Illinois Derby day has come and gone, and it was a rollicking good time at Hawthorne. The track was more crowded than I’ve ever seen it, thanks to the big races as well as the presence of Midnight Hawk, a horse owned by Chicago Blackhawks coach Joe Quenneville. I got to see a lot of people I usually only get to banter about racing with on Twitter: @zweber (who organized a group table in the Gold Cup room for race day!), @bellringerwins, @Michael46307, @StaroftheNorth1, @LaonCamps, @heylaserbeam, @Zipseatthetrack, @DerbyPost, @AmandaBry91, @wowhorse…I hope I’m not missing anyone, thought if I am, I am trying to reconstruct such a frenetic day in my memory. Usually going to the races can be a very solitary experience for me; I tend to spend most of my time with my nose down in my racing form, or with my eyes on the horses in the paddock. However, it was exciting and invigorating to hang out with everyone, talk racing, and enjoy Derby Day.
However, this camaraderie would never have happened in the first place if not for a few horse races going on. Here’s what happened on that front.
Race 1: $5,000 claiming, three-year-olds and up, N2L, one and one-sixteenth miles on the dirt
In this race, I thought Slew City Sin (1) had a great chance to win if he got to control the pace. W W Distinction (3) wouldn’t likely have the pace he wanted, but had a class edge. Epoustouflant (4) was coming in off a very long lay, but his past performances suggested things came together for him at this distance on dirt. I thought Slew City Sin and W W Distinction were the best of the bunch, however, and decided to use them in a $1 Daily Double: 1,3/3,6,7.
As expected, Slew City Sin shot to the lead; Epoustouflant and Dakota Council (8) stalked right off him, and the three pulled a good eight lengths off the rest of the field. They weren’t home free by any stretch of the imagination. Through the far turn, W W Distinction gobbled up ground like it was nothing. He caught up with the three in the front. Dakota Council plummeted off the pace, and Slew City Sin was left to deal with the one-two punch of Epoustouflant and the charging W W Distinction. It was a bit too much for him. W W Distinction and Epoustouflant edged ahead, and then W W Distinction opened up. He won, finishing 4 lengths ahead of Epoustouflant. Slew City Sin had enough to hang on for third: another 4 1/2 lengths behind Epoustouflant, but still a length and a half in front of fourth-place Eben Zabeel. It was actually Eben Zabeel who I was most afraid of to come in and beat my selections. His past performances suggested he wouldn’t quite stack up, but his good looks in the paddock suggested he was alert and ready to race.
Race 2: Allowance ($29,000 purse), three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, Illinois-bred, non-winners of $8,800 once OR non-winners of a state-bred race other than maiden, claiming, or starter OR N2L, six and a half furlongs on the dirt
In this race, I liked Eyema Delight best doe to her stylistic versatility. Virginia’s Joy was usually an early speed horse, but had also been able to close — again, showing some versatility of pace. Supersambdancing was in here on a class rise, and a bit of a wild card as a three-year-old who had only raced twice before. However, she won both of those times out. She posted a decent work since the last race, and her connections were quite hot; it was enough to consider her as a good price horse. In addition to the live Daily Double I had since last race, I bet another Daily Double, of 3,6,7/4,8.
As expected, Walkabout Molly shot to the lead early. Virginia’s Joy was a few lengths off early, and Eyema Delight was mid-pack, about half a dozen lengths back early. Virginia’s Joy closed that gap with a strong outside run through the far turn. She was in front when the field hit the stretch, and opened up on the field to win by daylight. Eyema Delight made a run at about the same time, but it just didn’t have the same kind of power as that of Virginia’s Joy. She came up from the outside, but could only get within a few lengths of the winner. She finished second, 3 1/4 lengths behind Virginia’s Joy. Lost Friend, last early, came up wide into the stretch and finished well enough to gain 3rd: clear of the rest of the pack, but 9 3/4 lengths behind the winner.
My bet-against, Showersofblessings, raced even more poorly than I expected. She was restless in the gate, and bolted near the lead early. However, she only stayed up their briefly. My thought that she couldn’t sustain six and a half furlongs was correct: she could not sustain that run, and finished the race a very distant last.
Race 3: Allowance ($28,000 purse), three-year-olds and up, non-winners of $8,800 other than maiden, claiming, starter, or state-bred allowance OR N2L, one mile on the turf
In this race, I liked Laythatpistoldown (8) quite a bit, given the cut in distance and his likelihood to get and take the early speed. Colburn (4) also looked like a good selection, given his back class and his trainer’s success in the past in stretching a horse out to a longer distance. Sevenoaks (3) looked like he was improving in form coming into this race, and a good shot to at least hit the board, but I didn’t like him quite as much as the other two. As for betting, I came in with the Daily Double I placed in Race 2 that was still alive to Laythatpistoldown and Colburn after Virginia’s Joy’s win, and did one new $1 Daily Double, 4,8/5,7.
My Pal Paul shot to the early lead, with Quittin Time stalking closer than expected. Laythatpistoldown, who I expected to be right up near there, instead settled near the back of the pack early, ahead of only the closer Colburn: not what I was hoping to see from Laythatpistoldown at all. Sevenoaks stalked a few back early. My Pal Paul faded out by the far turn, giving Quittin Time the lead, with Classified and Sevenoaks very close behind in their bids. Classified dropped out pretty quickly. Sevenoaks kept trying, and R. Great Adventure made his way up from the pack to contend as well. Sevenoaks didn’t fade badly, but didn’t have quite enough to sustain his bid. R. Great Adventure, on the other hand, showed sharpness here, in his first race since last September: he came along the rail, and pulled ahead to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Quittin Time held for second. Sevenoaks, unable to carry his bid to completion, still held for third, 1 3/4 lengths behind R. Great Adventure.
Colburn was able to improve his position late, though his closing run was not enough. He had improved to mid-pack on the turn for home, and did make up a few more lengths down the stretch, but that was still only good enough for fourth, 3 lengths behind R. Great Adventure. My top selection, Laythatpistoldown, didn’t show a whole lot after not getting the frontrunning position he tends to need. He chased a few lengths off for most of the race, but didn’t make any sort of serious challenge. He finished fifth, 5 3/4 lengths back.
This race was actually run on the turf, as carded. However, word on the track was that the jockeys were not happy with the kind of footing the horses were getting on the turf in this race, unsurprising given the weather we’ve had in Chicago. The one later turf allowance that was carded, the 7th, was moved out to the dirt as a result.
Race 4: Allowance ($28,000 purse), three-year-olds and up, non-winners of $8,800 other than maiden, claiming, starter, or state-bred allowance OR N2L, one mile and seventy yards on the dirt
In this race, I really liked Gaelic Breeze (7), as the only real closer in a field full of speed horses. I thought the pace would set up well for him, and he’d come in at a nice price. Among the speedballs, I thought Hoodwinked (5) and Morgan’s Guerrilla (2) would have the best shot to succeed. I was a little grumpy about Morgan’s Guerrilla, since I wasn’t sure if he’d be back in form here, and he was a terrible price horse: 5-2 on the morning line, bet down to 3-5 by post time as the Mike Maker/Rosie Napravnik chalk. However, I went ahead and did a $1 exacta box on my three picks, 2,5,7.
I was right that a horse would come in from a good bit off to win it — who did so, however, came as a surprise. To say Morgan’s Guerrilla found his form here would be the understatement of the day. I expected him to get on the early lead, but instead he chased from far back early: a good seven or eight lengths. His past performances hadn’t shown any real success rating, much less coming from that far back, but clearly some kind of light had finally come on in the five-year-old’s head.
It was instead Dos De Bastos and Garland’s Spirit who bolted to the lead, with Hoodwinked stalking close behind early. Even as far as six furlongs in, it was those three frontrunners fighting for the lead. Morgan’s Guerrilla was improving through the far turn, though — only a handful of lengths from the top three by then, and ready to pounce. Approaching the stretch, Hoodwinked faded out badly, and Garland’s Spirit started to lose ground as well. Dos De Bastos, the three-year-old, tried to fight on, but was no match for Morgan’s Guerrilla. He came around wide through the far turn, and just blew ahead of the field approaching the stretch. He opened up, and won by eight lengths. Dos De Bastos was the only part of the early speed contingent to stay on for a share; he lugged in for the place. Gaelic Breeze, a dozen back early, was able to improve his position relative to the field, though he couldn’t get anywhere near Morgan’s Guerrilla. He got up for the show, 12 lengths behind Morgan’s Guerrilla. Hoodwinked, who had dropped out quickly after making his bid, straggled in sixth and last: 28 lengths behind the victor.
Race 5: Third Chance Handicap, four-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, Illinois-bred, six furlongs on the dirt
Of all the races today, I was most excited about this, because C’Mon Feet was racing. She’s a local horse who hadn’t quite gotten it all figured out until last fall, when she dropped in for a $5,000 tag. She won the race, was claimed, and some combination of remembering what it’s like to win a race and/or her new barn sent her on a five-win streak coming into the Third Chance. I’ve been following her closely since that allowance race that was second on her streak: I made my most memorable score of the fall meet on that race, and have kept cheering her on as she has kept winning. Today, however, she hit the toughest company she has met in almost a year.
C’Mon Feet (5) was my third choice today. She didn’t always hang the kind of speed figures that this field required, but had done so in at least some of her races, and had shown herself to be game when challenged late for the lead. The other horses I was interested in were the two favourites: fellow speed horse and frequent Illinois stakes runner Missjeanlouise (1), and My Option (4), a more off-the-pace type who was dropping in here from graded company first off the winter lay. I did a $1 exacta box with 1,4,5, a $1 Daily Double of 1,4,5/5 (singling River Bear in the Molaro), and then in a last-minute flight of fancy I put $2 to win on C’Mon Feet, since she was still hanging at a juicy 7-1 at post time, which made her worth fluttering a straight bet on.
Missjeanlouise got the lead early, and C’Mon Feet stalked just off her early. This was a bit different style for her, as she usually gets right on the lead, but she has shown that she can fight if she’s not right in front. The two of them raced a length or two ahead of Scarlet Power, Dolly Peach, and Beeway early, with the rest farther back. It stayed about that shape until the race turned for home. Coming into the stretch, Missjeanlouise and C’Mon Feet were still fighting for the lead, and My Option was making her move. She was up with the stalkers as the field turned for home, and still had more to go. C’Mon Feet kept dueling with Missjeanlouise; she started drifting out a bit, but Tim Thornton got her straightened back out quickly, and refocused on the task at hand. She had more left, pulled a neck ahead of Missjeanlouise in the shadow of the wire, and won it! My Option was flying in late, but ran out of distance, and had to settle for a close third — just a neck behind Missjeanlouise. That trio finished clearly best, two and a half lengths in front of fourth-place Scarlet Power.
I still look back at this race, and all I can think of is…she did it! The Illinois Derby may have gotten most of the press, but this was the race I was most looking forward to seeing, and this was my favourite race of the day.
Race 6: Robert S. Molaro Handicap, four-year-olds and up, Illinois-bred, six furlongs on the dirt
In this race, I really liked River Bear (5). He was the class of the field, and proved his last time out in a classy allowance race that he still has it. Luck With A Kiss (3) seemed like he might have a shot on the early speed, and Four Left Feet (9) is a stalking or mid-pack type who has repeatedly hit the board at allowance level, and was second in the Lightning Jet Handicap last fall. My strongest choice was River Bear, though, and I keyed my tickets accordingly: in addition to the Daily Double still alive from C’Mon Feet’s win in the Third Chance, I put a $2 win bet on River Bear, and did a $1 exacta of 5/3,9. I was all in on River Bear, and hoped for some half-decent prices since there was so much clueless money going on Mish Mosh (2), the Ramsey chalk who can’t rate to save his life.
River Bear, usually a closer, dropped even farther back than usual: almost twenty lengths off the pace early. It was Luck With A Kiss, as expected, who got that early speed; Mish Mosh tried to stalk early, but he was done as soon as Luck With A Kiss got the front. Luck With A Kiss opened up by four or five lengths coming into the far turn, but could not sustain his speed; he faded badly coming into the stretch, surrendering the lead to Chatfield Road — who, atypically, had been running a handful of lengths off the pace early, instead of getting on the early speed. River Bear made up a huge amount of ground through the far turn, circled wide around the field, and had clear track on the outside coming for home. He was just outside of Four Left Feet, who himself was making a closing move. River Bear’s was just a bit better, though; he made a gritty push to get ahead of Four Left Feet and everyone else, and win the race by half a length. Four Left Feet got up for second. Sacred Gift, who had been mid-pack early, made a run on the inside that was enough for third, 1 1/4 lengths behind River Bear. Luck With A Kiss faded badly after setting the early fractions; he finished eighth beaten 9 1/2 lengths. Mish Mosh, who went off as the 2.1-1 favourite, also faded badly; he finished seventh, just a quarter-length ahead of Luck With A Kiss.
Race 7: Allowance ($28,000 purse), three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, non-winners of $8,800 other than maiden, claiming, starter, or state-bred allowance OR N2L, one mile on the turf
This race was originally carded for the turf, but after some comments made by the jockeys about the ground underfoot in the third race, Hawthorne took the safe route (and, as such, the correct one) and took this race off of the turf. Three horses had scratched even before the race was moved: my top selection Elusive Knoll (2), Dancing Flashy (12), and Cypress Pond (13, main track only). Once it was pulled off, Itsyesornoihavtogo (6), Sugar Street (8), and Kitchen Boss (10) all dropped out as well — leaving a field of seven, and leaving Love Blind (9) as the only one of my original picks still in the race. I’d have fluttered a win bet on her if she were going off at anywhere near the 6-1 morning line, but after the scratches I decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and passed on betting this.
This was a fortunate choice, as I wanted nothing to do with Wedding Trifecta (4), mainly because she had been in Career Maiden™ territory when she finally broke her maiden earlier this meet. I was definitely not interested in betting her in allowance company. However, in retrospect, blowing her off may not have been a great move: even though most of her previous races had been on turf or all-weather, she had been improving this meet on the dirt. She was up against a bunch of turf horses here, and had just finished third beaten only a length and a half in a 1 1/16 mile allowance two weeks before. She got a similar kind of trip this time as she did in her maiden win back in February: a handful of lengths back early, a run through the far turn, and then a pull away down the stretch. My Argentine chalk, Love Blind, was a bit farther back than Wedding Trifecta early, and only made it up for second, 3 1/4 lengths behind the winner. Cotton Club Cutie, who set the early fractions, faded through the far turn, and held on for third.
Race 8: Sixty Sails Handicap (GIII), fillies and mares, three-year-olds and up, one and one-eighth miles on the dirt
In this race, I liked Flashy American (2), Sonja’s Angel, (1), and Gamay Noir (7). Flashy American was dropping in here off of tougher races, and tended to improve second off the lay. However, it was a fairly close choice between her and Sonja’s Angel for best pick versus second — and made even closer when Sonja’s Angel’s most likely challenger for the lead, Distinctive Review, scratched out this morning. Gamay Noir just won a Grade III at this distance last out, and had the Tim Thornton factor going for her. I bet a $1 Daily Double 1,2/7,8, as well as an exacta of 1,2/1,2,7,8. I added the 8, Imposing Grace, in the lower rung because she had shown some aptitude coming from the outer gates, and even though she preferred the all-weather to the dirt, she had managed to hit the board a few times on the dirt, with speeds decent for this bunch.
Sonja’s Angel took the early lead as expected. Dress The Part settled into a stalking position, joined along the rail by Flashy American. Gamay Noir had a poor start, caught in traffic, and was a distant last early. This wasn’t great, but didn’t completely undermine her since she tends to be a closer. Dress The Part started fading out of her stalking place coming into the far turn, but Flashy American stayed on her. Sonja’s Angel turned wide into the stretch, and Flashy American came right through that hole to fight her. Flashy American inched away, and crossed the wire 3/4 length in front of Sonja’s Angel. Gamay Noir, far back early, flew along the rail through the far turn, and improved from last to third. She was no match to the leading two, but had enough to keep the rest of the field comfortably at bay. Imposing Grace, the other horse I considered for the second rung of that exacta, acted up at the gate, chased about half a dozen lengths back, and faded badly down the stretch.
Race 9: Illinois Derby (GIII), three-year-olds, one and one-eighth miles on the dirt
In this race, my goal was to beat Midnight Hawk (3). He’s a classy horse, and I thought he would hit the board on that alone, though I did not like him to win at 3-5 morning line (and 2-5 post time!) at nine furlongs given how badly he has lugged in late at anything over a mile. I thought the best chances to do that were a couple of horses with a decent amount of distance in their pedigree, Class Leader (8) and Global Strike (7). Class Leader comes from off, something useful given a speed I expected to fall apart. Global Strike I expected to be on or near the lead, but to have a better chance to stay the distance than Midnight Hawk. That being the case, I bet Class Leader $2 across the board, did a $1 exacta box of 3,7,8, and still had my live Daily Double carrying in from the Sixty Sails. I also did a $2 show bet on A Step Ahead since things looked on the verge of bridgejumper territory a few minutes before post — I considered doing one on Irish You Well as well, but he was fractious enough in the paddock that I was pushed off of that wager.
Midnight Hawk was beaten. I could not have been more wrong about who did it.
Midnight Hawk bobbled at the break, but still managed to get the early lead once the pace settled. Dynamic Impact (2), the Mark Casse horse who had been dual-entered in this and the Lexington, stalked just off of him on his inside. Class Leader got bumped at the start by Global Strike, but then settled in nicely just a couple of lengths off the lead. Dynamic Impact lost just a little ground down the backstretch and through the far turn; he was still in striking distance, but dropped back to swing to Midnight Hawk’s outside. He had plenty of run left, though, and gained back up on Midnight Hawk. By the wire, they were on even terms; watching live, it was impossible to tell. The photo told the tale, though: Dynamic Impact got his nose in front. I had noticed before the race that Dynamic Impact had been working fabulously at Keeneland going into here, but didn’t love that he was fresh into here after breaking his maiden on his fifth try. Three-year-olds can figure things out quickly, though, and today seems like evidence that Dynamic Impact has figured the whole racing thing out.
Third place went to the horse whose paddock behaviour knocked me right off the longshot show bet: Irish You Well. He was about a half dozen back early, and dropped even further back through the far turn, but had more run left than the rest of the pack, and got in for third: 8 1/2 lengths behind the frontrunning duo. Class Leader, stalking in third most of the race, steadily faded through the last few furlongs, and finished fourth, 9 3/4 lengths back. Global Strike, who I expected to get to the lead early, was bumped at the start by Class Leader. He was near the back of the pack early, which does not suit his running style at all, and dropped back to a distant last.
Race 10: $5,000 claiming, three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, non-winners since October 19 OR N3L, one mile and seventy yards on the dirt
This race was a wide-open $5,000 beaten claimer. There was so much early speed in this race that I’ve Heard Rumors (7) and Miss Livingston (1A) would get exactly the sort of pace they needed to be up near the front at the end. Out of the early speed, it looked like Run Mama Beare Run (6) would be in the best shape to stay up there, given that she has some ability to rate. So, I exacta boxed 1,6,7.
Glorious Destiny (1) bolted out to the lead, with Run Mama Beare Run stalking off him. Glorious Destiny faded badly after the first four furlongs or so, and Run Mama Beare Run assumed the lead. However, just as Glorious Destiny faded back on the inside, Ten Little Pins caught Run Mama Beare Run on her outside. They duelled a little coming the stretch, and then Ten Little Pins ran off with it from the eighth pole. Run Mama Beare Run tried to hang on, but Countin’ On U Doc (4) made it out of his mid-pack position and gained enough down the stretch to get up for a clear second, 4 1/4 lengths behind the winner. Run Mama Beare Run held on for third, 7 1/4 back, and the only one of my selections to hit the board. Miss Livingston and I’ve Heard Rumors both took up the rear early and both made up some ground through the far turn, but didn’t have enough continued run down the stretch to even threaten to hit the board, given the slow-and-slower pace of this race. Miss Livingston finished 5th beaten 10 1/4 lengths; I’ve Heard Rumors finished 6th beaten 11/12 lengths.