04/22/2017 9:27PM

Multiplier edges Hedge Fund in Illinois Derby

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Multiplier (outside), under James Graham, defeats favored Hedge Fund by a head in the Illinois Derby.

STICKNEY, Illinois – Multiplier had never even run in a race when the calendar flipped to 2017, but the 3-year-old colt has come around quickly the last three months, and on Saturday evening at Hawthorne Race Course he won his stakes debut, capturing the Grade 3, $250,000 Illinois Derby by a head over favored Hedge Fund.

Still 1 1/2 lengths behind Hedge Fund at the stretch call, Multiplier drifted out slightly past the eighth pole, but once jockey James Graham straightened the colt out, he finished with a flourish, getting his last furlong in not much more than 12 seconds. From start to finish, in fact, the Illinois Derby was fast, with Multiplier clocking 1:47.98 for 1 1/8 miles, the second-fastest time in the race’s long history. The dirt racing surface, especially early in the twilight card, appeared to be playing quick, but Hedge Fund did have almost five lengths on third-place It’s Your Nickel, a stakes winner this year.

“I thought that was a huge run today,” said Graham, who never had sat on Multiplier’s back until he got a leg up in Hawthorne’s underground paddock Saturday. “I don’t know how good he is.”

Multiplier paid $10.80 to win as the third choice. Behind It’s Your Nickel came Stand and Cheer, Hollywood Handsome, St. Louie Guy, and Mr. Misunderstood.

Multiplier is a colt by The Factor and out of the Trippi mare Trippi Street. He was bred by Mark Stansell and is owned by Joe Senkovich’s American Equistock.

“Joe Senkovich has been an owner of mine since Day 1,” Walsh said. “I couldn’t be happier for him.”

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 A head trainer since 2012, Walsh won a career-best eight stakes races last year, and already this season he has four such wins. As for Multiplier, Walsh was struck from the start by the way the colt diverges from his pedigree: The bloodlines lean sprint, but Walsh debuted Multiplier going two turns, and Multiplier is anything but hot-blooded. Walsh said he’s among the most laid-back horses he has trained. Saturday, Walsh said, Multiplier had to be roused from slumber in his temporary Hawthorne stall to get his shot of Lasix.

“He’s living up to expectations now,” Walsh said. “He was always only going to get better. He’s a nice big horse, and I think he’ll progress from this, too.”

Multiplier hugged the rail from fifth most of the trip as Stand and Cheer went out to lead through fractions of 23.47 seconds, 47.24, and 1:11.09, chased from second by Hedge Fund. The pacesetting third-place finisher from the Sunland Derby rated nicely for Jose Valdivia Jr., took over at the top of the stretch, and just failed to hold off the winner before galloping out in front.

“I sat the trip, pulled the trigger when I felt like I needed to,” Valdivia said. “He ran hard, but I still feel like he went to loafing a little bit. The stretch here is so long. I waited as long as I could. As soon as that horse comes up to him, three strides later he just takes off after him again.”

But Multiplier did the better work when it counted. The colt is Triple Crown eligible, and the timing from this race to the Preakness Stakes makes sense. Walsh said no plans had been set, but Multiplier, who has been coming forward all year, still has room to grow.

“We’ll see, but I think he’s going to be a proper horse,” said Walsh.