Brian’s Derby Preps: The Illinois Derby

Hawthorne: The Grade III, $500,000 Illinois Derby at 1 1/8 miles

#1 Romancing The Gold: Son of Medallist got back on the beam last time over Aqueduct’s inner dirt, when he beat a modest optional claiming group to go 2-for-3 since stretching out to two turns for Englehart. Drew well today and is versatile enough to be placed wherever need be, which should play well in a race that looks to have plenty of pace signed on, and it’s not out of the question that he finds his way into the number at a big price; can share.

#2 Hakama: Well-traveled runner went back to his Laurel base and just missed in the one-turn Private Terms last time and will try to garner another two-turn win today. Figures to break running from this inside draw, but others also want to be up front and it’s doubtful that he’s fast enough to clear, which means he could get caught working mighty hard from the inside just to keep pace. No doubt there’s talent in this corner, but it’s hard to envision him battling early and then having enough late; not using.

#3 Ring It Up: Oaklawn invader exits a modest fourth in the slower division of their GIII Southwest and the winner that day, Castaway, came back to lay a dud in the GIII Sunland Derby at short odds, so that race isn’t stacking up too hot. Son of Toccet has some versatility and talent, but at the end of the day he’s still eligible for an N1X, which isn’t making him look too imposing against this crew; passing.

#4 Currency Swap: GI Hopeful winner returned from a minor injury to chase home the 4-for-4 Gemologist in his 3yo debut at Gulfstream Park while finishing well clear of third, so at least you know he came back running. The aforementioned Gemologist will go favored in Aqueduct’s GI Wood Memorial earlier in the day, so it will be worth watching that race to get a little better gauge on this colt. Tries two turns for the first time and his sprint speed should have him on or near the early lead ; we’ve already mentioned that the pace could be sharp, so getting 9F’s with just one race in seven months may be asking a lot; taking a deep breath and tossing completely.

#5 Pretension: Minor Aqueduct stakes winner got beat up by 2yo champ Hansen in their GIII Gotham in his last and now heads to the Midwest to find calmer waters. On the plus side, that was the first time in six starts that this son of High Cotton Bluegrass Cat failed to hit the exacta, so you know he’s got some talent, but he’ll need a form reversal to threaten. On the plus side, he does own a running style that should get him first run on the closers, but when push comes to shove, he just doesn’t look fast enough; minor award, at best.

#6 Skyring: Son of turf stud English Channel ships in off an OP MSW win for Lukas, so fans of  “D. Wayne off the plane” might have a play on their hands. Lightly raced and improving colt has done some good things since switching to two turns, and it’s not like he meets any of the sexier 3yo’s in training, not to mention he’ll be a big price. And don’t forget, the Coach has been known to pull off a shocker or two in his day with horses that didn’t look like they belonged; not the worst price play in the world.

#7 Saturday Launch: McPeek charge enters off a GP turf win in an optional claimer and has not tried conventional dirt since being beaten the length of the stretch in his career debut at Churchill Downs last July. Son of Any Given Saturday is bred to handle this surface and it’s obvious that he’s a much, much better horse now than last summer, so at least that’s a positive, though this is a giant step up; tough to tout.

#8 Z Rockstar: Tough to gauge colt that finished well back of Secret Circle in the faster division of the Southwest but then aired at OP in a N2L in his next start in what was a true breakthrough race that was run in extremely fast time. Tactical runner drew well and should be sitting just off the early lead, which will allow him first run on the closers, so he’s got every right to be a major player against a group like this; won’t fault anyone looking this way.

#9 Fastestwhogetspaid: Son of sprinter Henny Hughes exits a 6F stakes win at OP but does own a local two-turn win late last year, so he gets a few bonus points there. Yet another who wants to be on or near the early pace and that’s going to pose a problem as the engine is becoming a pretty crowded car, so it’s unlikely that he can be involved early and be around late; figures to blink when the real running begins.

#10 Frankie Is Rock: The second of the locals adds blinkers in an effort to get over the hump and is still eligible for an entry-level allowance, so he’s biting off an awful lot here. Figures to show some more speed with the hood added, but that likely will only have him active for the first part before tiring when the real running begins; looms the longest shot on the board.

#11 Our Entourage: Pletcher runner looked good winning his 3yo debut in a grassy optional claimer at GP and now heads back to the main track for the first since time he closed out his 2yo campaign with a close fifth in Aqueduct’s GII Remsen at today’s distance. Owns the tactical zip to negate this wide draw and secure some decent position entering the first turn, which should have him just off the early leaders and in an enviable position exiting the far turn; as a son of Street Cry, he’s bred to love this trip. Enters on the upswing, seems to be peaking and looks poised for a monster run; tepid call to win a wide open affair.

#12 Morgan’s Guerrilla: Lightly raced runner exits a visually impressive MSW win over a sloppy and sealed track at Aqueduct when he set a fast pace, was challenged on the far turn, and then pulled away late. And sure, he wasn’t beating much that day, but don’t forget it was only his second career start and first in a route, not to mention that he traveled up from GP to do it, so give this son of Ghostzapper a lot of credit. Owns a ton of zip and could even be the speed of the speed, which means he might not get caught up in all the pace congestion behind him. Clearly he’s being thrown into the deep end today, but he’s yet to show what he can do on a fast track, and we’ve already mentioned that there are no world beaters entered; expecting him to make his presence felt.

#13 Done Talking: Impressed when he closed out his 2yo season with a close fourth in the Remsen, but then he was beaten about 30 yards in the Gotham, in what was an extremely disappointing sophomore debut, so it’s tough to figure this son of Broken Vow. It’s nice to see Smith forge on and surely this colt will be tighter today, but until he shows some signs of life, it’s best to look elsewhere; taking a wait and see approach.

#14 Slamit: Son of Grand Slam enters off a minor two-turn stakes win in the mud at Sam Houston to make it 2-for-2 since heading into Ice’s barn, and he seems to be on the upswing as he goes after the biggest prize of his career. Versatile runner showed a new dimension last time, when he closed nicely into a swift pace, and that’s a scenario that you could envision playing out again today. Ice showed he knows how to campaign a star 3yo a few years back when he did great work with Summer Bird, and while this colt certainly isn’t in that category, he does have the look of a sneaky contender; capable of spicing up your exotics at a big, big price.

#15 Explain: The first of three also-eligibles perked way up with a fine second to Z Rockstar when running off the claim for Cox when he was sent two turns for the first time, and he will be a contender if he makes it to the starting gate. The draw is pretty brutal, but he does have some speed, so just maybe he can get some decent position and fall into a midpack stalking trip, with the hopes of launching his move around the far turn; definite danger if he gets to play.

#16 Arm Force: Harty colt was entered but scratched from last weekend’s GII Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds to run here, but that plan didn’t work too well as he’ll need some help to draw in. Full brother to 2009 Dubai World Cup hero Well Armed has some talent and a ton of speed, but off just two lifetime sprint starts, he would be up against it, even if he does draw in; worth following, just not today.

#17 Defiant Flyer: Closed stoutly to win a minor two-turn stakes over a good track at Sam Houston in his last but will have to run much, much faster to compete with this group. Stretch runner is well down the AE list and will need some defections to draw in and would be a pretty easy toss even if he does; needs softer to factor.


#11 Our Entourage

#12 Morgan’s Guerrilla

#8 Z Rockstar

8 thoughts on “Brian’s Derby Preps: The Illinois Derby

  1. So I guess no one predicted our friend Ham Smith would win the IL Derby and possibly be on his way to Louisville? Love it when the good guys do well 🙂

  2. Should they get to the big dance, that would be a great story for NBC to cover! And a nice plug for Colonial Downs and the whole mid-Atlantic circuit.

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