It may not be worth points on the road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), but the $750,000 Illinois Derby (gr. III) drew a packed field of 14—including some familiar names—when entries were taken April 17.
Jerome Stakes (gr. II) runner-up Siete de Oros, Louisiana Derby (gr. II) third-place finisher Departing, and Show Some Magic and Abraham, the 2-3 finishers from the Sunland Derby (gr. III), are among those entered for the April 20 event.
FACTOIDS: Wild Rush, winner of the ’97 race, would win two Grade 1’s the following year – the Carter and Met Mile in New York.
Compiled by Gary Dougherty
Traditionally a late-season prep for the Kentucky Derby, the 1 1/8-mile contest for 3-year-olds lost that status this year when Churchill Downs froze Hawthorne Race Course out of the new qualifying system to make the Derby field. But many are saying the Illinois Derby, run four weeks before the May 18 Preakness Stakes (gr. I), now offers a good setup for the the second leg of the Triple Crown.
"I think you prove you belong and whoever wins the race deserves to be in the Preakness," said Dale Romans, who conditions Dewey Square. "Actually, whoever wins the race probably deserves to be in the Kentucky Derby. To me, that was one of the big flaws of the new system. It's pretty much a case of Churchill trying to throw their weight around because they're always in a beef with Hawthorne.
"But it's still a lot of money and not every 3-year-oid race has to be about making the Kentucky Derby, even though we tend to look at them that way. It's a good race in its own right."
Al Stall Jr., trainer of Departing, said much the same, though the Preakness wasn't on his mind.
"We just want to win the Illinois Derby," he said. "It's $750,000. It's very simple."
Departing is a solid contender for the Illinois Derby. The son of War Front bred by Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider was undefeated in three starts before a five-wide run in the Louisiana Derby March 30. He drew post 13 this time; Brian Hernandez Jr. will be in the irons.
"We figured he was third there and lacked a little seasoning in that race, and could move forward in this," Stall said. He called leaving the Illinois Derby out of the qualifying system for the Kentucky Derby "a disgrace," and said, "It should have been a wild card race, if nothing else."
According to Romans, the Illinois Derby came up as a backup plan after Dewey Square, a son of Bernardini owned by Siena Farms, failed to work well over the Keeneland Polytrack for the April 13 Toyota Blue Grass (gr. I). Dewey Square drew post 2 and will be ridden by Corey Lanerie.
"We were planning on going to the Blue Grass, that was the plan all along," Romans said. "He went over there and worked, and I didn't like the way he went over the surface, so we decided to run him in here to try and make the Preakness. It's a race that has been kind to me."
One starter of interest in the Illinois Derby will be Ramon Preciado's Siete de Oros, who only missed defeating Kentucky Derby contender Vyjack by a head at the start of the season in the Jerome. Third in the Withers (gr. III) and fourth in the March 2 Gotham (gr. III), the son of A. P. Warrior got a break from the action after that and returns to depart post 12 under Angel Arroyo.
Kirk and Judy Robison's Show Some Magic was five lengths behind Govenor Charlie in the March 24 Sunland Derby (gr. III), while WinStar Farm and Twin Creeks Racing Stables' Abraham was 3 1/4 lengths further back.
Show Some Magic, a son of Any Given Saturday, is trained by Henry Dominguez. He won the Riley Allison Futurity going a mile at Sunland Park. Abraham, by Distorted Humor, is lightly raced with just two other starts—a runner-up effort at Gulfstream Jan. 17 in his debut, and a win at the same track Feb. 16 at the Illinois Derby distance.
Joining Taken By the Storm, a son of Stormy Atlantic trained by Kenny McPeek for Chasing Dreams Racing, in exiting the Spiral is sixth-place For Greater Glory. Taken By the Storm won a mile turf allowance at Gulfstream before going back to Polytrack in the Spiral. In two dirt starts he was fourth and sixth, the latter on a sloppy surface. For Greater Glory, who races for Alex and JoAnn Lieblong and trainer Steve Hobby, was third in the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at Turfway after breaking his maiden at Oaklawn Park.
Ground Transport, a son of Big Brown who races for trainer Michael Stidham and West Point Thoroughbreds, St. Elias Stable and Get Grounded Stable, was fifth in the Louisiana Derby.
Narvaez, by Holy Bull, was fourth in the Besilu Stables Florida Derby (gr. I) making his stakes debut for Stipa Racing Stable and trainer Augustin Bezara.