Illinois Derby Preview
Watch Me Go installed as 7-2 morning-line choice in Illinois Derby
WATCH ME GO (West Acre), a neck victor in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), tops a field of 12 in Saturday's $300,000 Illinois Derby (G3) at Hawthorne. The dark bay colt surprised in the Tampa Bay Derby for trainer Kathleen O'Connell, sent off the 43-1 third longest shot in that 8 1/2-furlong event, and will be seeking to quiet all critics with another win on Saturday.
Prior to the Tampa Bay Derby, Watch Me Go's best finish against stakes rivals came as a third in the Sam F. Davis S. (G3). He earned the shot to stretch out and make his graded bow in that race when romping by eight lengths against optional claiming company in late January. Luis Garcia, aboard for all of Watch Me Go's sophomore starts, keeps the mount.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has captured three editions of the Illinois Derby since 2001 and will send out live contender JOE VANN (Silver Deputy) to make his stakes bow this time around. The dark bay colt broke his maiden by four lengths at Laurel Park in February, then dominated an allowance/optional claiming field by 5 1/2 lengths. The front-running sophomore will be trying nine furlongs for the first time on Saturday and gets Florent Geroux in the irons.
Joe Vann could have some company on the front end Saturday if THE FED EASED (Montbrook) stays true to his past form. Trained by Richard Violette Jr., the bay colt stumbled at the break of his second career start, recovered to take command and was hand ridden to the wire for a 7 1/4-length romp at Aqueduct. The distance is the biggest stumbling block this time around, as the sophomore faltered to be fifth after leading the way in the Gotham S. (G3) last out. Jose Valdivia Jr. ships in with his mount.
Like Joe Vann, SOUR (Lemon Drop Kid) has been given morning-line odds of 6-1 for Saturday. The Al Stall Jr. trainee was ridden out to a 2 1/2-length maiden score two back, and recently filled the runner-up spot against in a Fair Grounds optional claimer. Regular rider Brian Hernandez Jr. has the call.
Morning Line tops Carter; Bay Shore, Comely also featured on Wood undercard
MORNING LINE (Tiznow) just missed when making his Grade 1 debut in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, finishing second by a head, and claimed runner-up honors once again when making his second attempt at the level in the Donn H. last out. On Saturday, the four-year-old colt figures to go favored in his pursuit of Grade 1 glory when he lines up for the $250,000 Carter H. at Aqueduct. The seven-furlong event will feature a field of 12 sprinters and is part of a strong Wood Memorial (G1) undercard that also includes the $200,000 Bay Shore S. (G3) and $150,000 Comely S. (G3).
Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito still hasn't fully gotten over Morning Line's loss last fall in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.
"That Breeders' Cup Mile was insane," Zito said. "That other horse that won (37-1 last-to-first winner Dakota Phone [Zavata]) ran the best race of his life. I am frustrated. We did all the running."
The heartbreaking defeat began a three-race pattern in which Morning Line did all the work up front only to be overtaken by a stretch runner in the final stages. He opened 2011 with a third in the one-mile Hal's Hope (G3) and recorded a good second in the 1 1/8-mile Donn after dueling through wicked early splits in :46 3/5 and 1:10 2/5. He was removed from consideration from the 1 1/4-mile Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1) following the latter, and Morning Line will continue to be pointed toward shorter events this spring/summer like the Met Mile (G1) on May 28.
Morning Line still figures to be a principal pace player in Saturday's cutback in trip. He worked a half-mile in :47 2/5 on March 31 at Gulfstream, and Zito expects a strong run.
"Absolutely. The horse has a tremendous heart, as you can imagine," said Zito, who was happy to draw outside in post position 10. "The Breeders' Cup (Dirt) Mile, the Donn -- he never ceases to amaze me. He is a terrific, terrific horse."
Regular rider John Velazquez will guide the 5-2 favorite on the morning line.
APRIORITY (Grand Slam) and CALIBRACHOA (Southern Image) are both serious threats. Apriority reeled off three straight wins for trainer David Fawkes before shipping west to miss by only a head in his stakes bow, the January 29 Sunshine Millions Sprint at Santa Anita. The four-year-old colt rebounded from that setback with a spectacular 4 1/2-length decision over allowance/optional claiming rivals at Gulfstream Park on March 5, earning a 109 BRIS Speed rating while turning 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:14 2/5. Luis Saez will be up from Florida to ride.
Calibrachoa turned out to be a very savvy claim for $40,000 by owner Mike Repole last November, reeling off three straight victories over stakes rivals for his new connections. The Todd Pletcher-trained colt scored by 1 1/2 lengths in the December 18 Gravesend and followed with a half-length decision in the January 22 Toboggan (G3). In the March 5 Tom Fool (G3), he netted a career-best 106 BRIS Speed rating for an impressive 4 1/2-length tally. The four-year-old will stretch out to seven furlongs for the first time and keep Ramon Dominguez in the saddle.
"The Carter is obviously a tougher assignment than what he's been in," Pletcher said of Calibrachoa, who has rallied from off the pace in his three stakes wins. "A lot of high-quality horses are shipping in. It's the logical next step based on what he's been doing."
Repole/Pletcher have also entered HAVE YOU EVER (Van Nistelrooy) as strictly a pacesetter for Calibrachoa.
Richard Dutrow has a trio of uncoupled entrants in LAYSH LAYSH LAYSH (Whywhywhy), BE BULLISH (Pure Prize) and YAWANNA TWIST (Yonaguska). Laysh Laysh Laysh was stakes-placed at three in 2008, but he dropped down to the claiming ranks before finding his best form this winter at Laurel Park, recording a victory in the Native Dancer S. and a neck second in the General George H. (G2). Cornelio Velasquez rides.
Be Bullish has won two straight stakes since being claimed for $35,000 three starts back on January 28, posting a 1 3/4-length score over state-breds in the February 21 Hollie Hughes S. and a one-length victory versus open rivals in the April 1 Mr. Nasty S. He notched a career-best 105 BRIS Speed rating in the latter and wheel back on eight days rest with Junior Alvarado. Yawanna Twist finished second in the Gotham (G3) and Illinois Derby (G3) before recording a very respectable fourth in the Preakness (G1). After being sidelined the rest of his sophomore season, he returned this year with an easy win at seven furlongs over allowance/optional claiming rivals at Gulfstream Park. The bay colt came up short in second as the heavy favorite in the restricted Kings Point H. at nine furlongs last out, but Yawanna Twist figures to appreciate the cutback to a one-turn distance Saturday.
Multiple Grade 2 victor KENSEI (Mr. Greeley) can't be overlooked after opening 2011 with a good second to Misremembered (Candy Ride [Arg]) in the March 6 Santana Mile S. at Santa Anita. Edgar Prado will regain the mount on the Steve Asmussen shipper. SUNRISE SMARTY (Smarty Jones) will make his graded stakes debut for Gary Contessa following a sharp five-length score over allowance rivals at the Big A on February 26.
Complete the field are outsiders FASTUS CACTUS (Cactus Ridge), MORE THAN A REASON (More Than Ready) and INDEPENDENCE WAR (Red Bullet).
The Bay Shore attracted a field of eight three-year-olds, including J J'S LUCKY TRAIN (Silver Train) and SMOKE IT RIGHT (Smoke Glacken), who exit stakes win at Laurel Park and Oaklawn Park, respectively. However, maiden winner BUFFUM (Bernardini) has been installed as the 5-2 favorite on the morning line in the seven-furlong test.
The Bay Shore is a homecoming for Godolphin's Buffum, who finished fifth in the UAE Two Thousand Guineas (UAE-G3) over Meydan's all-weather track on February 10 in his lone start as a sophomore. In his two previous efforts, the $1.2 million yearling purchase was fifth and last in the Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct in November following a narrow maiden score at Belmont Park in October.
"He's been at Belmont with Henry Spiller the past three days after coming out of quarantine in Newburgh, (New York)," said Rick Mettee, assistant to trainer Saeed bin Suroor. "He trotted the first two days and galloped this morning. He was first on the also-eligible list for the UAE Derby, and he was fit and ready to run. You might think a mile might be a bit better for him, but seven furlongs is good for his first start back."