For several 3-year-olds pointing toward the $325,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland, the April 19 event offers a final chance at graded earnings and a trip to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). But the horse whose form points to a likely win in the 1 1/16-mile event has no aspirations of making the Derby – and he could spoil the plans of those who do when a field of 11 goes postward in the final Derby prep of the season.
Rushaway Stakes winner Big Glen will take on the likes of grade II winner Salute the Sarge and high-weight Tomcito (a grade I winner in Peru) in the Coolmore Lexington, which will be his first attempt at graded stakes competition. While the step up in class may seem like a large one for the son of Cactus Ridge, the race’s distance and surface could play against the more accomplished horses – at least, that’s what trainer Frank Brothers is hoping.
“He’s a little horse with a big heart and he’s got a lot of try to him,” Brothers said. “You’ve gotta like what you see; his last race was a step up in the Rushaway, so this race is a huge step up, but he deserved a chance. He bought his ticket, as they say.”
Bred in Kentucky by co-owner John T.L. Jones Jr. and partners out of the Unaccounted For mare Zamba Canuta, Big Glen comes from a female family that favors grass racing – which, of course, has proven to translate well to the Polytrack surface. The real question is whether the colt can take the step up in class after winning two ungraded stakes on Polytrack this year for Jones and co-owner Bill Jones.
Higher stakes are on the line for fellow Derby hopeful Tomcito, who requires the earnings from the Lexington to slide into the Derby picture. The race will be a huge factor for the Derby plans of Jet Set Racing Stable’s Tomcito, who will make only his second start in the U.S. after finishing third in the March 29 Florida Derby (gr. I). With graded earnings of $151,292, the son of Street Cry sits 27th on the list for slots in the 20-stall Derby starting gate. Trainer Dante Zanelli Jr. is looking for an improved performance from the winner of the Peruvian Derby National (Per-I), but feels that his runner was not at the top of his game in his last start.
“Coming into the last week (before the Florida Derby), he was training really well... but I also felt that (we were not at the point) before we (could) say, ‘Yes, we have the whole 100%, this is where we want to be,'" Zanelli remarked in an NTRA teleconference held April 15. "We weren't there. We weren't completely 100%. But the race was there, it was time for us to try to prove whether we belonged. There were some good horses out there that day and we were happy at the end that the horse ran a good race – and the best thing out of it is that he has continued improving. He gets better and better every day.”
Tomcito, bred in Kentucky by Chesapeake Farm and Darley out of the Eastern Echo mare Inside Or Outside, was purchased by Zanelli for $7,500 at Keeneland’s September yearling sale. He raced in Peru as a 2-year-old, winning four of five starts and scoring two grade I wins. Going into the Lexington, one has to wonder whether the 1 1/16-mile distance will be long enough for the colt whose two most recent wins came over 1 ¼ and 1 ½ miles – and whether he’ll handle the Polytrack in his first trip off dirt.
“The main question is whether 1 1/16 miles is too short,” Zanelli said. “The longer the race is, the more his chances are going to increase. But don’t kid yourselves when I say he can get the mile and a quarter. There’s some versatility on his way of running when we look at him (going) a mile and a quarter and a mile and half. Obviously running, his running style is coming from behind. I think that we can position ourselves mid-pack on Saturday. We will sit pretty and hopefully he’ll be there when they’re coming for home.”
Southern Equine Stable’s Salute the Sarge faces an opposite challenge going into the Lexington. The son of Forest Wildcat showed brilliance over synthetic surfaces with multiple graded stakes scores last year, and won the only start of his 3-year-old season when he took the March 29 San Miguel Stakes at Santa Anita. But the colt’s maximum winning distance is 6 ½ furlongs, and his ability to handle a longer trip is at question here.
Still, a runner-up finish last year in the 1 1/16-mile Norfolk Stakes (gr. I) has trainer Eric Guillot thinking Salute the Sarge just might be able to route after all. Thankfully, with $258,940 in graded stakes earnings, the colt is among the top 20 earners in graded money pointing toward the Kentucky Derby.
“He’s got dedication, desire, and determination on his side,” Guillot said. “I think he’s got enough heart-girth and lungs, it’s just whether or not he goes that far. We’re going to be kind of scratching our heads until Saturday. (The Lexington) is going to answer the question that I've been wanting to know: how good is he routing? You know, you don't know. He's got a lot of determination, this horse.”
Trainer Todd Pletcher came back onto the Derby scene April 12 when he saddled the 1-2 finishers in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland. He could repeat the feat in the Coolmore Lexington, with a pair of starters entered there as well.
Dogwood Stable’s Repent colt Atoned, fourth in the April 5 Illinois Derby (gr. II) in his most recent start for Pletcher, has $130,000 in graded money and will try Polytrack for the first time. He has never won going 1 1/16 miles, owning just a maiden score and a win in Monmouth Park’s Continental Mile Stakes last August, but was a determined runner-up to Big Truck in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III). Pletcher’s other starter, Padua Stable and partners’ Behindatthebar, was a solid allowance winner last time out at the distance over Cushion Track at Santa Anita in an April 3 allowance race. A single attempt at graded competition for the son of Forest Wildcat resulted in a fifth-place finish behind Autism Awareness in the 1 1/16-mile El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) at Bay Meadows March 8.
Trainer Bill Mott sends out Central Bank Transylvania Stakes (gr. III) runner-up Riley Tucker for Zayat Stables, while fourth-place Lane’s End (gr. II) finisher Racecar Rhapsody is also a contender for trainer Ken McPeek and owners Jerry Carroll, Stan Kaplan, Ronald Plattner, and Mark Guilfoyle with $90,871 in graded earnings.
The Coolmore Lexington offers first money of $201,500, with $65,000 going to the runner-up, $32,500 to third, $16,250 to fourth and $9,750 to fifth.
$325,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. II, April 19, race 9, approximate post 5:40 p.m. EDT) 1 1/16-miles for 3-year-olds, Polytrack
PP, Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Atoned, 117, Edgar Prado
2. Salute the Sarge, 117, Michael Baze
3. Samba Rooster, 117, Garrett Gomez
4. St. Joe, 117, Miguel Mena
5. Racecar Rhapsody, 117, Robby Albarado
6. Felon, 117, Julien Leparoux
7. Behindatthebar, David Romero Flores
8. Tomcito, 123, Jorge F. Chavez
9. Big Glen, 119, Rene Douglas
10. Riley Tucker, 117, John Velazquez
11. Red Sandy, 117, Jamie Theriot