In what is easily the most wide-open field of all the final Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) preps, the $500,000 Illinois Derby (gr. III) drew a full field of 14 for the April 7 event at Hawthorne Race Course.
Listed as the 4-1 morning-line favorite for the 1 1/8-mile contest is Currency Swap, a grade I winner as a juvenile who makes his second start of the season for trainer Teresa Pompay. Turf specialist Our Entourage (9-2), as well as Pretension (5-1), and Hakama (6-1)—both based in Maryland—are the next betting choices, while each of the other 10 entrants are 10-1 or more. Nine of the 14 entrants won last time out. One of these mostly unheralded 3-year-olds will punch their ticket to the May 5 Kentucky Derby.
Hawthorne’s signature race in the spring, the Illinois Derby has a probable post time of 5:46 p.m. CDT. There were three also-eligibles drawn as well.
Klaravich Stables’ and William Lawrence’s Currency Swap is a lightly-raced son of High Cotton who won both of his starts at Saratoga last summer, including the seven-furlong Hopeful (gr. I) back in September. He was forced to miss the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) because of an ankle injury and was given the rest of the year off.
Based at Gulfstream Park, Currency Swap made his return March 16 in a one-mile allowance race where he ran a distant second to Gemologist over an off track. The bay colt has worked once since then.
“He was on the farm after we took the small chip out of his ankle following the Hopeful,” said Pompay. “We got him back and he’s been great, he’s moved forward all along, but still, in the quest to go on the Derby trail we’re a little behind the eight ball.
“I put him in the allowance race to get a race into him coming back off the bench and he ran well, but we ran into Gemologist who is a monster. We weren’t really as tight as we should have been in that race coming off a seven-month layoff, but it’s great to have him back and training well.”
Currency Swap, bred in Florida by Stonecliff Farm, will break from post 4 with Shaun Bridgmohan picking up the mount for the first time.
Mike Repole, who had a pair of Kentucky Derby contenders last year, is trying to get back to Louisville again with Our Entourage. The son of Street Cry has done his best running on turf, having won both of his starts on that surface. In his season debut Feb. 25 on the Gulfstream turf course, he scored in a 1 1/16-mile optional claimer against a large field, kicking away in the stretch to win by a length.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, Our Entourage has also raced twice on dirt and once on Polytrack. In his dirt races he was a distant second at Saratoga in his debut last summer, and he was fifth but beaten just two lengths in the Remsen (gr. II) in November at Aqueduct.
The bay colt has been working on the Palm Meadows dirt for his try in the Illinois Derby. Eddie Castro has the mount and they will break from post 11.
“I definitely think his better surface is turf, but he hasn’t raced on dirt since the Remsen, and he looks like a turf horse that can do dirt,” Repole said. “We saw what happened in some of these recent Derbys with Big Brown and Animal Kingdom (both raced on turf before winning the Kentucky Derby), so you never know. He’s matured as he’s gotten older and he’s going in there with five starts and a couple of two-turn wins, and no matter what happens he’ll gain some experience.”
Kidwells Petite Stable’s Pretension is based at Bowie Training Center for Chris Grove. He was fifth, beaten more than nine lengths, in the March 3 Gotham (gr. III) at Aqueduct in his most recent start. Prior to that, the New York-bred son of Bluegrass Cat won the restricted Sweet Envoy Stakes at Aqueduct in February.
Pretension will be ridden by Javier Santiago from post 5.
“The Gotham race was kind of screwed up,” said Grove. “Going into the first turn, a horse of Pletcher’s came over on him and he got shuffled back. He doesn’t have to be on the lead but he likes to lay up close, two or three lengths off the pace. So he was five or six lengths back which was a new spot for him, and he made a real nice move to be within two lengths of Hansen, but then Hansen just drew off.”
Harry and Tom Meyerhoff’s Hakama has been out three times this year, winning an optional claimer at Laurel Park, finishing sixth in the Withers (gr. III), and most recently missing by a head in the listed Private Terms Stakes March 17 at Laurel. The son of First Samurai is based at Fair Hill Training Center with Michael Trombetta. Julian Pimentel will be in the irons.
Chris Richard trainee Ring It Up (15-1) was fourth in the Southwest (gr. III) for owner James McIngvale, while two horses with similar odds--Romancing the Gold from the barn of Jeremiah Englehart and Saturday Launch for Kenny McPeek--exit respective allowance wins at Aqueduct March 7 and at Gulfstream March 11. Saturday Launch will mimic Our Entourage in switching from turf to dirt in the Illinois Derby.
Midwest Thoroughbreds’ Explain has first preference on the also-eligible list.
$500,000 Illinois Derby (gr. III, Race 9, 5:46 p.m.), 3YO, 1 1/8 Miles (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Romancing the Gold (PA), I Ortiz, Jr., 122, J C Englehart
2. Hakama (KY), J Pimentel, 122, M J Trombetta
3. Ring It Up (KY), L Wade, 122, C Richard
4. Currency Swap (FL), S Bridgmohan, 122, T M Pompay
5. Pretension (NY), J Santiago, 122, C W Grove
6. Skyring (KY), R A Vazquez, 122, D W Lukas
7. Saturday Launch (KY), C A Emigh, K G McPeek
8. Z Rockstar (OK), Q Hamilton 122, D K Von Hemel
9. Fastestwhogetspaid (ON), I Ocampo, 122, B Williamson
10. Frankie Is Rock (KY), E E Perez, 122, R Aguilar
11. Our Entourage (KY), E Castro, 122, T A Pletcher
12. Morgan's Guerrilla (KY), R Napravnik, 122, M J Maker
13. Done Talking (KY), S Russell, 122, H A Smith
14. Slamit (FL), C Hill, 122, T A Ice
Explain (KY), F C Torres, 122, B H Cox
Arm Force (KY), E Castro, 122, E G Harty
Defiant Flyer (TX), S B Martinez, 122, L P Davis