Brian’s Derby preps: The Illinois Derby

The Illinois Derby – Hawthorne Race Course – $500,000 – 1 1/8 Miles, by Brian Nadeau

The first of three big Derby preps this weekend, and there’s a lot of money to be had. The winner will be guaranteed a spot in the Derby starting gate, while pushing Dunkirk that much farther down the list. This one promises to be the best betting race of the three preps, so let’s take a look at the field.

Nowhere To Hide: Considering that he was sent straight into stakes company after his maiden win, he’s hardly run poorly while finishing fourth in the Risen Star and Tampa Bay Derby. You could even argue this spot is easier, so he’s a player for sure. Beaten only 3 ¼ lengths by Musket Man last out and now Zito takes the blinkers off, though that’s not his best move at only seven percent. He’s got a tidy post and some speed to boot. Not without hope.

Giant Oak: Tough to gauge just how good this guy might be as he had a nightmare trip in the Risen Star and then caught slop in the Louisiana Derby. Block forges on but his colt’s off-the-pace running style doesn’t play well at Hawthorne, especially on Illinois Derby Day, when the racetrack is known to slant heavily towards speed. Add in the severe underlaid price that’s on-tap and it’s probably best to look for value elsewhere, but a late run can certainly nab him second money.

Lord Justice: Looked good wiring allowance foes over Aqueduct’s inner dirt in his last start, his first of the season, and now he’ll get the class test. Bred to be something special, as both mom and dad were GI winners, so maybe he’s coming into his own? A little speed here as well, though I doubt it’s enough to make the top. It’s possible he hangs on for a share but it’s tough to envision him for top honors.

Toccet Rocket: Owns a win from four starts over the local surface, but aside from that he looks overmatched on his return to the main track.

His Greatness: Opened his sophomore season with a decent win at Oaklawn, but then was nowhere in the Rebel. The cast that day is better than he meets here, so it looks like he’s in for another long afternoon.

Perfect Song: Done little wrong in his three-race career and now Trombetta sets his sights on a bigger pot. Here’s your pacesetter, folks, and this guy brings some serious speed to the table. Rose knows him and it’s nice to see him come in for the mount as well. The tactics should be pretty simple: take them as far as you can on the engine. With the way the track plays to front-runners in this race and on this day (Distilled, War Emblem, Pollard’s Vision, Cowtown Cat, and Recapturetheglory were all wire-to-wire winners), this son of Pleasantly Perfect might be lengthening his stride around the far turn and give them all the slip. The call for the win in a scrambled affair.

Free Country: Just hasn’t lived up to the initial promise he showed at Gulfstream, but he might have an excuse or two, as some horses just don’t like Tampa and he caught the slop at Fair Grounds last time. Blinkers come off in here and if you’re a believer, you’ll get a heck of a price on a horse many thought could be a classic contender in January, but that bandwagon is losing members fast.

Musket Man: The only well-regarded runner to make any noise in the Tampa Bay Derby, and his local affinity for the course no doubt helped. The guy he was all-out to run down was a 35-1 sprinter that hadn’t won a race since breaking his maiden last July, so it doesn’t really shout key race, does it? Now he travels far from home and on to a new track, and stretches his sprinter/miler pedigree that much further, so let’s make him do it again before we believe.

Al Khali: The second of three from Pletcher ran well to take his U.S. debut over a soft and short field at Gulfstream. He’s another with a bit of speed but not enough to get to Perfect Song early, so a close-up trip seems in order. If nothing else, that last run shows he’s got some talent and it’s not like he’s got to improve a ton to contend in here.

Il Postino: Pletcher’s third is probably the biggest reach of the trio as he enters fresh off a maiden win over $20,000 claimers. His pedigree sure doesn’t belong with that kind, though, so maybe all he needed was a little confidence, but this is still a major, major step up in competition.

Knight Shot: Looked great running off with his debut here late last fall, but his comeback at Oaklawn wasn’t pretty. Still, he caught slop that day and the fact that Kirby sees fit to go forward is a good sign, so maybe this could be the guy to really spice up your tri’s at a big, big number?

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