After years as a haven for horses not quite ready for prime time, the 2001 Illinois Derby will be a prep race for the Kentucky Derby.
In recent years, Sportsman's Park has run the Illinois Derby one week after the Run for the Roses. While the race has attracted some top talent in that position, it hasn't had the high visibility of Kentucky Derby preps.
For 2001, however, the Illinois Racing Board decreed that that May and early June racing will be conducted at Hawthorne Race Course, forcing Sportsman's to find a new date for its race. Tuesday, the IRB approved April 7 as the day and $500,000 as the purse.
Sportsman's chief operating officer, Ed Duffy, acknowledged that date puts Sportsman's in competition with other tracks holding Derby preps within a week or two of the new Illinois Derby Date. Among them are Lone Star Park, Turfway Park and Santa Anita.
"With fingers crossed, we thing we've done the right thing here," Duffy told the IRB. "But only time will tell."
Hawthorne also will have to reschedule its signature race, the Hawthorne Gold Cup. In the past several years, the track had built up the Gold Cup as an early-October prep for the Breeders' Cup Classic. In 2001, however, October racing will be conducted at Arlington Park.