a hope for interesting times

The sun had set, and I was walking across the vast, empty asphalt expanse that is the Hawthorne parking lot after hours.  The races had ended over an hour before.  It was only in such desolation that my excitement over the ninth race today finally felt warranted.

The nightcap is the Super High Five race, which means it typically boasts the biggest field of the day.  That means it is typically a beaten $5,000 or even $4,000 claimer, since so many horses fit those conditions.  Today’s was a little different: a maiden special weight for Illinois-bred fillies ages three and up.  The uptick in racing level alone could not justify that sort of excitement.  After all, it was hard for me to be more excited than I was to see Mischief N Mayhem hit the track on Saturday, and that race was a $5,000 beaten claimer.

What I already knew was strange was the very specific excitement about a race in which I had no raging horse crush.  There was no daughter of Curlin in the field, no daughter of Fort Prado, no second-time starter who had stolen my heart in the paddock last out.

There were a couple of as yet unraced half-siblings to well-known Illinois-breds in the race.  Wildwood Silk is half to I Got It All, who just ran third behind Golden Lad and Ride On Curlin in the Essex.  Tam is half to Kepi, an ultra-consistent racemare who has won a pair of state-bred stakes and is currently working toward her seven-year-old debut.  At first it seemed like this might be it, but I know better than to let myself get too excited about half-siblings before they have raced yet.  As useful as it is as a hook to get others interested in a race, a voice in the back of my head always taunts me when I bring it up.  After all, if that were any kind of reliable indicator, the names Ms Deep Cover and Comic Hero would be the stuff of legend.

It was only on the walk out that my excitement for the race justified itself.  I ran back through the race in my mind.  Wildwood Silk won it impressively by a dozen lengths.  Though the rail bias helped, she looked so poised in the paddock and ran so confidently that it could not have been just the track that got her home a dozen lengths in front.  Watching her cross the wire, it was impossible to avoid mentally penciling her in for next month’s Pretty Jenny Stakes.

Even though Wildwood Silk won by so much, this was a legitimate maiden special weight field, especially for the state-bred ranks.  The other two first-time starters merit a close eye.  Tam, who looked bit more interesting at two turns on paper, ran a surprisingly good race for a six-furlong dirt sprint.  She finished a clear second…far behind Wildwood Silk, but with daylight behind her and third-place Precious Abbey.  Even the other first-time starter, Dayin Deauville, could improve with a better post draw or a day with a bit less rail bias.  Her worktab suggested she could hold her own with stablemate Wildwood Silk, and she remained interested enough to pass horses late.  The three first-timers, all sophomores, had all held their own against a field that included older.

Last year’s two-year-old filly division had a pair of shining stars.  Timeaday won the Showtime Deb Stakes convincingly, finished third in an open AOC against males, and won an open allowance against fillies.  Tizgorgeous outgamed Razamajazil to take the Pat Whitworth Illinois Futurity and had finished a clear second in the Showtime Deb.

Beyond Timeaday and Tizgorgeous, the rest of the crop looked about as far back as Rock Shandy was compared to Dortmund and Firing Line in the Robert B. Lewis last month.  The division’s depth was so questionable that my third-place vote on the Illinois Champions ballot went to an open allowance winner at Keeneland, Prado’s Sweet Ride.  It was not her fault that there was no turf stakes for state-bred juveniles.  She successfully took her show on the road, and prevailed over open company.  I stand by that vote.  Even so, I wish there had been a bit more stakes-level success beyond the two heavyweights of the division.

Therein lied the significance of today’s Hawthorne ninth.  With as sparse as the juvenile fillies division in Illinois looked last year, a new year has come.  Three-year-old fillies are coming out of the woodwork, and the group should be more competitive this year.

I cannot wait to see Tizgorgeous make her three-year-old debut, or for Timeaday to (hopefully) make her way back to Chicago from Oaklawn to race around Chicago again.  However, the upper-crust Illinois-bred races will not be as exciting without legitimate contenders for them to face.  Worthy Illinois-bred adversaries will make their return more fun, and today’s race suggested that sharp new contenders await.

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