has really only run one bad race in his 6 starts.  That was in the Grade 3 Withers where he was bumped early and never recovered.  Oh yeah, Alpha happened to win that race.  So if we draw a line through that race all we are left with are in-the-money finishes.  It appears that this horse may need the lead to win so we’ll take a closer look at the pace scenario after analyzing the field.  This race is also ½ furlong longer than he’s ever raced but I’m confident that he can get the full 9 furlongs.  

Interesting Stat:  If you throw out the Withers this horse has three races with Beyer figures in the 80’s.  

#3 Ring It Up (8-1-2-1):  Toccet-Noontime Angel by Successful Appeal

Connections:  Richard/Wade

Analysis:  This colt’s only victory came in his maiden victory at one mile at Remington Park last October.  Since then he just missed in an optional claimer at Oaklawn and was the beaten favorite and second best in a similar race also at Oaklawn.  Following those two second-place finishes, he finished a good fourth in the Castaway version of the Southwest stakes.  Since that time he has taken a bit of a break but posted some very solid workouts at Oaklawn.  With the deep, tiring track in Hot Springs, and with improvement in each of his last three starts, this horse appears to be fit and ready to run.  I wonder if this grandson of Awesome Again prefers a little extra distance.

Interesting Stat:  Trainer Chris Richard and jockey Lindey Wade have teamed up 51 times during the last year and have won 25% of those races together.

#4 Currency Swap (3-2-1-0):  High Cotton-Echo Bluff by Pine Bluff

Connections:  Pompay/Bridgmohan

Analysis:  Here is your morning line favorite at 4-1 and at initial glance this colt seems to be the class of the field.  He won his maiden race at Saratoga in convincing fashion and a month after that took home the Grade 1 Hopeful.  After spending some time in Florida to train, he was a solid second in an allowance race at Gulfstream.  He has posted some solid works in recent months and seems to be in good form coming to Chicago.  He will likely be near or just off the lead and at Hawthorne that is a good place to be.  

Interesting Stat:  Currency Swap’s only loss was to Gemologist who will be running in the Wood Memorial.

#5 Pretension (6-2-3-0):  Bluegrass Cat-Main Streetin’ by Street Cry

Connections:  Grove/Santiago

Analysis:  Here’s another colt that just seemed to have one bad race.  Pretension has been showing improvement in every start until he gave it a go at the Gotham.  The result was a 5th place finish to winner Hansen.  Still he was in the second pack of horses to cross the line in that race so don’t discount it entirely.  The Gotham was also on a “good” track so it is also possible that he just didn’t like the off track.  We’ll have to see how this son of Bluegrass Cat likes the Hawthorne strip.  If he can rate close to the pace like he did in his better races he should be able to contend here.  

Interesting Stat:  Pretension’s best race was a state-bred minor stakes at Aqueduct where he posted a career best 82 Beyer.

#6 Skyring (4-1-1-0):  English Channel-Violet Lady by Seattle Slew

Connections:  Lukas/Vazquez

Analysis:  OK so this colt has just broke his maiden in his last race.  Is that a reason to throw him out of this race?  Maybe or maybe not, and here’s why.  First, this colt has been racing and working at Oaklawn where horses just seem to get fit.  Second, the three-year-old has been improving in each and every start; an angle I love to play.  He definitely has the pedigree to get the 9 furlongs and has one of the best trainers in D. Wayne Lukas.  

Interesting Stat:  The great Mr. Lukas is 0-for-50 in his last attempts at a graded stakes victory.

#7 Saturday Launch (9-2-3-2):  Any Given Saturday-Ardum Relaunch by Cee’s Tizzy

Connections:  McPeek/Emigh

Analysis:  Kenny McPeek sends this lawnmower to give the dirt a try for the colt’s second time.  If you want an improving 3-year-old you have it here.  His only two bad performances were in races that were not on the grass: a maiden race on Churchill’s dirt and the Arlington-Washington Futurity on synthetic.  On the grass he seems to do very well including victories at Ellis Park and most recently at Gulfstream.  Can the recent form transition back over to the dirt?  With local hero Chris Emigh aboard anything is possible.

Interesting Stat:  Saturday Launch is coming off of his two best Beyers coming into the Illinois Derby.

#8 Z Rockstar (9-2-3-2):  Rockport Harbor-Nasty Little Star by Nasty and Bold

Connections:  Von Hemel/Hamilton

Analysis:  Here we have the only gray horse in the race and this gelding has run a bunch of good races in his career.  Familiar to the Chicago circuit, Z Rockstar tried three times to break his maiden at Arlington.  When that wasn’t successful Donnie Von Hemel sent the Oklahoma-bred back to Remington Park for the victory.  Since then, he really has only run bad in one race and that was in the Secret Circle division of the Southwest at Oaklawn.  After that he ran an extremely good race at Gulfstream winning an allowance race and posting a huge 96 Beyer.  Favorite local jockey, Quincy Hamilton, gets the mount on a horse that is likely to contend.  

Interesting Stat:  No stranger to Chicago, trainer Donnie Von Hemel wins graded stakes at a 26% rate!

#9 Fastestwhogetspaid (6-3-1-0):  Henny Hughes-Talk Back by Talkin Man

Connections:  Williamson/Ocampo

Analysis:  Rising from the ashes of maiden claiming company is Fastestwhogetspaid who is also very familiar with the Chicago area.  Hawthorne is a “horse for course” kind of track and this colt has two victories in three tries here.  He easily made the transition from maiden-claiming sprint to allowance-route then was beaten very badly in the Smarty Jones stakes at Oaklawn.  He managed to bounce back though with two good starts and a win in another minor stakes in Hot Springs (at 38-1 too).  Coming off a lifetime best Beyer and posting some solid workouts, is this horse ready to contend with the tougher company?  At an initial glance I would say no based on class alone, but then again he sure does love Hawthorne.

Interesting Stat:  This horse is the only 3-time winner in the field!

#10 Frankie Is Rock (6-1-1-2):  Rock Hard Ten-Alida by Theatrical

Connections:  Aguilar/Perez

Analysis:  Adding blinkers for the first time, this Rock Hard Ten colt seems to like the Hawthorne strip as well.  He is 4-1-1-1 at the track and is coming off an allowance race where he just missed second place.  I’m not sure he fits with the rest of the class of this field, but then again I have been surprised before.  I’d really need to believe we’d have to get the performance of a lifetime here.

Interesting Stat:  This horse is coming off of a lifetime best Beyer of 80.

#11 Our Entourage (5-2-1-0):  Street Cry-Sand Springs by Dynaformer

Connections:  Pletcher/Castro

Analysis:  Another lawnmower invades Hawthorne as trainer Todd Pletcher sends Our Entourage to Chicago for owner Mike Repole.  We know Mr. Repole likes to win and the morning line of 9/2 (second choice) indicates that he has a good shot here.  This horse failed to hit the board in his only two graded stakes races but his Beyer figures have improved in each and every start.  Our Entourage has posted some very good workouts at Palm Meadows recently and I expect more improvement as he’s only making his second start as a 3-year-old.  

Interesting Stat:  This colt was purchased for $350,000 in the Keeneland September sale!

#12 Morgan’s Guerrilla (2-1-1-0):  Ghostzapper-Rutledge Ballado by Saint Ballado

Connections:  Maker/Napravnik

Analysis:  Welcome back to Chicago Rosie Napravnik!  Mike Maker ships in this recent maiden breaker to take a crack at the $500k purse.  He must be serious about winning this race too based on the jockey he’s bringing in as well.  Still this colt just won last time out and may be facing tougher company here.  This horse will likely go for the lead from the outside-ish post and that’s a lot of ground to cover early.  Let’s see how much stamina this horse has in him.  

Interesting Stat:  When Maker and Napravnik team up they win at a 24% rate!

#13 Done Talking (6-2-0-2):  Broken Vow-Dixie Talking by Dixieland Band

Connections:  Smith/Russell

Analysis:  This Broken Vow colt ships in from the East coast for trainer Hamilton Smith.  He has two victories: one at Delaware Park and the other at Parx.  In his only race as a 3-year-old he didn’t fare well in the Gotham never seeming able to stay in contention.  Still, with a bullet workout and second from the layoff, perhaps this horse may wake up and surprise in this race.  

Interesting Stat:  Trainer Hamilton Smith wins at a 24% rate when the horse is running their second race after a layoff.

#14 Slamit (6-2-0-1):  Grand Slam-Excedius by Seattle Dancer

Connections:  Ice/Hill

Analysis:  I asked Tim Ice earlier about his horse in this race.  He said he really likes this colt and it’s easy to see why.  Since Black Gold Racing has transferred the training over to Tim he has won two races in a row!  He broke his maiden at 8.5 furlongs at Oaklawn then proceeded to win the Spring Stakes at Sam Houston on a muddy track on March 10th.  It’s obvious that Tim has found the magic formula to get this horse to win and we’ll see if he can get a big piece of the purse on Saturday.  Channing Hill gets the mount for the derby and it appears that we’ll also be seeing a lot more of him in Chicago for the months ahead.  This horse was purchased for $120,000 so obviously the owners thought well enough of this horse at the time.  Now they’re ready to test him in graded stakes company.  

Interesting Stat:  Slamit has posted his two lifetime best Beyers since working under trainer Tim Ice.  

Also Eligible:

#15 Explain (3-1-2-0):  Broken Vow-Restless One by Dixieland Band
#16 Arm Force (2-1-0-0):  Tiznow-Well Dressed by Notebook
#17 Defiant Flyer (9-2-1-0):  Early Flyer-Gilded Time by Rosebud Sioux

Probable pace scenario:

Early Speed:  Morgan’s Guerrilla and Hakama
Tracking/Stalking:  Romancing the Gold, Ring it Up, Currency Swap, Pretension, Skyring, Fastestwhogetspaid, Z Rockstar, Our Entourage, Slamit
Closing:  Saturday Launch, Done Talking

Wow.  What an EXCELLENT betting race!  There are many ways to go here and no matter what you can expect to catch a price, if not with straight bets then certainly with the exotics.  

I’m going to go against the favorites here and choose between Morgan’s Guerrilla and Slamit. I just think that Napravnik’s horse will only improve and get better while Tim Ice seems to have found the secret sauce with Slamit.  Underneath in exotics and as additions to horizontal wagers I would also add Our Entourage, Z Rockstar, Pretension, Hakama, and maybe Romancing the Gold.

Hawthorne has a great wagering card this Saturday so don’t miss out on it!  They are running lots of great races and there’s even another stakes race (the Cryptoclearance, Race 8).  

So tell me, who do you like in the Illinois Derby?  


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Older Comments about Currency Swap and Our Entourage headline the 2012 Illinois Derby...

5 4 2 is the best I can come up with
You know it Vic, what a tough race to handicap!
Anytime yu get a field this bulky for a serious contest, you can guess there is no dominant runner
I think I'm moving Z Rockstar a little higher on my list.
Saturday Launch, Done Talking and Morgan's Guerilla..all look possible to me.
I'm gonna Slamit down on #14 and Tim Ice :)
I have to go with the ML favorite here, but I rather like Fastestwhogetspaid, too.
Nice job, Chris! Wish I could be there.
Agreed Jinlie - VERY wide open!! Hard to handicap and I'm sure that I'll change my mind a few times. I'll stick with Slamit, but we'll see about a second choice.
Wide open race...picking Morgan's Guerilla
Slamit. :)
tough raced= two speedsters coming into three year oldbuilds, Z Rockstar and Skyring; if they go out early and lead into the clubhouse, gthey win i and 2, toss a coin for win and place place.
Great stuff, Chris. Looks like HRN will have these Derby Preps covered!
14 entered, with 3 also eligibles? Looks like I have handicapping to do!

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 (Whoa - it's me - the DARK HORSE)
Greetings and welcome to my "dark" blog!  I have been a fan of horse racing since I was about 12 years old.  Growing up in Minnesota, my dad would take me and my brothers to Canterbury Downs and I would practically beg to go every weekend!!  I made my first "big" score there hitting the win, place, and exacta in the same race at age 14 (pulled in $84 with horses named Railroad Red and Racers Dream!).  I even had a poster in my bedroom of Lost Code winning the 1987 St. Paul Derby!
While finishing school in Chicago, I spent every possible moment at Arlington Park with my dad.  We took the time to develop computer programs (on the ever popular Lotus 1-2-3 for DOS) to try to find patterns and handicap races more accurately.  My dad taught me a lot about handicapping races, paying particular attention to class moves!

Since then, I have become more involved with horse racing each passing year through a variety of different media-based roles. Once deemed the "second best racing ambassador in Chicago" (hey I've been called worse), 
I now reside in the Mid-Atlantic Region of the USA and will be covering many different aspects of racing - in my unpredictable DARK HORSE STYLE!  
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This blog is eternally dedicated to the memory of Tim "Tiznow" Reynolds.

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