04/05/2012 1:47PM

Illinois Derby: Distance, class questions for much of field

Barbara D. Livingston
Currency Swap will be making his first start around two turns in the Grade 3 Illinois Derby.

Mid-Atlantic-based trainer Mike Trombetta came to Hawthorne Race Course in 2006 with a relatively unproven 3-year-old named Sweetnorthernsaint. The questions being asked of Hakama, Trombetta’s entrant in Saturday’s Illinois Derby, are the same as were asked of Sweetnorthernsaint: Can he get the distance? Is he good enough?

“I remember having these same conversations about six years ago,” Trombetta said.

Sweetnorthernsaint wound up winning the Illinois Derby and going off as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby, where he finished seventh. But the questions asked of both him and Hakama apply equally to 16 other horses entered in Saturday’s race, the highlight of the Hawthorne spring meet: Can they go this far? Are they good enough?

The Illinois Derby, a Grade 3 with $500,000 of graded stakes earnings available for Kentucky Derby hopefuls, will have 14 starters when the field goes to post Saturday at 5:46 p.m. Central. The local derby goes as race 9 of 10 on a card that starts at 1:40 and also includes a decent overnight dirt-route stakes, the $60,000 Cryptoclearance. The derby has three also-eligibles should any of the horses in the main body of the field withdraw before scratch time Saturday.

While horses like Hakama – and there are many like him in the field – have no experience at the Illinois Derby’s nine-furlong distance, one horse, Currency Swap, has little to answer for in terms of basic ability. After winning his career debut last summer at Saratoga, he went on to win the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes by three-quarters of a length, the best single performance turned in by any horse entered in the Illinois Derby.

Currency Swap, however, made no more starts at age 2 following his Hopeful win, his season curtailed by a September ankle injury that required surgery. Currency Swap, trainer Theresa Pompay said, was out of action for nearly two months, but before Christmas last year, he began swimming to establish fundamental fitness at a farm near Ocala, Fla. By late January, Currency Swap had rejoined Pompay’s stable, and he has since progressed steadily.

Currency Swap finished second in his 3-year-old debut, where he ran into likely Wood Memorial favorite Gemologist in a March 16 first-level allowance race at Gulfstream, but while beaten 10 lengths that day, Currency Swap had a valuable experience.

“He’s a heavily muscled horse, and it takes a lot to get him fit,” Pompay said. “It just seemed like there was a big improvement after his race. It kind of shook him up a little bit.”

By the somewhat obscure sire High Cotton, Currency Swap, who displayed good sprint speed in 2011, has yet to make a start around two turns, but Pompay said distance doesn’t concern her.

“I think he’ll be able to go the distance, and we always thought that of him,” she said. “I always thought he could get a mile and an eighth, a mile and a quarter.”

Our Entourage, the Todd Pletcher-trained starter, has lost both his dirt starts, but is a two-time turf winner who at least figures to stay the trip Saturday.

“The further he goes, the better he’s going to get,” said Pletcher, who won the Illinois Derby in 2011, 2007, 2004, and 2001.

Our Entourage and jockey Eddie Castro should be coming from off the pace, and with several speed types entered, that might turn out to be a good spot.

Currency Swap looks like he has as much pace as any horse, but recent Aqueduct maiden winner Morgan’s Guerrilla also should try for the lead. Several others, Hakama among them, would prefer to race forwardly, but don’t necessarily want to set the pace.

Sandwiched between two wins and a second for Hakama, a First Samurai colt, was a dud performance in the Withers, where he finished a distant fifth.

“That race jumps out at me, too,” Trombetta said. “He came out of the race with a small laceration on his hind ankle – not enough that you’d think it would cause him to run that poorly – but if another horse stepped on him or something, it might have caused something.”

Ring It Up, fourth in a division of the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn, had to be scratched the morning of the Rebel Stakes after spiking a temperature.

“The very next day his temp was back to normal,” trainer Chris Richard said. “He’s been back in training and he’s been breezing very good. I do like this horse going a mile and an eighth.”

Z Rockstar finished sixth in a second division of the Southwest, but bounced back March 16 with a sharp allowance race win. He seems to be coming up to Saturday’s race the right way, but so do several other members of the field.

And those same questions keep hovering over the race: Who is good enough? Who can go this far?

Illinois Derby (G2), Post Time: 5:46 CT Saturday

Purse: $500,000; 1 1/8 miles





ML Odds


Romancing The Gold

J. Englehart

I. Ortiz, Jr.




M. Trombetta

J. Pimentel



Ring It Up

C. Richard

L. Wade



Currency Swap

T. Pompay

S. Bridgmohan




C. Grove

J. Santiago




D. Lukas

R. Vazquez



Saturday Launch

K. McPeek

C. Emigh



Z Rockstar

D. Von Hemel

Q. Hamilton




B. Williamson

I. Ocampo



Frankie Is Rock

R. Aguilar

E. Perez



Our Entourage

T. Pletcher

E. Castro



Morgan's Guerrilla

M. Maker

R. Napravnik



Done Talking

H. Smith

S. Russell




T. Ice

C. Hill



Explain (AE)

B. Cox

F. Torres



Arm Force (AE)

E. Harty

E. Castro



Defiant Flyer (AE)

L. Davis

S. Martinez



Christine Race More than 1 year ago
CONGRATS TO ALL POSTERS IN ADVANCE - $$$$$ DONE TALKING - WOW.... GREAT WORK - read late and weep....job well done - count your rewards a few times for fun :)
Douglas Rutherford More than 1 year ago
Thank You - Thank You - Thank You , and Yes , CONGRATS TO ALL that stayed with Done Talking ! I could not believe the morning line set at 20 - 1 ! I bet abit more than I really wanted to in my Trifecta wager by ( 13 / all / all ) with a 14 horse field , but I honestly thought the longshots would follow up with my UPSET PIC . I was really disappointed the $1 Trifecta return was only $1005 and change . I was smart enough though to back my Tri Wheel up with a $500 WIN Ticket on 13 and a $500 PLACE Ticket on 13 . So I was A L L Smiles , as im sure many many many other people liked Done Talking as well . I hope your rewards were good to ya as well ..................... CONGRATS TO THOSE THAT PLAYED ( Done Talking ) .................... was a total stand-out In My Opinion
Craig Trapp More than 1 year ago
Bombs away today think we see huge payoffs in ILL Derby http://picksandparlays.com/picks/illinois-derby-2012-odds-breakdown-and-winning-predictions/
Mona Petro More than 1 year ago
Been looking forward to the ILL Derby all year! This is Anyones race. I am leaning towards Done Talking, but that may change 10Mins prior to Post. Good Luck and Safe Trip to all the Riders.
Douglas Rutherford More than 1 year ago
ABSOLUTELY : The only Question is , does H . Smith have this Colts health issues under control now . 13 Done Talking : Is By Far , the BEST Colt in this Derby - Hands Down . The Distance ( P E R F E C T ) ! And at morning lines of 20 - 1 ................................... Totally Worth RISK N REWARD . I agree with you totally ! I like this race so much , a $1 Trifecta Wheel looks very tempting 13 / ALL / ALL
Tom Dubrick More than 1 year ago
Nice field. Great betting race. Wonderful hosts, 100 year family owned. Live stream entire card at www.DRF.com, shown on WGN-tv, and TVG across America. BIG Pools, "real dirt" & 3 turf races! DRF/NTRA two day qualifier, also for Vegeas, etc. 4/21-2. Enjoy ALL.! TPD
Rodney Dangerfield More than 1 year ago
Looks like a good betting race, I'm surprised some of the better horses that need the earnings did not enter this race.
Douglas Rutherford More than 1 year ago
Rodney , looking back at the SUNLAND PARK DERBY for 800,000 - What In The World Ever Happen To That Derby Field . I had DADDY NOSE BEST as my Best Bet of the day with J . Leparoux , but in all Honesty , that Derby ought to have filled easily . We have had some of the Best Prep Field in years - awesome to see huh ! 12 - 13 - 14 horse fields other than of course Wood Memorial , Florida Derby . I thought the SUNLAND DERBY was the worst draw as of now . That should not happen when there are no Super-Stars in the line up
Rodney Dangerfield More than 1 year ago
Doug, I totally agree with you. The small fields in these major preps is really disappointing, and why the Sunland Derby couldn't draw more to the gate is beyond me. Well best of luck, nice to see a nice big field for the Illinois Derby.