A little more than three weeks ago Watch Me Go was dismissed at odds of 47-1 in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II). Now, the son of West Acre is the horse to beat in the $300,000 TVG Illinois Derby (gr. III).
Gilbert G. Campbell’s Florida homebred Watch Me Go is the lone stakes winner in the 1 1/8-mile Illinois Derby, which drew a field of mostly unknown 3-year-olds—some of them trying to make a late jump into the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) picture and others simply looking to break their maiden in a race with a large purse. Included in the dozen sophomores entered for the April 9 race at Hawthorne Race Course are a pair of allowance winners, a gelding with a $25,000 claiming victory to his credit, three maiden winners, and four horses looking for their first career win.
Post time for the Illinois Derby is scheduled for 4:37 p.m. CDT.
Watch Me Go stalked the pace and outdueled Crimson Knight in the March 12 Tampa Bay Derby for his upset win. The dark bay/brown colt catapulted himself into the Kentucky Derby picture with that score and now will seek his third win in four starts this season under regular rider Luis Garcia. Previously, he won an optional claiming sprint and was third in the Inaugural Stakes. The 7-2 morning-line favorite will make his first career start outside of Florida and they will break from post 4.
Watch Me Go, who is trained by Kathleen O’Connell at Tampa Bay Downs, is out of the Deputy Minister mare Sabbath Song. He has earned $311,345 from nine starts.
Entering off of consecutive wins are Zayat Stables’ Joe Vann and Charles Fipke’s Lagoon of Diamonds. Joe Vann (6-1) is based at Belmont Park for Todd Pletcher, but has recorded his last two victories at Laurel Park. The son of Silver Deputy broke his maiden in his sixth try Feb. 17 going one mile, and came back March 9 to win an optional claimer by 5 1/2 lengths in front-running fashion. Joe Vann, a $150,000 Keeneland yearling purchase, will break from post 3 with Florent Geroux aboard.
Pletcher has won the Illinois Derby three times, with Distilled in 2001, Pollard's Vision in 2004, and Cowtown Cat in 2007.
Lagoon of Diamonds (15-1) scored his back-to-back sprint wins at Mountaineer for D. Kelly Ackerman. The bay colt broke his maiden by seven lengths in his fifth start and romped by four lengths on a muddy track March 4 going 4 1/2 furlongs—both in wire-to-wire fashion. Eduardo Perez will have the mount and they will break from the rail.
The only other horse coming off a win is Don Benge’s Smarter Than Ever, who broke his maiden—also wire-to-wire—Feb. 21 on the Turfway Park Polytrack.
Entering off of graded stakes starts are New York shipper The Fed Eased and Florida shipper El Grayling. The Fed Eased (5-1) set the pace in the March 5 Gotham (gr. III) at Aqueduct before tiring to finish fifth. The lightly-raced Rick Violette trainee won by more than seven lengths Jan. 29 in a maiden sprint.
El Grayling (9-2) was eased and did not finish the Feb. 26 Fountain of Youth (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park and has lost his last six starts. But he was third to recent Florida Derby (gr. I) runner-up Shackleford in a Feb. 5 allowance race, beaten 2 1/4 lengths.
Shipping in from Fair Grounds for Al Stall Jr. is Sour, who was second in an optional claimer on Feb. 26 as the odds-on favorite after breaking his maiden impressively in January.
$300,000 Illinois Derby (gr. III, Race 7, 4:37 p.m.), 3YO, 1 1/8 Miles (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Lagoon of Diamonds (KY), E E Perez, 122, D K Ackerman
2. Smarter Than Ever (KY), J Z Santana, 122, C Hanna
3. Joe Vann (KY), F Geroux, 122, T A Pletcher
4. Watch Me Go (FL), L Garcia, 122, K O'Connell
5. Vouch for Victory (KY), J E Felix, 122, M Perez
6. Sour (KY), B J Hernandez Jr., 122, A M Stall Jr.
7. The Fed Eased (FL), J Valdivia Jr., 122, R A Violette Jr.
8. Zoebear (KY), S B Martinez, 122, S Becker
9. Roman Flame (KY), T Thornton, 122, F J Kirby
10. El Grayling (KY), V Lebron, 122, M J Maker
11. Southern Sculptor (KY), L Medina, 122, E J Guillot
12. Future Empire (KY), T Riggs, 122, G Scherer