Welcome to the first edition of the Chicago Contest Corner!
Every week, I will be here to highlight some of the most interesting and playable horses in DerbyWars contest races on the Chicago circuit. Between the Promising Prices and Sure Survivors, there will be horses and information for you whether you are playing traditional contests or Survivor format, whether you play a more gutsy style or a more cautious one. Along the way, you’ll also learn about some of the horses, people, and angles on the Chicago circuit.
This week’s Hawthorne contests run on Friday, April 15, so all of the horses featured this week are racing that day.
Race 5 - Listenupnow: Not often do you get the top connections of the meet, trainer Scott Becker and rider Victor Santiago, at a price. On Listenupnow, you should. To be fair, there are good reasons to demand a price here: she is first-time route, first-time turf, taking a rise in class, and facing males for the first time. But, no one else in this field does their best work on the lead, leaving her a chance to dictate terms on the front end. She also comes in second off the lay for a trainer who wins 27% of the time in that circumstance. On the turf and distance angle, Listenupnow is by Hard Spun (a 14% turf sire) out of a proven turf route producing mare. She could take a step forward here, and particularly with a pace advantage and solid connections, she intrigues.
Race 7 - Empirestrikesagain: He has been missing in action since an ambitious try in Grade III company last out, but he has won first off of a long layoff before. Trainer Anthony Mitchell’s runners do not typically fire first off an extended lay, so the fact that Empirestrikesagain has done so in the past makes him stand out. He returns to two turns over a dry dirt track at Hawthorne; in three such tries, he has never been out of the exacta. In terms of pace, as well, he appeals because he has run well on the front, from well out of it, and from places between. The in-form Tall Grass Cat, a pair of Fair Grounds shippers from Louis Roussel (Alzanbaq and Chalk Talk), as well as a last-out maiden winner from Scott Becker (Wildwood Dancer) all stand to take some money. If they do, take a price on Empirestrikesagain.
Race 4 - Allaire: Though she is by Cape Blanco, her dam has produced mostly sprinters, including a winner of an Illinois-bred sprint stakes. Allaire herself looks like a solid sprinter type. All told, six furlongs should be right up her alley. Her early speed also bodes well for her. None of the others in the race who have started before have shown very sharp early zip, and first-timer My Foolish Heart has not been working excessively fast. Last out she was pressured and then passed by Holy Mochaccino, but still finished a clear second. She also has consistency going for her. In three previous starts, Allaire has only missed the board once. However, that was on grass, and that came against tougher company at Fair Grounds. This looks like her race to win or lose, and it would be a surprise to see her miss the board.
Race 8 - Iver With an E: Iver With an E has been on the shelf since December, but has repeatedly run well first off the lay. He has been working since February, suggesting fitness, and he won at this same open $8,000 level at Hawthorne two starts back. That win came with Denny Velazquez in the irons. Velazquez, a 20% winner on the meet so far, returns here. He also rode Iver With an E to two other money finishes (a win and a third) at Canterbury last summer, suggesting a good rapport with the horse. In terms of pace, he has some versatility. He can win on the front, or rallying from a few lengths off. He can also win on both firm or softer grass. With this being the first week of turf racing in Chicago, that carries weight.
-- Written by Nicolle Neulist