When Doug O’Neill discovered a left front shin injury on Square Eddie in the beginning of February, he figured the colt’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) chances were over. But a speedy recovery and a series of nice works has O’Neill thinking of roses just two months later, and a nice effort in the $300,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. II) April 18 at Keeneland will likely send the son of Smart Strike on to Louisville.
“Three months ago, I would not have been surprised to be here; two months ago, yes,” O’Neill said of Square Eddie. “His past two works (six-furlong moves of 1:12.20 April 11 and 1:13 April 5 at Hollywood Park) have been exceptional, signaling to us he is ready to get back at it."
Square Eddie is one of only two graded stakes winners in the 1 1/16-mile Lexington, which will be run on the Polytrack and is the final chance for 3-year-olds to earn graded stakes earnings for the Kentucky Derby. A full field of 12 was entered.
Bred in Ontario by Kinghaven Farms, Square Eddie won the $500,000 Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) at Keeneland by 4 3/4 lengths in his North American debut last October to stamp himself as one of the top juveniles in the nation. He was purchased privately by J. Paul Reddam just prior to that race and handed to O’Neill. A solid runner-up to Midshipman in the Oct. 25 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) at Santa Anita gave his connections even more reason to think big.
But on Feb. 2, two weeks after running second in the San Rafael Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita Park, which marked his 3-year-old debut, O’Neill discovered the injury that put Square Eddie on the shelf for a month. At the time, it seemed to end his Derby hopes, but here he is as the probable favorite in the Lexington.
“I would want to see a really good effort and have him come out of it in good shape,” Oneill said. “Then we would huddle with Team Reddam (about going on to the Derby).”
Square Eddie, who has $774,981 in graded earnings, more than enough to get into the Derby, drew post 8 and will be ridden by Edgar Prado for the first time. He arrived at Keeneland April 15 and had his first gallop over the track that morning. He will carry 123 pounds.
Also carrying 123 pounds is G. Watts Humphrey’s El Crespo, the other graded stakes winner in the field. El Crespo’s black-type victory came last out in the March 14 Palm Beach Stakes (gr. IIIT) on the Gulfstream Park turf. Prior to that, he was a well-beaten ninth in the Jan. 31 Holy Bull on Gulfstream’s dirt. Trained by Rusty Arnold, El Crespo made his racing debut at Keenaland last fall and finished nearly 14 lengths in back of the winner. Javier Castellano will ride the son of A.P. Indy.
Like Square Eddie, Jeranimo will ship in from California for chance to earn owner Bob J. Wright and trainer Michael Pender a berth in the Derby. Jeranimo, by Congaree, did not start as a juvenile but has made four starts–all at Santa Anita–in 2009. Last out, he ran a credible third in the March 14 San Felipe Stakes (gr. II), beaten just 2 1/4 lengths by Pioneerof the Nile.
“His seven-furlong work April 1 at Santa Anita (1:25.80), he did in hand and was really impressive. That kind of signaled that we should come here,” said Pender, who never has saddled a horse at Keeneland. “He has had a good 30 days between races.”
Brice Blanc, aboard Jeranimo in his past three starts, will have the mount. Jeranimo worked a half-mile at Santa Anita in :49 on April 13 and shipped to Lexington the following day.
A pair of colts entering off allowance victories but making their first start on Polytrack are Omniscient and Conservative. Stonestreet Stables’ Omniscient, also unraced as a juvenile, has won two of three tries this year, all at Fair Grounds. The Steve Asmussen trainee won in the slop March 14 under Robby Albarado, who will get the call once again on the son of Pulpit.
Phipps Stable’s homebred Conservative went winless in the first four starts of his career for Shug McGaughey, but has won his last two. The Unbridled's Song colt broke his maiden on the Gulfstream turf in February and scored a one-mile allowance victory on the slop last month. Kent Desormeaux will ride.
Stretching out to two turns for the first time is Heiligbrodt Racing Stable and partners’ Hull, who was a runaway winner in his only two starts. The dark bay son of Holy Bull broke his maiden by 4 1/4 lengths going six furlongs in February at Fair Grounds. He then won another sprint over the Turfway Park Polytrack last month, this time by nearly eight lengths. The Dale Romans trainee drew post 12 and will be ridden by Miguel Mena. He is likely to be part of the early pace, along with Pitched Perfectly, who was recently acquired by Lael Stables and turned over to Barclay Tagg.
Also of note in the Lexington are WEBN Stakes winner Parade Clown, third-place Illinois Derby (gr. II) finisher His Greatness, and Todd Pletcher trainee Masala, who was fourth in the Gotham (gr. III).