Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider's Departing rolled to a strong 3 1/4-length victory in the $750,000 Illinois Derby (gr. II) April 20 at Hawthorne Racecourse (VIDEO), proving his class after a third-place finish in the last month's Louisiana Derby (gr. II).
Running on Lasix for the first time, the 3-year-old homebred War Front gelding returned to the winning ways that saw him go undefeated in three straight races before the Louisiana Derby. He closed from off the pace to finish 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.78 under wraps as the 9-5 favorite in a capacity field of 14, and was followed home by 23-1 shot Fordubai and 9-1 Siete de Oros.
Jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. took a patient approach to Hawthorne's marquee event aboard the Al Stall Jr. trainee, allowing Departing to track along far back behind a pace set alternately by Ground Transport, who went a quarter in :23.10, and Taken by the Storm, who took the advantage for a half in :47.71 and three-quarters in 1:13.03.
"Once he got down the backside, I thought I was on the best horse," Hernandez said. "He was just kind of cruising and going really easy today. He looks like he's getting better with distance."
Steadily moving along the outside from ninth early, Departing picked off horses one by one until he had just three to collar turning for home four wide. The bay gelding kicked clear at the top of the stretch and increased his advantage for a mile in 1:38.15, finishing the final furlong under a hand ride.
"In the first turn he kind of spun out a little bit, and I don't know what that was about," Stall said. "He was way wide down the backside, but when I saw him really get underneath Brian from the half-mile pole to home, I felt really good about him. He was really traveling throughout the final turn and into the stretch."
Fordubai, racing erratically under the left-handed stick of jockey Diego Sanchez, finished second and survived an inquiry to hold the place by a neck over Siete de Oros and Angel Arroyo. Abraham, Street Spice, For Greater Glory, Narvaez, Dewey Square, Ground Transport, Bells Big Bernie, Show Some Magic, Stormin Monarcho, Taken by the Storm, and Dakota Mac completed the order of finish.
Departing paid $5.80, $3.60, and $3. Fordubai returned $16.60 and $9.40. Siete de Oros paid $5.80.
Bred in Kentucky out of the Pulpit mare Leave, Departing improved his record to four wins and a third from five starts, with earnings of $628,000.
"That race (the Louisiana Derby) really picked his head up and moved him forward," Stall said. "He was really, really different as far as we’re concerned. He really got the seasoning he needed."
Although the Illinois Derby is not worth points on the road to the May 4 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), the gelding already had 20 points to make the Derby field by virtue of his Louisiana Derby showing. His connections, however, have indicated they will not wheel back to run for the May 4 Derby. A potential start in the May 18 Preakness Stakes (gr. I) would seem more likely, but even that is up for discussion, Stall said.
"There's no use talking about the Preakness until we see what happens in the Kentucky Derby," he remarked. "There are some good horses there. If they do their thing and scare everybody off, we might do something differently."
According to the trainer, Departing will immediately van back to Stall's spring base at Churchill Downs, and will be conditioned there leading up to his next target.
"By 2 or 3 a.m. he'll be back in his own stall," he said.