Looking for a Longshot in the Illinois Derby

Looking for a Longshot in the Illinois Derby

Although it doesn’t carry any qualification points for the Kentucky Derby, the $250,000 Illinois Derby (gr. III) at Hawthorne comes four weeks before the Preakness Stakes and serves as a logical prep for the second leg of the Triple Crown. As a result, seven talented three-year-old colts that failed to qualify for the Derby will contest the nine-furlong race, and it would be no surprise to see the winner head to Pimlico next month.

The 3-1 morning line favorite is #2 Hedge Fund, who ships in from Florida for four-time Illinois Derby-winning trainer Todd Pletcher. After breaking his maiden second-time out at Gulfstream this winter, Hedge Fund shipped to Sunland Park and contested the Illinois Derby (gr. III), where he finished third after setting a fast early pace. For those efforts, Hedge Fund received BRIS speed figures of 90 and 94, along with eye-catching BRIS E1 and E2 pace figures of 115 and 111 for his Sunland Derby effort, signifying just how fast a pace he set.

But to win the Illinois Derby, Hedge Fund will have to defeat a quality field that includes two colts from the barn of Scott Becker, who is winning at an incredible 42% rate at the current Hawthorne meet. They are #5 St. Louie Guy and #4 Stand and Cheer, and while the former is entering off a nine-length romp in an allowance race at this track, my preference is for Stand and Cheer. Following a solid two-year-old campaign that included a fourth-place finish in the Arlington-Washington Futurity (gr. III) and a ten-length maiden win at Hawthorne, Stand and Cheer caught some eyes with a pair of good efforts on dirt at Fair Grounds and Oaklawn Park. Two starts back, he finished second to the capable Resiliency (while defeating the next-out winner Excitations), and most recently Stand and Cheer finished second to the graded stakes-placed Warrior’s Club in a one-mile allowance race, earning an 87 BRIS speed figure.

Stand and Cheer will need to take another step forward to defeat Hedge Fund, but his front-running speed should help him work out a great trip in a race filled primarily with closers. If Hedge Fund regresses at all off his big run in the Illinois Derby, Stand and Cheer should be poised to take advantage. At 8-1 on the morning line, I think he’s worth a play.

Also warranting respect are #6 Mr. Misunderstood and #7 Hollywood Handsome. The former is 7-2 on the morning line off an eye-catching nine-length win in an allowance race at Fair Grounds, for which he received a 91 BRIS speed figure. But Mr. Misunderstood received a favorable setup while beating just three rivals over a sloppy, sealed track, which is often a recipe for impressive victories and big speed figures–I’m not sure Mr. Misunderstood will be able to replicate that performance while facing a tougher field over a dry track.

As for Hollywood Handsome, he posted a 96 BRIS speed figure while rallying to finish fourth in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II), but he too received a favorable setup with a contested pace and didn’t close quite as strongly as one might expect under the circumstances. With a more modest pace expected in the Illinois Derby, I think Hollywood Handsome might be one to side against.

Here’s how I would play the race:

$10 to win on #4 Stand and Cheer at 6-1 or higher

$3 exacta 2,4 with 2,4

$2 exacta 2,4 with 5

Total: $20

Past performances for the Illinois Derby are available from Brisnet.com. For more information about wagering strategy, please visit the Betting Guides page on TwinSpires.com

Now it’s your turn! Who do you like in the Illinois Derby?

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Follow J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman"):

J. Keeler Johnson is a writer, blogger, videographer, and all-around horse racing enthusiast who was drawn to the sport by Curlin's quest to become North America's richest racehorse. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He lives in Wisconsin and also writes for the Bloodhorse.com blog Unlocking Winners.

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