The Morning Line: Sweet Home Chicago

Welcome to Chi-town

Welcome race fans to the place that I call home.  Nestled along the shores of Lake Michigan there isn’t any other city quite like Chicago.  The Windy City, The City of Big Shoulders, complete with history, world-class culture and architecture this city is designed to explore, eat, entertain, live and enjoy.  For anyone visiting this weekend, welcome in, lets have some fun. 

After a winter that was dominated by cold weather, snow, a blizzard, and more snow, the city is finally beginning to change gears.  With baseball now underway, the battle between the North and South Siders is on hold at the moment as all eyes are on the surging Bulls and champion Blackhawks.    However, no great sports city would be complete without horse racing and Chicago has plenty of room for it. 

I am excited to introduce you to this weekend’s Illinois Derby at Hawthorne Race Course, located in Stickney, just west of Chicago.   After a horse racing ban that made law in 1905 was lifted, Hawthorne reopened in 1922 and has continued ever since becoming the oldest family owned and run racetrack in North America.  Prior to 2000 the Illinois Derby was a stakes race for 3 yr olds that ran between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.  Due to losing contenders that choose the Preakness instead, in 2001, the Illinois Derby was moved 4 weeks prior to the Kentucky Derby.  In 2002, the derby prep gained much-needed notoriety with War Emblem when the colt went on to win the KYD.   To date he is still the only the Illinois Derby horse to wear the roses.  However, by proving the race’s winner to be worthy of Kentucky Derby glory, the race has continued to produce derby hopefuls and is aiming to do the same in 2011.

Headling the field of 12 is Tampa Bay Derby surprise winner, Watch Me Go.  Dismissed as a long shot, 47-1 odds, he went on to dazzle and stamp himself as the horse to beat in this years Illinois Derby.  The rest of the field, all unknowns on the Derby Trail, will be looking to play the spoiler.  Initially the purse was down to $250,000 from $500,000 in recent years until TVG got into the mix by sponsoring the race and bringing the total up to $300,000.  The added bump in purse is good for any horse looking to surprise the favorite and possibly jump into the Kentucky Derby frey with a win.

$300,000 Illinois Derby (gr. III, Race 7, 4:37 p.m.), 3YO, 1 1/8 Miles (Dirt)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer
1. Lagoon of Diamonds (KY), E E Perez, D K Ackerman  15-1
2. Smarter Than Ever (KY), J Z Santana, C Hanna          15-1
3. Joe Vann (KY), F Geroux, T A Pletcher                         6-1
4. Watch Me Go (FL), L Garcia, K O’Connell                     7-2
5. Vouch for Victory (KY), J E Felix, M Perez                   15-1
6. Sour (KY), B J Hernandez Jr., A M Stall Jr.                  6-1
7. The Fed Eased (FL), J Valdivia Jr., R A Violette Jr.     5-1
8. Zoebear (KY), S B Martinez, S Becker                           10-1
9. Roman Flame (KY), T Thornton, F J Kirby                  30-1
10. El Grayling (KY), V Lebron, M J Maker                      9-2
11. Southern Sculptor (KY), L Medina, E J Guillot           12-1
12. Future Empire (KY), T Riggs, G Scherer                     30-1

Even though Watch Me Go is currently ranked within the top twenty on the graded stakes earnings list at #16, it’s not a safe place to be with the upcoming major derby preps looming.  So, I applaud the colt’s connections making the choice to skip next weeks Arkansas Derby against tougher competition because all he needs now is one more finish in the top 3.  In my opinion at this point, by opting to travel north, it’s looking better than the morning line odds of 7-2 that they will win and secure a spot in the 2011 Kentucky Derby. 

I’m always game for a surprise but with a field of 11 non graded stakes winners it’s pretty tough to see it happening on Saturday.  The top contender should be The Fed Eased who moves into Chicago from NY after a 5th place finish in the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct.  I expect a nice rebound from him and look to couple him with Watch Me Go.  Another horse that’s run in graded stakes earnings company is El Grayling who looks to respond after a disappointing bid in the Fountain of Youth.  In that race he was eased the down the stretch and finished last.  It may just not have been his day but I don’t expect too much from him in the stretch at this distance. 

Keeping an eye on trainers, especially ones that are hot right now, Todd Pletcher will be featuring his colt Joe Vann.  With an optional claiming win at 1 1/16 his last time out at Laurel, he will be in position at the top of the stretch to challenge.  One thing I know for sure about Pletch is that he’s a pretty calculated decision maker and I think he’s pretty confident in his colts chances.  However, I see the others bidding only for 2nd – 3rd as they all chase Watch Me Go down the stretch.

Picks: #4 Watch Me Go, Tri: #4 Watch Me Go, #7 The Fed Eased, #3 Joe Vann

Good luck to all connections, I Hope to see a good turnout at Hawthorne Race Course this weekend.

Written by: Little Brink

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