Updated on 09/16/2011 8:06AM

Illinois fits his timetable

Repent, with exercise rider Helen Pitts, will get a $1 million bonus if he can win Saturday's Illinois Derby and any Triple Crown race.

CICERO, Ill. - Repent has traveled a twisted path to his two wins this season. In the stretch run of both the Risen Star Stakes and the Louisiana Derby, Repent swerved inside and out, failed to change leads, and generally raced in a way that caused many observers to downgrade his performances.

Now it is his road to the Kentucky Derby that has taken a rather strange turn.

was one of 10 horses entered Tuesday at Sportsman's Park for Saturday's $500,000 Illinois Derby, which for much of its history was staged shortly after the Kentucky Derby. This year, it will serve as Repent's final Derby prep, and a potentially lucrative one at that.

Repent's Louisiana Derby win made him eligible for a $1 million bonus for winning the Kentucky Derby, and a win Saturday coupled with a win in any Triple Crown race would net Repent's connections another $1 million bonus. He will be a heavy favorite Saturday.

The bonus figured into the course charted by Repent's connections, owner Select Stable and trainer Ken McPeek. But McPeek said the choice of a road less traveled boiled down to one prime factor. "It's pretty simple really," McPeek said. "The horse runs better with four weeks' rest. This will be four weeks from his last race and four weeks to the Kentucky Derby. That's nine-tenths of the thing. All horses seem to run their best on a certain schedule."

If the timing makes good sense, there are other factors to consider. Since it began using a removable dirt surface trucked in and laid over an auto-racing track, Sportsman's has been known as an inside-speed track. "It seems like if you're hung wide here, you're in trouble," said Randy Meier, a noted speed rider and Sportsman's all-time leading jockey.

The surest route to the inside goes to the horse showing the best speed, but Repent has none of that. Repent has never been on the lead before the stretch call of a race, and his forte is running a strong steady pace over a route of ground, not blazing out of the gate. "He can knock off those 12's," said McPeek, referring to the time it takes Repent to cover one furlong. "He'll do that as long as you want him to."

That means Repent will be coming late in any distance race that features a fast pace. A strong pace in the Risen Star set up Repent's steady finish: A slow pace in the Louisiana Derby, McPeek said, made Repent's win look worse than it was. But what about a racetrack where horses that set a fast pace often don't ever come back? A track like Sportsman's that favors quick, athletic horses that cut the sharp corners here, rather than long-striding closers like Repent, who drew the outside post in Saturday's race?

"I can't control the pace or what Jerry [Bailey] does," McPeek said. "I think the class of the race rules, anyway. It's a long stretch there. It gives him time to square up and run the race correctly."

McPeek hopes Repent is on his best behavior this weekend, but he feels there's been too much made of Repent's failure to change leads and run straight this year. "I don't think he's regressed physically at all," McPeek said. "He's 20 or 30 pounds heavier than as a 2-year-old. He's strong as an ox right now. I'll be surprised if they beat him Saturday."

Still, had Repent won his two races this year with authority, rather than flailing away in the stretch, he would go into the Illinois Derby as a solid Kentucky Derby favorite. Instead, many have jumped the Repent bandwagon in favor of his stablemate, Harlan's Holiday. While Repent toils this weekend in heavily industrialized Cicero, Ill., Harlan's Holiday runs next weekend at Keeneland, horse heaven, where he should be the favorite in the Grade 1 Blue Grass.

But McPeek isn't playing favorites, not yet at least. "It's like comparing your children," he said. "You can't do that. I love them both. They have different personalities. I look forward to the day we run them against each other. Wouldn't that be fun?"