A Closer Look at the Illinois Derby

April 19, 2013 08:24am
Departing 615 X 400
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire
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.

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 large field.

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 trouble before.

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 dirt form.

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 price underneath.

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 develop @HeadHeartHooves.


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Older Comments about A Closer Look at the Illinois Derby...

Wow, Sully. 2 for 2 in the preps today. Congrats!
@Sully...Nice pick! Congrats......Same senario when European horses come to the US.
btw, Just about all of my favorites(could be all at this time) run while on Salix. I still am against using this drug as an "equalizer"(everyone else is on it). Not its intended purpose.
#ifthat'syouronlyeducationaboutsalixyouneedtoreadmore/goodoleboysandgirlsneedtogiveupthehick-ass"edge"whogoesfirst? #neveradmittolikingyourowncomment.
Yeah, I liked my own comment! #GoodTimes
Just for the record, I don't recall ever saying Departing is going to run faster because he's getting lasix. From a handicapping angle (all handicappers understand that's all we have to go on most of the time to set us apart from the crowd), first time lasix is usually a sign that something did not go right in the last race, and they're attempting to fix it. Thus I view it as a "drug" that prevents problems, not a performance enhancer like steroids. That is all.
TV posting a blog about opinions. Good luck getting those actual studies' results, head_heart ;) Opinions are like ________! You know what goes there.
A tough post for the fast improving Narvaez but I still expect a big race from him
A tough post for the fast improving Narvaez but I still expect a big race from him
travel_vic: I understand the drug interaction. The studies I was referring to were the "objective studies of final times." Also, believing in aliens and believing that a loop diuretic makes horse run faster are two far different things. If your argument is that everyone should not only focus on furosemide but also phenylbutazone, et al, then I'm for it. If not, you will need to clarify for me.
Big LIKE on TV's comments
Dewey Square is the one that win thyis all.You have to throw out the poor race he had in the Holy Bull and he has been in cotention in most of his other races.
Agree with you Sully! Except I LOVE Ground Transport to win this one for Stidham. He was a litltle wide in LA Derby, but he should get out on top or close and runaway with this one. Sucks there are no points to go towards Kentucky.
no drug has a single effect. We tolerate the minor effects as long as the major effect is worthwile...Bute interacts with furosemide to reduce its effectivenss.
there are MNY beliefs which hand on as popular that have not a shred of evidence to back them up: alien abduction, angels, the rapture etc etc.
not handy but if you just google furoseminde butazolidin interactions you will see a lot of them and how they work effectively against one another.
travel_vic: do you have a link to or title of any of these studies? I would like to look into the subject more. I wonder why Lasix is such a big deal if it is completely ineffective...

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Meet Alex Fawell 

Unlike many, I did not grow up with horseracing. My first time at the races was the 2008 Kentucky Derby. I bet on Colonel John. That fall, I had the good fortune to go to England, where I visited Ascot and Kempton. When I returned to the U.S., I was hooked. I started reading handicapping books, studying historic sire lines, watching races and going to Portland Meadows regularly. While the purses there were small, I was able to be close to the action and see firsthand the day-to-day operations of an average American racetrack.


Last year I moved home to Chicago. I went to Arlington for the first time this year. In the interim, I have devoted my time to understanding all aspects of horseracing  I hope to provide unique isights on handicapping perspectives and multifaceted analyses on the state of horseracing today. I will strive to write with an open mind and a willingness to learn through the writing process. I will not claim to be an expert, but I will read thoroughly, write carefully, and be honest.


To me, the all-time greats are Kelso, John Henry, Round Table and Yeats. Horses I like because they have won me money include Raven's Pass, Alternation, and I'll Have Another. The greatest horse I have even seen live is Zenyatta. I also enjoy the Bears, the Bulls, the White Sox, the Blackhawks, Mexican food, good Bourbon, and old-time music - specifically that played on the 5-string banjo. Thanks for reading!

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