Illinois Derby Preview


Graded stakes winners Backtalk and American Lion are among eight three-year-olds entered for Saturday’s $500,000 Illinois Derby (G3) at Hawthorne Race Course.

The Illinois Derby is one of three key Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) prep races on Saturday, along with the $750,000 Wood Memorial Stakes (G1) at Aqueduct and $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (G1).

Backtalk showed plenty of class at two, winning the Bashford Manor Stakes (G3) and Sanford Stakes (G2) before finishing fourth in the Three Chimneys Hopeful Stakes (G1). After a disappointing eighth-place finish in the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity (G1) on October 10, his only career start on a synthetic surface, trainer Tom Amoss gave him a break.

The Smarty Jones colt returned from the 4 1/2-month layoff with a half-length win in the one-mile Sportsman’s Paradise Stakes on February 26 at Delta Downs (video).

Backtalk’s performance in the Sportsman’s Paradise, contested on a sloppy track and around two turn on Delta’s six-furlong track, was a difficult to judge because he was bumped early, dropped back to trail the four-horse field after six furlongs, and appeared beaten nearing the stretch. But he unleashed a powerful rally from five wide leaving the turn and closed gamely to edge pacesetter Royal Express, who was alone on the lead throughout.

Adding to the intrigue for Backtalk in the Illinois Derby was his most recent workout in preparation for the race. He breezed six furlongs in a blistering 1:09.60 on March 25, the fastest of five timed workouts by four seconds. The move could signal Backtalk is razor sharp approaching his second start of the year or perhaps a workout that fast might have taken something out of him nine days before his final Kentucky Derby prep race.

American Lion, a Tiznow colt trained by Eoin Harty for owner and co-breeder WinStar Farm, will make his first start on a dirt track in the Illinois Derby. He won the Hollywood Prevue Stakes (G3) at two (video) but has not won in two starts this year.

American Lion finished third in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G2) on February 13 and fourth in the San Felipe Stakes (G2) on March 13, both at Santa Anita Park.

The Illinois Derby also drew Robert B. Lewis Stakes runner-up Dave in Dixie, Gotham Stakes (G3) runner-up Yawanna Twist, and stakes winner Turf Melody.

Earle Mack recently purchased a 90% interest in Turf Melody from Priscilla Graham. The Maria’s Mon colt remains in the care of Graham Motion.

“Turf Melody is an exciting colt, who seems to be moving forward at the right time. I have every confidence in his trainer, Graham Motion,” Mack said.

Game Ball, winner of a one-mile and 40-yard optional claiming race on March 5 at Tampa Bay Downs, and maiden winners Boulder Creek and Stephen’s Got Hope round out the field.

by Mike Curry


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