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Illinois Derby means Run for the Roses is around corner

Published: Thursday, April 7, 2011 12:18 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, April 7, 2011 12:22 a.m. CDT

Just saw the entries for this Saturday's Illinois Derby. As usual I'm looking forward to going up to Hawthorne Race Course to watch the action first hand.

To be honest, I haven't had a lot of time to handicap the event, but here's a couple of cursory notes that came to mind.

The Grade III Illinois Derby is slated to run at approximately 4:37 p.m. and is the seventh race on the card that day. The purse is $300,000 and the Kentucky Derby prep race has 12 entries in the field. It is run at one and one-eighth miles.

At press time the favorite is Watch Me Go - a Florida Bred that is trained by Kathleen O'Connell and ridden by Luis Garcia - mainly a Tampa Bay Downs jockey.

Watch Me Go won the Tampa Bay Grade II Derby back on March 6 when he got up by a neck. Previous to that, he was second in the Sam F. Davis Grade III Stakes to Brethren - a horse he beat in the Tampa Derby.

The morning line odds are 7-2 for Watch Me Go and deservedly so since the horse appears to be the class of the field.

Another horse that is interesting to me, and likely a great deal of other people too for that matter is a New York bred named Joe Vann. It's at 6-1 and is trained by Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. Vann has run twice at Laurel Park and is 2-0 so far having run in an allowance optional claiming and a maiden special weight race. Still, it's a horse Pletcher thinks is worth giving a shot to and that's rarely bad.

Other than those two horses, the field seems pretty lumped. The Fed Eased, a Florida bred, is 5-1 with Jose Valdivia Jr. in the irons. He is also a national jock who last rode at Aqueduct. He's coming in to ride for Richard A. Violette, Jr. The Fed Eased was a disappointing fifth at the Gotham Stakes Grade III race on March 5.

Kentucky Bred Sour has B.J. Hernandez Jr. up and is 6-1. This horse has a win and two places in a couple of rather nondescript races at the Fair Grounds. The last one to mention that is less that 10-1 is El Grayling. A New York bred trained by Michael Maker is at 9-2. This one was good enough to be entered in the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream but was eased after a solid start and it finished last.

The rest of the field is pretty much a crap shoot. My best guess at a longshot is Zoebear with Seth Martinez up. It's the most experienced horse in the field having run five times already at Oaklawn Park and at Churchill Downs. Nothing higher than a maiden special weight race, however, and it may be in over its head.

It will be my third trip to Hawthorne this season. I amAm a smidge below break-even at this point so I'm anticipating a big day on Saturday.

THE MASTERS

The Masters started on Thursday (before I wrote this). Phil Mickelson is red hot and is playing his best golf of the year at this time. He just set a course record at the Shell Houston Open at Redstone Golf Course. He was 20-under with rounds of 70, 70, 63, 65. And we all know how much he likes golfing at Augusta.

Tiger has been very quiet lately, which would make this a great time for Phil to add a third green jacket to his wardrobe.

I took an international flavor with the rest of my fantasy golf team this week. In addition to Phil, I'll be pulling for Justin Rose, Vijay Singh and Sergio Garcia.

BASEBALL

The White Sox won in extra innings against those extra pesky Kansas City Royals on Wednesday. The win puts the Sox at 3-2 but after the first two games, the start has been less than scintillating. The Cubs also have been less than scintillating at the onset, but that is pretty much expected this year. They opened at home with a 3-3 record against the two worst teams in the National League.

The difference between the Cubs and the Sox right now is that the Sox are expected to contend and the Cubs are not.

The Reds are off to a hot start and with the makeup of that division, they may run off and win the Central by 10-plus games this year. The Sox should be able to stay in the hunt all the way through September, but you never know.

Horse racing, golf majors and baseball talk - isn't spring grand?

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