Musket Man took over at the top of the lane and cruised to an impressive two-length victory in the $500,000 Illinois Derby (gr. II) April 4 at Hawthorne Park. It was the second straight graded stakes victory for the son of Yonaguska, who also took the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III) last month.
Now with five wins in six lifetime starts and gutsy performances in his last two tries, Musket Man will head to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) as a legitimate contender. The dark bay colt, which was only a $15,000 sale yearling, is owned by Eric Fein and Vic Carlson and trained by Derek Ryan.
“I suppose we have to go to Kentucky now,” said Ryan, tongue-in-cheek following the race. “He really ran a big race today. Everybody has been questioning his ability to get the distance, but they don’t know the horse. I do. I know what I’ve got, and I knew he would have no trouble getting the distance and he showed it today.”
Ridden by Eibar Coa for the first time, Musket Man raced mid-pack in the early stages of the 1 1/8-mile Illinois Derby while Perfect Song, as expected, took the field of 10 through splits of :23.84, :47.67, and 1:12.30 under Mario Pino. His Greatness pressed the pace in second, while Al Khali and Giant Oak were also close up.
As they made their way around the far turn, Coa guided Musket Man four-wide into striking position. They easily took over from a tiring Perfect Song approaching the eighth pole and powered through the stretch. Giant Oak was the only threat as they neared the sixteenth-pole, but the Illinois-bred could not get to the winner, who stopped the clock in 1:49.91 on a track labeled fast.
Giant Oak was a clear second under Shaun Bridgmohan, five lengths in front of third-place His Greatness. Nowhere to Hide was fourth.
Musket Man, who also won the Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs this winter, has only had one setback in his career, that coming in the Feb. 14 Sam F. Davis (gr. III) over the same strip when finishing third. As a 2-year-old, he broke his maiden at Belmont and won an allowance sprint at Philadelphia Park.
Musket Man was bred in Kentucky by Jim E. Nelson and Sergio De Sousa, and is out of the Fortunate Prospect mare Fortuesque. He has earned $572,600.
Sent off as the slight favorite, Musket Man paid $7.60, $3.80, and $3.20. The exacta (8-2) returned $29.20 while the trifecta (8-2-5) with 51-1 His Greatness was worth $481.40
Il Postino finished fifth, followed by Free Country, Perfect Song, Al Khali, Toccet Rocket, and Knight Shot.