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