04/18/2013 1:22PM

Weekend Warrior for April 20, 2013: Picks for Lexington, Miami Mile, and Illinois Derby

Lou Hodges Jr./Hodges Photography
Sunbean suffered a poor trip in the Louisiana Derby and can improve in the Lexington.

The major Kentucky Derby preps might be over, but that doesn’t mean the 3-year-olds have temporarily conceded the spotlight. Two of Saturday’s biggest races, the Grade 3, $750,000 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne and the Grade 3, $200,000 Coolmore Lexington at Keeneland, are for 3-year-olds. The Illinois Derby, supported by the Grade 3, $200,000 Sixty Sails Handicap, was controversially left off the list of Derby point races. But the Lexington offers 20 Derby points to the winner, and that might be enough to secure a spot in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby.

However, the richest race of the day (or evening, to be more precise) is the Grade 2, $1.5 million Charles Town Classic, which lured the last two winners of the Santa Anita Handicap, Game On Dude and Ron the Greek. Speaking of Santa Anita, there is a graded stakes doubleheader there Saturday consisting of the Grade 2, $150,000 Santa Barbara Handicap and the Grade 3, $100,000 San Simeon. The remaining graded stakes on the schedule is the Grade 3, $100,000 Miami Mile Handicap at Calder.

Lexington Stakes

As was the case in last week’s Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, there are several horses you could make legitimate cases for. There’s Cerro, who came up empty against Orb and Violence in the Fountain of Youth last time out, but who was a good allowance winner at Gulfstream two starts back. There is the filly Pure Fun, winner of the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet two back and who shows Beyer Figures in her last three starts of 86, 88, and 89 that many in here have yet to approach even once. And then, among a few others, there is Winning Cause, who is backed by the powerful Todd Pletcher barn and who is already 2 for 2 on Keeneland’s Polytrack as opposed to the rest of the field, who have a combined total of zero starts on the surface.

In the cases of the three mentioned above, I’m taking a stand against. Many people know that Cerro’s allowance win at Gulfstream was faster by .79 second than the allowance won two races later by Orb, who came back to win the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby and who is one of the top choices for the Kentucky Derby. That will earn Cerro a fair bit of action here. But I think this particular final time comparison is misleading when taken at face value, and not nearly enough to warrant a play Cerro from me. The only reason why Cerro’s final time was faster than Orb’s is the pace of his race was much faster. The six-furlong split of Orb’s allowance was almost two full seconds slower than Cerro’s, meaning that Orb would have needed to sprout wings late to completely close the time gap.

Pure Fun flattened out late when third at odds-on last time out in the Bourbonette Oaks, but that was her first start in 3 1/2 months, so maybe she needed the race. But I question the 86 Beyer she received for that effort. The first two finishers in the Bourbonette Oaks, Silsita and Marathon Lady, both got Beyers that were career tops by substantial margins. And when Marathon Lady came back to be third in the Fantasy, she reverted to her previous Beyer level, all of which makes me suspicious of that fig.

As for Winning Cause, his allowance win earlier in the Keeneland meet looks nice on paper, as he gained 12 lengths with less than half the race to go to be up in time. But it’s tougher to have confidence in Winning Cause after watching the replay because he was put in a drive midway on the far turn when going nowhere. Yet the race completely fell apart late and plopped into Winning Cause’s lap.

I’m going with Sunbean, who similar to Palace Malice, a close second in last week’s tougher Blue Grass, had a nightmare trip in the Louisiana Derby. Sunbean, who had previously shown real ability during a win streak over Louisiana-breds, had run and was trying to rally up the rail in the stretch of the Louisiana Derby, only to be completely shut off. After being taken up and angled out, Sunbean finished willingly to check in just behind Palace Malice. Of course, Sunbean is an unknown quantity on Polytrack. But new trainer Mike Maker knows a synthetic horse when he sees one, and it is encouraging that Sunbean is turf-bred on top.

Miami Mile Handicap

I am a Summer Front fan. His form late last year was darkened by starts at the wrong distances and terrible racing luck, but he previously showed unusually powerful finishes in mile races like this one. The thing is, I wasn’t crazy about his comeback effort last month. He had a bad post and a trouble comment, but he got to the rail quickly in that race, and the traffic trouble he had really wasn’t all that severe. Simply put, Summer Front lacked the big late kick I saw from him last year.

Mucho Mas Macho is my play. Mucho Mas Macho was a no-show in the Pan American most recently, but I can’t hold that against him as he was going 12 furlongs off a two-month layoff. Now, Mucho Mas Macho cuts back to a middle distance from 12 furlongs, a repeat of the pattern that preceded his 41-1 upset of the Fort Lauderdale Stakes two starts back. There is enough pace in here to set up Mucho Mas Macho’s late run, and he likes Calder’s turf, on which he has 3 wins in 6 starts.

Illinois Derby

Value shouldn’t be hard to find in a race with a 7-2 morning line favorite in Departing, who is not unbeatable despite a decent third in the Louisiana Derby last time out.

I’m going with Siete de Oros. I can’t make real excuses for Siete de Oros’s fourth to Vyjack in the Gotham last time out, or his third to Louisiana Derby winner Revolutionary in the Gotham two back, or his near miss three back to Vyjack in the Jerome when he was on a live rail. But Siete de Oros has markedly improved since getting blinkers three starts ago, and the horses he has been competitive with recently are just better than what he faces here.