2014 Illinois Derby

Illinois Derby at Hawthorne

WarEmblemThe Grade 3 $500,000 Illinois Derby is the 9th race on the card for Saturday at Hawthorne. Set at 1 1/8 mile, this year’s edition of the Illinois Derby will host a field of 8 three year olds. I developed an interest for this race last year and witnessed some things that might be worth watching this year. Last year was the start of the Kentucky Derby Points System and many seemed upset that the Illinois Derby awarded no points to Kentucky Derby hopefuls. In 2002, this race produced that year’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner with War Emblem, as well as 3 year old Horse of the Year, so I can see where some feel that this race deserves some attention and was points worthy. Regardless, Churchill Downs didn’t think so and therefore the race received no points. In last year’s race, Departing (who seemed to have the makings of a Derby contender at the time) won the race by 3 ¼ lengths. I’m not sure why Departing didn’t skip this race and go for the Kentucky Derby. He had 20 points, was Triple Crown nominated and would have been entered above Golden Soul who only had 14 points. As you know, Golden Soul went on to place second in the Kentucky Derby, so it’s reasonable to think that maybe Departing had a chance to do well, also. Regardless, that was not the case. Instead, I believe (and this is just my personal opinion of course) that his connections felt he was not a Derby contender and decided to make some sound business decisions instead of catching Derby fever. DepartingHow many times have you seen entries in the Kentucky Derby that just didn’t belong? Many just want the acknowledgement of having their horse in the race (I don’t blame them!). Departing, however, seemed to have the right idea. So what if you’re not the best 3 year old in the country. Why not go and collect checks instead? I believe this was a very smart idea on their part. Besides his 6th place finish in the Preakness, Departing went on to win the West Virginia Derby and the Super Derby, before being beaten in the Oklahoma Derby. By the end of the year, Departing was ranked 12th in earnings overall with $1,380,100. He actually ranked above Oxbow and was within striking distance of Palace Malice who was 11th on that list! Not too shabby for a 3 year old that stayed out of the limelight and quietly collected checks. I’m curious to see if this year’s Illinois Derby winner doesn’t follow the same path and with good reason. Let’s get to it!

Hawthorne’s Illinois Derby

MidnightHawkThe morning line favorite for this year’s Illinois Derby is Midnight Hawk at 4/5. Here is a quality 3 year old that has shown some impressive runs winning the Grade 3 Sham, running 3rd in the Grade 2 Robert B Lewis, and placing 2nd in both the Grade 2 San Felipe and Grade 3 Sunland Derby. His connections know that he’s not ready to challenge the likes of California Chrome, so Chicago here we come! At least that’s my theory. He’s definitely going to be the one to beat in this race. Trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Martin Garcia, who picks up the mount for the first time, I look for Midnight Hawk to take the front-end lead early and never look back. But for the sack of argument and better odds, let’s look for some value. For one of these horses to beat Midnight Hawk, we need someone to challenge him for the lead. The only one I see that might is Dynamic Impact at 6 to 1 on the ML. Dynamic Impact just broke maiden at Oaklawn Park in a straight maiden 60k winning by a neck. KingCyrusIn that race, he was close to the front and stalking. In this race, he’ll need to pursue the front and make more of an “impact” to win this one. His works look good and I believe he has a chance to pull it off here, even if it’s a slight chance. Should Midnight Hawk and Dynamic Impact battle it out and wear one another down, I look for King Cyrus to pick up the pieces at 8 to 1 on the morning line. Trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Rosie Napravnik, King Cyrus could stalk the pace here and pull off an upset. He bounced in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby running 7th, but I’m willing to forgive him for that outing and make him my second value play here. Napravnik is a smart rider and I could see her guiding this horse to the win as long as Midnight Hawk is challenged on the front. Good luck everybody!




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Mike Jr, eldest son of Mike Lane Sr, is co-lead author at and was raised on thoroughbred horse racing and handicapping. Although father and son often butt heads on their selections, they both have much love and admiration for the sport. Mike Jr. brings a new, fresh perspective to horse racing and is often in search of new angles to try.

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