The Morning Line: Illinois Derby

It’s Wide Open for a Late Derby Qualifier in Chicago

Currency Swap Scores in the Hopeful - 9/5/11

Welcome, to the great city of Chicago where the G3 $500,000 Illinois Derby has never been bigger. Sure everyone would like to win them all but in this Kentucky Derby prep, winning is the only way to make dreams come true. Of the record-breaking 14 entries, the largest field in Illinois Derby history, the horse that crosses the wire first is the only one who will be awarded a spot in the starting gate at the 138th Kentucky Derby. There isn’t a horse in the field that has achieved enough earnings to still squeeze in with the prize money that comes with 2nd or 3rd place so it’s all or nothing at Hawthorne Race Course. Chicago is a city that enjoys nothing less than winning so what better arena for a win or go home race. Buckle up, we’re in for a Midwestern back yard brawl. 

To get a feel for just how big the demand on an entry into the Illinois Derby played out, the maximum amount of 14 horses had to be enforced for the very first time. The move on capping field left 3 horses out and placed onto the Also Eligible list. So let’s get a handle on this rather unique crop of thoroughbreds all vying for a place at the table. Not to take anything away from any of our contenders but as it stands right now the field for the 2012 Illinois Derby is packed with Cinderella stories. However, Currency Swap stands out head and shoulders above the rest coming in.

Currency Swap began his racing career in spectacular fashion. He followed up his first career MSW race and win with a victory in the G1 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga last September. As special as it was, it was also bitter-sweet for trainer Terri Pompay. The win made it her very first Grade 1 Stakes victory but it also marked the final race of his 2-yr-old campaign. At the time Currency Swap was on the fast track to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile but once a minor ankle chip was discovered and surgery was required, it really delayed his progression towards the Kentucky Derby and put his camp in the position they are in now.

Following surgery he was back on the farm where they were able to get him on track. Since that time he has moved forward and is in good racing health but the burden of the layoff takes its toll. It wasn’t until 3/16 that Currency Swap would make his return. The decision to hold off on Graded Stakes races was made and Pompay elected to get things restarted in an Allowance race at Gulfstream Park. Considering it was his first race after a 7 month layoff and another dangerous Kentucky Derby contender Gemologist was entered, 2nd place was a big effort coming off the bench. Gemologist scored the win but Currency Swap got what he needed.

The G1 Hopeful awarded him with $150,000 in graded stakes earnings but anything less than 1st place and the $300,000 share of the Illinois Derby purse will likely prevent him from moving on to Churchill Downs. He is a special horse that has the brightest future of any in the field but Currency Swap is still behind the eight ball. To spice things up a bit Terri Pompay has elected to go with a new rider for the very first time. Shaun Bridgmohan will take over in the irons in attempt to steer this promising colt right back into the Kentucky Derby picture.

Hanicapper Advantage: Ready to Race – Outside of the advantages already mentioned his recent works at Gulfstream deserve notice – 3/10 6F 1:11.40 – 3/27 5F 1:00 Flat

As for the remainder of the field it’s tough to separate them so we’ll begin with a pair of names that you might recognize; Todd Pletcher and Mike Repole. The combination that threatened the 2011 Kentucky Derby trail with Uncle Mo and eventual Jim Dandy and Travers’ Stakes winner Stay Thirsty, Our Entourage represents the teams only 2012 prospect. After a pair of 5th place finishes ended his 2-yr-old season – Breeders’ Futurity and G2 Remsen – Our Entourage rebounded in style. Although it was an Allowance race on the Turf at Gulfstream he left nothing to chance and scored in convincing fashion. The win gives me the indication that he is ready to roll. He has raced on dirt in the past so he should be considered as a serious contender.

Handicapper Advantage: Todd Pletcher – Currently holds more Illinois Derby wins than any other trainer. Counting last year’s win with Joe Vann the total is 4 dating back to his first in 2001.

Now here’s where things get a little bunched up. Six horses enter the Illinois Derby with previous graded stakes racing experience but none of them were ready to hit the board in those efforts. Between them, Pretension and Hakama stand out. They crossed paths at Laurel in January. As it turned out, Hakama proved better by just over a length. While Pretension finished 2nd it proved to be a good prep for his first big win – Sweet Envoy at Aqueduct. The win led him to him to the G3 Gotham Stakes and a 5th place finish behind the winner Hansen. Hakama’s attempt to move in stride from Laurel to Aqueduct was no better as his connections choose the Withers Stakes won by Alpha. A 6th place finish was corrected his next time out at Laurel with a 2nd place in a non-graded stakes race.

Handicapper Advantage: Ready for a Breakthrough? Both are graded stakes tested with moderate success at the non-graded level. They fit the profile of a horse on the cusp of breaking through on the big stage so could the Illinois Derby be that race?

The other 4 horses that have seen graded stakes races are: Done Talking – 4th G2 Remsen, 10th G3 Gotham; Ring it Up – 4th G3 Southwest Stakes, 11th G2 Rebel; Z Rockstar 6th G3 Southwest Stakes; Saturday Launch – 7th G3 Arlington-Wash Futurity.

What worries me about committing to any of these horses outside of an exotic wager is that they either performed a little worse more recently in the second stakes race or they didn’t finish better than 6th in their only attempt. Granted this race doesn’t include serious derby contenders that the other races did but it’s still tough for me to separate them. If you see something you like, I would advise that you take shot.

The remainder of the field is where the Cinderella Stories really pick up some steam because all of them are entering their first ever graded stakes race late on the derby trail. Four of the five enter with momentum after scoring in either an Allowance or MSW their last time out. Included is Skyring trained by the Legendary Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas. I’m not going to discount an underdog attempt but I need to see something that I’m not expecting. If so who knows, a win on Saturday could be a giant step en route to completing an underdog championship chronicle for the ages.

G3 $500,000 Illinois Derby | 1 1/8 Mile | Dirt | Race 9, Post Time 5:56 CT

PP Horse Jockey Trainer ML
1 Romancing the Gold I. Ortiz Jr. J. Englehart 15-1
2 Hakama J. Pimentel M. Trombetta 6-1
3 Ring It Up L. Wade C. Richard 15-1
4 Currency Swap S. Bridgmohan T. Pompay 4-1
5 Pretension J. Santiago C. Grove 5-1
6 Skyring R. Vazquez D. W. Lukas 20-1
7 Saturday Launch C. Emigh K. McPeek 15-1
8 Z Rockstar Q. Hamilton D. Von Hemel 10-1
9 Fastestwhogetspaid I. Ocampo B. Williamson 30-1
10 Frankie Is Rock E. Perez R. Aquilar 30-1
11 Our Entourage E. Castro T. Pletcher 9-2
12 Morgan’s Guerilla R. Napravnik M. Maker 10-1
13 Done Talking S. Rusell H. Smith 20-1
14 Slamit C. Hill T. Ice 20-1
15 Explain F. Torres B. Cox 20-1
16 Arm Force E. Castro E. Harty 15-1
17 Defiant Flyer S. Martinez L. Davis 30-1

Since Chicago is where I call home, I will definitely be at Hawthorne Race Course to see the 55th Running of the Illinois Derby. It’s not in the company of the most notorious Kentucky Derby preps especially when considering that the race was only officially moved to being run before the Kentucky Derby in 2001. But it’s still very exciting for the Illinois Racing Circuit to have its hand in the derby trail. Congratulations to Hawthorne Race Course for  increasing the purse in this years race and working hard to keep this Prep as a regular stop for a slew of Kentucky Derby Hopefuls. Cheers.

Written by: Little Brink


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