Merv Griffin’s grade II winner Cobalt Blue has been installed as the 9-5 morning line favorite among nine 3-year-olds entered for Saturday's Illinois Derby (gr. II) over 1 1/8 miles at Hawthorne Race Course.
Trainer Doug O’Neill, who trains Cobalt Blue, winner of Santa Anita's 1 1/16-mile San Felipe (gr. II) March 17, will have two representatives in the race. He also entered Leatherman Racing LLC and Jason Wood’s Family Talk, a maiden winner making his first stakes appearance in the Illinois Derby, to be run for the 50th time Saturday.
The field includes graded stakes winner Cowtown Cat, who is owned by Win Star Farm and Gulf Coast Farms; stakes winner Catman Running, the pride and joy of Joe Harris; and stakes-placed Bold Start, owned by Lawrence Carroll. Other starters include: Equirace.Com's (Ron Peltz) Love Dubai; Silver Wing Stable’s (John Gerbas Jr.) Quite Acceptable; Cathy and Bob Zollars’ Reporting for Duty; and Bruce Lunsford’s Sacrifice Bunt.
All starters will carry 122 pounds and the winner’s share of the purse is $300,000. The Illinois Derby goes as race 7 of an 11-race card that begins at 1:10 pm.
Cobalt Blue and stablemate Family Talk arrived at Hawthorne last Sunday. A $325,000 yearling purchase, Cobalt Blue has won 3 of 4 lifetime starts for earnings of $207,000, tops in the field. After opening the year with a pace-stalking allowance win at Santa Anita on Feb. 14, the Golden Missile colt led virtually every step of the way in the San Felipe to win by two lengths. Victor Espinoza, who was aboard for the San Felipe win, will be in the saddle again.
Trainer Todd Pletcher entered Cowtown Cat in the Wood Memorial (gr. I) at Aqueduct but decided to ship the Distorted Humor colt to Chicago and race Any Given Saturday at Aqueduct. After a win and a third in the Swale Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park to begin the 2007 campaign, Pletcher sent Cowtown Cat back to New York where he responded with an impressive victory in the Gotham Stakes (gr. III) on March 10. 18-year-old jockey Fernando Jara will ride.
Bold Start comes into the Illinois Derby off a troubled second place finish in the Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream on March 3. After opening the season with a January allowance win, he faltered and finished sixth in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) before rebounding in the Hutcheson, where he was blocked while making his move on the turn for home. Trainer Ken McPeek has named Larry Melancon to ride the son of Jump Start , who broke his maiden at Churchill Downs last July.
Catman Running has won both of his starts in 2007 at Turfway Park. Successful in a Jan. 27 allowance tally, the Tactical Catcolt used his tactical speed to capture the Battaglia Memorial Stakes on March 3. He is 3-for-4 lifetime for trainer Eric Reed.
The rest of the field provides some interesting scenarios. Love Dubai will be making his first U.S. start after winning his last three races on all-weather tracks in England. While his last two tallies have proven he can go a distance of ground, he has not raced since Jan. 29. Quite Acceptable won the local prep event for the Saturday's derby by annexing the War Emblem Stakes at Hawthorne on March 18. Trainer Shannon Ritter has won 3 of 4 starts with the gelding.
Reporting for Duty is trainer Steve Asmussen’s hope. The Deputy Commander colt scored his lone win in a maiden race at Hawthorne last September. This year, he’s been runner-up in three consecutive Fair Grounds allowance tests, including a three-length loss to eventual Louisiana Derby (gr. II) runner-up Ketchikan on Feb. 16.
Trainer Bill Mott is hoping for a little local karma with Sacrifice Bunt. The Storm Catcolt broke his maiden at Gulfstream on Jan. 12 before finishing a troubled fifth in an allowance race on March 3. He’s also a full brother to 1999 Illinois Derby winner Vision and Verse.
$500,000 Illinois Derby (gr. II, Race 7, 4:09 p.m.), 3-Year-Olds, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, ML Odds
1. Sacrifice Bunt (KY), Jesse M. Campbell, 12/1
2. Bold Start (KY), Larry Melancon, 9/2
3. Reporting for Duty (KY), Christopher A. Emigh, 15/1
4. Cowtown Cat (KY), Fernando Jara, 5/2
5. Cobalt Blue (FL), Victor Espinoza, 9/5
6. Quite Acceptable (KY), Ramsey Zimmerman, 20/1
7. Catman Running (KY), Willie Martinez, 8/1
8. Family Talk (KY), Terry J. Thompson, 20/1
9. Love Dubai (KY), Miguel Mena, 15/1
Each assigned 122 pounds.