The Illinois Derby (Grade III)

4/22/2017 Hawthorne Race Course-Race 5

The Illinois Derby-$250,000—Grade III

1 & 1/8th Miles on Dirt for Three-Year-Olds

Post Time: 4:17 P.M. PST

Analysis by Michael Patricks

Just over two weeks remain until the 143rd Kentucky Derby and all of the Derby points to be earned have been dispersed to the various competitors.  Included is a link to the Kentucky Derby Points Standings: https://www.kentuckyderby.com/horses/leaderboard

                On Saturday, the three-year-olds will do battle once again in the 59th running of the Illinois Derby from Hawthorne Race Course. A competitive field of seven is signed on to travel the nine furlongs with all runners involved separated by just five points on the morning line. Though no Kentucky Derby Points will be handed out to the winner, the race bears worth watching since the Preakness Stakes looms as a logical opportunity for the winner of this race to come back and vie in with their next start. Also, the winner of this race could strengthen company lines directly tied to horses who will compete in the Kentucky Derby. And last but unquestionably not least, it’s a great wagering opportunity and that’s reason enough for me to be salivating when the starter springs the latch on this equine cadre. Let’s register our call for cast and crew:

1-Multiplier 9/2 ML- Beyer speed figures are trending in the right direction on this son of The Factor. Although it took him three tries to break his maiden, he has seemed to get a bit better with each start. He hails from an underrated, low profile barn and has been drilling at Keeneland in preparation for this start. There is speed in front of him and he figures to ride the rail with an inside trip before launching his bid leaving the 3/8ths. He has plenty of foundation from his three starts and the nine furlongs should be no problem. What could be a problem is that he will have to show he can take to a surface he’s never stepped foot on, jump up into graded stakes company, face winners for the first time, and he must do it without his usual jockey Brian Hernandez. Hernandez opts for a garden variety day of riding at Keeneland instead of following Multiplier over to Cicero, Illinois; plenty capable but like others on top.

2-Hedge Fund 3/1 ML- Interestingly, this will be Hedge Fund’s first start without a layoff, noting that he’s needed plenty of time between races thus far in his three-race career. By 2010 Kentucky Derby-winning sire Super Saver and out of a Distorted Humor mare, Hedge Fund is a WinStar homebred who is cut out to be a nice runner. After a forgettable unveiling, Todd Pletcher refreshed Hedge Fund for his two turn debut and added Blinkers which resulted in an open lengths score against maidens at Gulfstream. Pletcher once again plotted a steady course off the layoff and entered Hedge Fund in the Sunland Derby where he got caught up in a kamikaze-like speed duel that ultimately led to his surrender. Hedge Fund finished behind Kentucky Derby entrant Hence and Kentucky Derby possible, Conquest Mo Money. It’s true he was beaten almost 10 lengths but he did manage to hold third and considering he was the one who stuck it out the longest in what was an insane battle to the mile in a bruising 1:35.3, he merits respect for displaying some late race fortitude given the circumstances. It’s my opinion that the Sunland Derby is a key race headed into Louisville as Conquest Mo Money ran huge out of it and Irap came back to take the Toyota Blue Grass as well. Hedge Fund is versatile and can be on the engine or sit right off the lead as evidenced by his maiden victory. Pletcher has plenty of capable three-year-olds and Hedge Fund should add his name to that ever-expanding list with an upstart performance in the Illinois Derby; the pick.

3-It’s Your Nickel 6/1 ML- Back in just two weeks after taking a beating in the Toyota Blue Grass at 32/1 finishing behind 31/1 surprise winner Irap. The Blue Grass was a bit of a bizarre race in the sense that the horses that were expected to run well simply did not perform. It’s Your Nickel prefers to have a solid tempo in front of him to enhance his late kick. He has won on turf and synthetic and did get put up for a victory on dirt at Fair Grounds over the Lexington Stakes-winning Senior Investment. It’s Your Nickel was valiant in defeat to Senior Investment but his other dirt races just don’t get the blood pumping. In addition, James Graham defects to the recent maiden graduate Multiplier and that’s not a positive sign in my mind. Even though he works well on the dirt, it’s my belief that dirt is not his preferred racing surface; won’t be hitching my wagon to him.

4-Stand and Cheer 8/1 ML- Sanjur, Pedroza, Flores, Rocco and Emigh, no that’s not a law firm but the last five riders who have jumped atop his back. His one victory came over this course as a two-year-old but he hasn’t been disgraced since he returned to dirt. The barn he hails from has been dominant at the meet and he does get a hometown rider for the occasion. Stand and Cheer will be on the front end with Hedge Fund and St. Louie Guy close in tow. He stretches out another furlong today and will have to be Daniel the Lion Heart and then some to carry the torch all the way in the Illinois Derby. Given the fact he’s lost ground in the stretch with each start this year I am inclined to side against him even with the Fairmount Park bullet in his holster. As far as backing him as a win prospect goes, I’m inclined to fold my arms and sit in silence; pass.

5-St. Louie Guy 6/1 ML- Uncoupled entrant with Stand and Cheer–Took to two-turning like a pig to slop as St. Louie Guy bullied his rivals in his last out at Hawthorne, winning by nine lengths at 1/5. The problem: he only beat three horses. St. Louie Guy was competitive as a sprinter at Oaklawn Park this spring and he heads into the Illinois Derby with four wins on his ledger. Other than his one start against graded stakes company, he’s never run a bad race and I’d expect him to “bring it” again on Saturday as customary. The question with him is simply one of quality. It’s possible this horse has wanted to stretch out all along and the connections saw the light bulb go off in his head and are simply riding the wave. He always takes money at the window and gut instinct is you’d be foolish to toss him out just because he appears to lack a bit of quality that others appear to have on paper; must use in verticals.

6-Mr. Misunderstood 7/2 ML- Here comes yet another who devastated a small field of rivals in his most recent effort. Son of Arkansas Derby winner Archarcharch, Mr. Misunderstood has won three straight races by a combined total of nearly 18 lengths. What’s truly remarkable about him is you could have haltered him for a mere $30,000 claiming price three back when he won at Fair Grounds on turf. He’s a hot horse but the question to be asked here is whether he can keep the streak going over a fast track. Mr. Misunderstood has gotten good all of the sudden though. His main rider Florent Geroux was riding in Dubai last time and reunites with him for the Illinois Derby, foregoing an opportunity to ride at Keeneland on Saturday. It’s my belief this horse could end up going favored but I remain unconvinced that a fast dirt surface is what he really wants. You can’t bet on them all (and make a profit) so I’ll be trying to get around him for top honors; obvious contender.

7-Hollywood Handsome 4/1 ML- Stout closer comes into the Illinois Derby with just his maiden win to his credit and a near black type finish in the Grade II Louisiana Derby, beaten a nose for third by Local Hero.  Hollywood Handsome couldn’t quite come home with Girvin as he was beaten three lengths by one of the Kentucky Derby favorites.  Obviously, there is no shame in getting beaten three by the likes of Girvin but his come home time after very quick splits from Girvin’s rabbit (Hotfoot) was right around 13 seconds from the final eighth to the wire.  In order to win this race, he will have to do better than grind along since there appear to be other horses with much more dynamic turns of foot.  He’s been 11/1, 11/1 and 36/1 in his last three races and so it’s exceedingly difficult to stomach anything around his 4/1 morning line today.  ‘Hollywood could be packed a bit wide and left with too much to do when the real running begins, plus Dallas Stewart and Robby Albarado are 0-for-5.  I need more than that “Harrison Ford sort of appeal” to unwittingly part with my greenbacks on this type of morning line underlay; pass.

Selections: 2-6-5-7

Bonus Coverage

Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races

Race 11: The Charles Town Classic-$1,250,000-Grade II

1 & 1/8 Miles on Dirt for Four-Year-Olds and Upward

Post Time: 2:35 P.M.

Bet # 2 Sunny Ridge 6/1 ML

Lots of talk going into this race about the return of the 8/5 morning line favorite Stanford off his front running score last year at 7/2 in this race. Stanford has a couple solid efforts on his ledger from his two efforts this year but figures to take plenty of heat from Matt King Coal in the early stages of this race. War Story could be handy from a bit of a wide barrier and from the eight-hole Cautious Giant could be put into the race early on in an effort to save some ground.  I like Sunny Ridge in this spot at 6/1 an awful lot.  His jockey knows him extremely well and arrives at Charles Town in search of three in a row. Sunny Ridge should save every inch of ground and have plenty to offer when they swing for home, and pull away over a ramshackled Stanford in the closing stages.  The only other time his connections bent Sunny Ridge around a bull ring he ran a huge second in the Delta Downs Jackpot to Preakness Stakes-winning Exaggerator.  Trainer Jason Servis is hot as a fire cracker and while it’s true that Sunny Ridge has never had a Beyer of 100 or better, Saturday could easily be his day to do just that; he’s never been in better form and serves as a juicy pick in the 4/1 neighborhood when all is said and done.

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