04/14/2014 1:10PM

Illinois Derby: Midnight Hawk, Class Leader head list of probables

Benoit & Associates
Midnight Hawk, shown winning the Sham Stakes in January at Santa Anita, is likely to start in Saturday's Illinois Derby at Hawthorne.

Although Saturday’s Grade 3, $500,000 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne does not offer qualifying points to the Kentucky Derby, the race is set to have a possible Kentucky Derby starter in the lineup Saturday in Midnight Hawk.

Trainer Bob Baffert said Monday that Midnight Hawk would be entered in the Illinois Derby, with Martin Garcia to ride. His confirmation comes after HRTV’s Scott Hazelton reported Baffert’s intentions on Sunday.

Midnight Hawk, winner of the Grade 3 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita on Jan. 11, had been expected to wait to run in the May 3 Kentucky Derby after amassing enough qualifying Kentucky Derby points, 52, to gain entry into the Derby.

After he worked well Sunday, going six furlongs in 1:13.60 at Santa Anita, Baffert decided to race him in the Illinois Derby while the horse was doing well.

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

“Last I checked the race was still $500,000,” he said.

Baffert said Midnight Hawk’s Illinois Derby participation doesn’t immediately impact the colt’s Kentucky Derby status. “One race at a time,” he said.

If Baffert were to run him back in the Kentucky Derby, it would be a two-week turnaround.

A son of Midnight Lute, Midnight Hawk has kept an active schedule this year, running four times after a first-out debut victory in late December. Following the Sham, he ran third in the Grade 2 Robert Lewis at Santa Anita, second to Derby favorite California Chrome in the Grade 2 San Felipe, and then second to stablemate Chitu in the Grade 3 Sunland Derby last out on March 23.

The Illinois Derby at 1 1/8 miles is expected to have a field of seven to nine horses, Hawthorne stakes coordinator Debbie Lindsay said Monday. According to Lindsay, other horses considered likely to run include Bay of Plenty, Class Leader, Dynamic Impact, Emmett Park, King Cyrus, and Russellin, as well as Tonito M., who will be making his first start in the mainland after dominating in Puerto Rico.

Kid Cruz and Undertaker, who had been considered as possibilities, are not running, she said.

Class Leader, a half-brother to multiple Grade 1 winner Student Council by Smart Strike, is one of the colts considered likely. After a sixth when sprinting in his debut, he won a pair of routes at Fair Grounds going a mile and 70 yards. He was scheduled for a maintenance half-mile breeze Tuesday at Churchill Downs, trainer Neil Howard said.

James Graham, aboard for his two victories at Fair Grounds, will ride him in the Illinois Derby, Howard said.

– additional reporting by David Grening