04/04/2011 3:10PM

Illinois Derby: Watch Me Go the headliner at Hawthorne

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Tom Cooley
Watch Me Go, winner of the Tampa Bay Derby, will make his next start in the Grade 3, $300,000 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne.

STICKNEY, Ill. – He’s not exactly Uncle Mo, but Watch Me Go will be the horse with at least a hint of name recognition in Saturday’s Illinois Derby.

Trainer Kathleen O’Connell confirmed early Monday afternoon that she and owner Gil Campbell have chosen the Grade 3, $300,000 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne over the Arkansas Derby next weekend at Oaklawn Park for Watch Me Go’s next race. Watch Me Go will fly here from Florida on Wednesday. Regular rider Luis Garcia has the call in Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile race.

O’Connell said she preferred the four-week break between the Illinois Derby and the Kentucky Derby to the three weeks separating the Arkansas Derby and the start of the Triple Crown.

“There’s so many things that can go wrong,” O’Connell said. “I think the extra week will be beneficial.”


WATCH IT LIVE: Video of Saturday's Illinois Derby will be shown on DRF.com

Watch Me Go is a four-time winner at distances ranging from 5 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/16 miles. He won a first-level sprint allowance race at Tampa Bay Downs by more than eight lengths while entered for a $75,000 claiming price, then finished third to Brethren in the Sam Davis Stakes, but despite that decent winter résumé, Watch Me Go was a 43-1 shot when he won the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby. As of Monday, Watch Me Go, with $232,500, ranked 18th on the list of 3-year-olds with graded stakes earnings, the criterion used to determine the 20 starters in the Kentucky Derby.

While Watch Me Go has never run especially fast, he has two traits O’Connell thinks will serve him well this spring: Intelligence and stamina.

“Probably the best thing about him is he’s got a great mind,” she said.

That could help Watch Me Go deal with the chaos leading up to the Kentucky Derby. As for the race itself, the 1 1/4-mile distance also might boost Watch Me Go’s chances.

“The distance increase is going to help us,” O’Connell said. “My horse acts like he can go all day long.”

O’Connell, a 59-year-old Detroit native, trains 70 horses in Florida and does not go on the road often.

“I ship when I have a reason to ship,” she said.

O’Connell has been in three Chicago races before, all with millionaire Blazing Sword. In 1997, Blazing Sword finished third in the Hawthorne Derby, and in fall of 2000, he was fifth in the Hawthorne Gold Cup. Two months before the Gold Cup, Blazing Sword won the Grade 2 Washington Park Handicap at Arlington, one of six graded-stakes victories O’Connell has posted during her training career.

The decision to send Watch Me Go to Hawthorne gives the Illinois Derby, which is to be drawn Wednesday, six horses considered probable starters. The others are Sour, Joe Vann, Lagoon of Diamonds, Smarter Than Ever, and Southern Sculptor.

Toby’s Corner, trainer Graham Motion said Monday, will probably stay closer to his Maryland base when he races this weekend.

“I’m pretty sure we’re going to the Wood,” Motion said.

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