04/02/2012 1:07PM

Hawthorne: Illinois Derby attracting plenty of interest

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Barbara D. Livingston
Currency Swap is being pointed to Saturday's Grade 2 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne.

Evidently, the siren call of the Kentucky Derby has become more alluring than ever. The prospective field for the Grade 2, $500,000 Illinois Derby this Saturday is bursting at the seams as the connections of 3-year-olds with even a hint of ability scramble for last-second graded earnings that might secure a Derby berth.

Hawthorne stakes coordinator Debbie Lindsay said Sunday that the connections of as many as 20 horses were desirous of starting in Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile race. The field will be capped at 14, with slots in the race determined by earnings. Therefore, a mere maiden winner like the talented California-based Paynter – whose owner, Ahmed Zayat, mentioned Hawthorne as a possible landing spot a couple weeks ago – wouldn’t be able to make the field.

California-based, Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Longview Drive has more earnings, about $200,000, than any other possible runner, but is uncertain to ship for the race, Lindsay said. That would leave Currency Swap, who has made a little more than $197,000, as the leading earning in the field. Currency Swap won the Grade 1 Hopeful last summer at Saratoga and finished a distant second behind highly regarded Gemologist when making his 2012 debut in a one-mile allowance race March 16 at Gulfstream Park.

Todd Pletcher, who won the 2011 Illinois Derby with Joe Vann, is considering Our Entourage for the race. Fifth in the Remsen Stakes last fall at Aqueduct, Our Entourage won a Feb. 25 turf allowance race at Gulfstream in his only start this season. Also possible is Done Talking, who was fourth in the Remsen but flopped in the March 3 Gotham Stakes, finishing 10th. Pretension, the Gotham fifth-place finisher, also might wind up at Hawthorne this weekend.

Ring It Up, who was fourth in a division of the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn in his most recent start, and Z Rockstar, a sharp Oaklawn allowance race winner March 16, also are likely to make the local derby field.

◗ Hawthorne’s Wednesday card has a good feature, with seven horses – including a coupled entry – entered in race 7, a high-end sprint allowance race with an $80,000 claiming option. The field includes River Bear, third in the King Cotton at Oaklawn earlier this year, as well as Four Left Feet, the Illinois-bred who won the Lightning Jet Handicap last fall at Hawthorne.

◗ A mild winter and a hot spell in March allowed Hawthorne to begin carding grass races last week, far sooner than in recent seasons.