Mill House's Brilliant has been made the 5-2 favorite in Saturday's $250,000 Hawthorne Derby (gr. IIIT), which drew a field of eight 3-year-old grass runners, including Peter Vegso's Go Between, also a multiple graded stakes winner.
Brilliant gains favoritism off his wins in the Jefferson Cup (gr. IIT) at Churchill Downs and the Kent Breeders' Cup (gr. IIIT) at Delaware Park. Trainer Neil Howard will give a leg up to Robby Albarado, who has ridden the colt in nine of his 10 lifetime starts.
"He's handled everything we've thrown at him and hasn't made too many mistakes," Howard said of Brilliant. "He trains and acts like a pro at all times. I always tell people that he's a 3-year-old going on six."
Brilliant rattled off consecutive allowance wins over the Churchill green in advance of a stakes victory in the Jefferson Cup.
"He ran a huge race that day (to win the Jefferson Cup), but it took a little out of him," Howard said. "The weather was hot, and he came out of that race a little off key. It was tough to pass on those million-dollar races at Colonial Downs (Colonial Turf Cup and the Virginia Derby), but we weren't sure he was ready to run past nine furlongs, and decided it was best to give him some time off."
Brilliant returned seven weeks later to contest the Grade II Hall of Fame Breeders' Cup at Saratoga, where he would finish a close fifth as the 5-2 second choice.
The Kent Breeders' Cup at Delaware Park proved to be Brilliant's coming out party. Following the backlash of the hurricanes, the race actually had to be postponed a week, and when it was finally run, it had to be contested over a very soft turf.
"He (Brilliant) rebounded nicely at Delaware," Howard said. "He was dead fit off the Hall of Fame, and that race was just what the doctor ordered. It was a bog out there. He ran really well, and obviously handled the conditions better than anyone else."
Trainer Bill Mott survived a few anxious moments to win the 2005 edition of the Hawthorne Derby with Brant Laue's Gun Salute, and this year he guns for the repeat with Peter Vegso's Go Between.
Installed as the second choice in the morning line at odds of 7-2, the son of Point Given
counts the Virginia Derby (gr. IIT) at Colonial Downs and the Palm Beach (gr. IIIT) at Gulfstream Park amongst his three victories. He was last seen finishing sixth behind Showing Up in the Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) at Arlington Park on Aug. 12. Larry Melancon will get his first try aboard Go Between. $250,000 Hawthorne Derby (gr. IIIT, Race 8, 4:26 p.m.), 3-Year-Olds, 1 1/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, ML Odds
1. Best of Buddies (IL), Eddie M. Martin, Jr., 116, 10/1
2. Crested (GB), Channing Hill, 116, 9/2
3. Sea of Trees (KY), Jesus Lopez Castanon, 116, 6/1
4. Arbuckle Bandit (KY), Eusebio Razo, Jr., 116, 6/1
5. Tally Up (IL), Larry J. Sterling, Jr., 116, 8/1
6. Go Between (FL), Larry Melancon, 122, 7/2
7. Brilliant (KY), Robby Albarado, 122, 5/2
8. Creative Force (IL), Eduardo E. Perez, 118, 10/1