04/17/2013 6:11PM

Illinois Derby a rich consolation prize

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Jack Coady/Coady Photography
Departing, third in the Louisiana Derby, was made the 7-2 morning-line favorite for the Illinois Derby.

STICKNEY, Ill. - A normal year would have found trainer Greg Geier and his two talented Jim Tafel-bred and -owned 3-year-olds, Fordubai and Street Spice, stabled in New Orleans.

Street Spice and, in particular, Fordubai, showed enough at age 2 to have Geier contemplating the Kentucky Derby trail, but Geier, like every Hawthorne horsemen, found himself stuck in Chicago this winter, unable to leave because of an equine herpesvirus outbreak. So, instead of heading out of town to chase lucrative 3-year-old purses, Geier had to wait for the big money to come to him: Fordubai and Street Spice were among 14 3-year-olds entered Wednesday in the $750,000 Illinois Derby on Saturday.

The Illinois Derby was conspicuously left off Churchill Downs's list of races offering Kentucky Derby qualifying points, but a purse worth three-quarters of a million dollars drew plenty of interest anyway, with entrants shipping from Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania.

Departing, the third-place finisher March 30 in the $1 million Louisiana Derby, was made the 7-2 morning-line favorite, but will have to overcome a relatively tough draw of 13. The only horse outside Departing is Narvaez, the longshot fourth-place finisher in the Florida Derby.

Other plausible winners include Ground Transport, the Louisiana Derby fifth; Taken By the Storm, fourth in the Spiral Stakes; Show Some Magic and Abraham, second and third, respectively, in the Sunland Derby; and Siete de Oros, whose top race was a head loss to Kentucky Derby hopeful Vyjack in the Jerome Stakes.

As recently as Monday, Fordubai and Street Spice were questionable to make the Illinois Derby, with the 14-horse field determined by graded-stakes wins and placings, then by earnings in open races.

"I didn't think I was even going to get in," Geier said.

The equine herpesvirus outbreak led to the Hawthorne backstretch being quarantined Oct. 26. Many horsemen hopeful of leaving for winter quarters remained optimistic about departing before 2013; Geier was one of the first to grasp that the lockdown could last longer. By the time horses were permitted to travel to Fair Grounds in February, there was no point in going to New Orleans, which has a three-stakes series of 3-year-old dirt-route races culminating in the Louisiana Derby.

"These two colts, they had a lot of potential, and they still probably do, and it was too bad we had to go through all this," Geier said. "It would have been nice to run in those races there, try to get some [Derby] points."

Street Spice won a first-level, two-turn allowance race by a half-length over Fordubai last fall at Hawthorne, but Geier said Fordubai is the more advanced of the duo. The pair has done their last two works - including Fordubai's bullet five furlongs in 59 seconds April 7 - in company.

"Fordubai wins the works. The other colt doesn't do more than he has to. I think Fordubai might be a little smarter. Street Spice, he's still a big kid, hasn't put it all together. When he beat Fordubai, it was about the trip," Geier said.

Like the other three locally based Illinois Derby entrants - Bells Big Bernie, Dakota Mac, and Stormin Monarcho - Geier's horses have been training and racing over a Hawthorne main track that out-of-towners sometimes struggle to handle. It's a potential edge, but one Geier never intended. "They trained on this track all winter long," he said, laughing ruefully.

Justin Mato More than 1 year ago
i hope departing takes this and the preakness by ten lengths and they change the system next year
taj More than 1 year ago
I miss SPT (before the makeover). HAW is in decline despite management's best efforts. The racing quality has dropped to an all-time low in my estimation especially on the weekends. However, a $750K race s/b part of the point system somehow, c'mon man.
philcoforde More than 1 year ago
Sieto de Oros' 4th place finish in the Gotham was much better than it looks...he was crowded the whole trip, then shook loose late and finished gamely. FUN HORSE TO WATCH.
Brandon Layer More than 1 year ago
Looks like Churchill made the right decisions regarding the points system. The Derby field is turning out exactly the way it should. Every horse who should be in is in and the ones who don't belong are out. So stop complaining about the system. It worked perfect.
Sam More than 1 year ago
You're negative because you failed to handicap War Emblem as a Derby winner at 25-1
Justin Mato More than 1 year ago
musket man ran third as well
Paul More than 1 year ago
Is anyone questioning the apparent coincidence of events at Hawthorne, where they not only are shut out of the point system, but there also just happened to be a virus outbreak that kept all of Hawthorne's horses stuck at that track all winter long? Does anyone think these events could be related, in some suspicious way?
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
no
Eric Singer More than 1 year ago
agreed this race should be included and given points. you don't have to reach that far back to see a horse come out of Illinois and win the Derby - War Emblem - front end score in the ID and then set all the pace and got the roses in the KD. But I think the point system is largely working well - instead of a bunch of horses who were great at 2 clogging the gates - you are going to have a group of horses with current form. and since there may be spots open owners who just really wanna be there may still get to go. change is hard and seldom perfect and yet this seems better.
JimmyQVegas More than 1 year ago
I wish Dreaming of Julia had shipped into this race and said F Kentucky and F the Oaks and basically stole this purse. The Derby point system is an absolute joke
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
cant disagree.
Justin Mato More than 1 year ago
The reason this race isn't included in the points system is because churchill downs crew is in charge of the points and they own arlington and since arlington and hawthorne have been disputing funds for years they decided to strip them of their biggest prize....only explanation i got
B More than 1 year ago
You may be right as I am clueless about the reasoning behind this, but it certainly does not seem remotely fair or correct that this mile & an eighth quarter of a million dollar horse race has no points and the one mile Derby Trial one week before the Derby does?! Has Churchill ever offered an explanation?
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
all about control and money hawthorn is a rival track to Arlington owned by Churchill.
candy_ride More than 1 year ago
Might even be the only reason they came up with the points system to begin with
Matt Harper More than 1 year ago
How can this race not be included in the KY Derby points system? The Bluegrass at Keeneland had 2 horses get in and that race is just a high profile grass race for 3 Year olds. The longer Keeneland keeps "Polycrap" the more insignificant its "dirt" races will become.
Pete Morris More than 1 year ago
Maybe compare the field size at Keeneland to Santa Anita. It was 50/50 in CA as to how many trainers wanted dirt vs synthetic. Dirt won out. largely because Baffert wanted dirt. Well its dirt now, and the attrition due to the surface is off the charts. Take a peak at the entries this week and this past Sunday. Santa Anita has become a joke, at least Keeneland can say they have virtually no fatalites and they get full fields. Your comments on the surface are ignorant.
Matt Harper More than 1 year ago
I believe my comment was in line with this article. Not the attrition of the horses running daily, or 4 days a week actually. California racing has been a joke for years, even with conventional dirt. Also, go ask Rene Douglas and Michael Straight how much they love the synthetic surfaces, since they are so safe.
Jeff Mcintosh More than 1 year ago
I AGREE 100%
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
don't fight the trend specially when the trend is positive..trust me I have issues handicapping synthetics too but like everybody else im going to have to get used to it...a paved highway speed biased track like we have had at santa anita is also not great for handicapping.
matyja_frank More than 1 year ago
Ground transport,only gets better!!impressed