Horse Racing

Kentucky Derby favorites collide at Gulfstream

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Kentucky Derby favorites collide at Gulfstream

The most anticipated matchup of the Kentucky Derby prep season becomes a reality Saturday at Gulfstream Park with the running of the Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby.

The likely Derby favorite will emerge from this race as the 10-horse field could turn into a two-horse dual. The undefeated Nyquist ships in from California to take on the undefeated Mohaymen on his home turf.

On paper, the horses are nearly equal as Nyquist comes in with five graded stakes scores, most recently taking the seven furlong, Grade 2 San Vicente at Santa Anita in his first start of 2016. Mohaymen has won four graded races in a row, including a pair of route scores at Gulfstream in the Grade 2 Holy Bull and Grade 2 Fountain of Youth this year.

The edge in the Florida Derby sits with hometown favorite Mohaymen for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and jockey Junior Alvarado. Owned by Shadwell Stable, Mohaymen has shown his versatility, moving early to control a slow pace in the Holy Bull. In the Fountain of Youth, he settled further back off quick early fractions, easily picking off the competition in the lane.

Mohaymen draws post nine in the field of ten, but with ample pace to his inside, expect him to rate in the second flight while in the clear and respond when asked.

[MORE - Kentucky Derby favorite emerges early]

Nyquist has more to prove in the Florida Derby as he makes only his second start in 2016 for trainer Doug O’Neill and owner Reddam Racing LLC. Regular rider Mario Gutierrez makes the trip to ride the son of Uncle Mo.

While his performance on the track makes Nyquist a major player, the concerns for him could come before he enters the gate. With the cross-country ship, a chance of rain, and very humid conditions likely, the connections of Nyquist have those hurdles to worry about.

In training leading up to the Florida Derby, Nyquist has looked sweaty at times. On Saturday, with rain and humidity expected, washing out for Nyquist is a concern. More of a concern could come with Nyquist getting worked up prior to the race due to the extra five to six minutes horses are left to circle leading up to the start of races at Gulfstream. If he can overcome everything prior to the start and post a big race, he will show that he can be the real deal come the first Saturday in May.

Derby Points Up for Grabs at Turfway in Spiral

While the focus will clearly be on Gulfstream Park on Saturday, horses have a chance to earn Derby points on the polytrack at Turfway Park in the Grade 3 Spiral. Nobody has been scared away from this spot as a field of 14 was entered, led by morning line choice Airoforce.

From the barn of Mark Casse, Airoforce won three of four races at two, including a score in the Grade 2 Kentucky Cup Classic last fall at Churchill Downs. He has to answer the questions left following his most recent effort, a tenth place finish, beaten nearly 40 lengths in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds in his last.

If players are looking for more of a price, they can ride the hot hand of jockey Florent Geroux as he rides Jensen for trainer Larry Jones.

The leading rider at the recently concluded Fair Grounds meet, Geroux has been guiding home graded stakes winners left and right, most recently scoring in the Louisiana Derby last weekend aboard Gun Runner.

Jensen will be trying stakes-company for the first time in the Spiral but has improved in each start and could continue that trend on Saturday.

Congrats to Chrome

Last Saturday, California Chrome became the leading earner for North American based horses with his impressive score in the $10 million Dubai World Cup.

Masterfully handled by jockey Victor Espinoza, California Chrome rallied to a clear victory, despite a late saddle slip, while setting a track record.

Horse Racing in Chicagoland

This weekend, live racing continues at Hawthorne Race Course with racing on Friday and Saturday. First post is 2:10 p.m. each day. Starting next week, Thursday racing will be added for the remainder of the spring thoroughbred meet.

For information on racing or visiting Hawthorne, visit the website at www.HawthorneRaceCourse.com.

Eagle, Scuba Headline Field for Hawthorne Gold Cup

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Barbara Weidl

Eagle, Scuba Headline Field for Hawthorne Gold Cup

Saturday marks the 80th running of the most historic race on Hawthorne’s calendar as the $150,000, Grade 3 Hawthorne Gold Cup returns. To be contested at 1 ¼ miles over the Hawthorne main track, a field of eight has assembled with a mix of locals and out of towners. A trio of graded stakes winners in Eagle, Scuba, and Hay Dakota lead the way in the Gold Cup.

The 8-5 morning line favorite in the Hawthorne Gold Cup is Eagle, from the barn of trainer Neil Howard.  The 2016 winner of the Grade 3 Ben Ali at Keeneland and second-place finisher of the Grade 1 Stephen Foster at Churchill last year, Eagle has raced with mixed results during his 2017 campaign. He opened the season with a pair of fourth-placed efforts in the Grade 3 Mineshaft Handicap and Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds.  He returned to Keeneland in April, finishing second in this year’s edition of the Grade 3 Ben Ali before a flat effort in the Pimlico Special in May.  He got back on track though, winning the Michael Schaefer Memorial at Indiana Grand before running a good second in the Grade 3 Iselin at Monmouth in August.  He enters the Gold Cup off a fifth-place performance in the Grade 3 Lukas Classic at Churchill in his most recent start. Ty Kennedy gets the call aboard Eagle on Saturday.

The 9-5 second-choice in the Gold Cup is the Brendan Walsh trained Scuba. The multiple graded stakes winning gelding posted a big 2016 campaign, finding the board in all eight of his starts last year.  His season closed with a bang, as he rattled off victories in the Grade 3 Greenwood Cup at Parx, the Temperence Hill Invitational at Belmont, and capped his season by winning the Grade 2 Marathon on Breeders’ Cup day. Receiving a break after his Marathon win, Scuba began his 2017 season with sixth and fifth-place efforts respectively in the Ben Ali and Flat Out Stakes. After running fourth in the Grade 3 Dominion Day Stakes at Woodbine, he finished second in the Birdstone at Saratoga on Aug. 3. Scuba enters the Gold Cup off a pair of sixth-place efforts in the Greenwood Cup and Temperence Hill but figures to be the pace of the race on Saturday. Alonso Quinonez gets the call on Saturday to ride.

The field for the Hawthorne Gold Cup:

PP           Horse                                    Trainer                 Jockey             M/L

1              Hay Dakota                         J. Berndt              C. Roman            12-1

2              Futile                                   C. Hartman        R. Prescott           6-1

3              Side Pocket                        J. Smith, Jr.          V. Santiago         15-1

4              Volgograd                           H. Rodriguez      E. Perez              20-1

5              Eagle                                     N. Howard         T. Kennedy         8-5

6              Van Damme                       R. Gorham          T.D. Houghton   8-1

7              Empirestrikesagain          A. Mitchell          S. Sanjur              15-1

8              Scuba                                    B. Walsh            A. Quinonez       9-5

Pair of State-bred Sprints on Saturday Undercard

The top sprinters in the state will also be on the track on Saturday as part of the Gold Cup day undercard. Race four on Saturday is the $100,000 Powerless Stakes for Illinois-bred fillies and mares to be contested at six furlongs. Race eight is the Lightning Jet Handicap as the state-bred boys sprint for $100,000.

Puntsville has been installed as the even-money favorite in the Powerless Handicap for trainer Michelle Boyce.  A winner of 10 of 20 career starts, Puntsville has won three of four races in 2017, including the Hoist Her Flag Stakes at Canterbury and the Richie Scherer Memorial at Arlington Park.  Regular rider Victor Santiago gets the call on Puntsville. 

The Lightning Jet Handicap is a rematch of the top two finishers from the state-bred Buck’s Boy Handicap earlier this month at Hawthorne. The winner of that race, Goneghost, is the 2-1 morning line favorite as one of a pair for trainer Scott Becker in the race that also includes the speedy D’Rapper (5-2). Trainer Michele Boyce with saddle talented three-year-old Devileye, who faced the first defeat of his career in the Buck’s Boy, finishing second to Goneghost.

The fields for the Powerless and Lightning Jet Handicaps:

Powerless Handicap

PP           Horse                                    Trainer                 Jockey                  M/L

1              Kalispell                                J. Johns                O. Hernandez    10-1

2              Dr Winn Kyi                         S. Manley            R. Prescott          8-1

3              Puntsville                            M. Boyce             V. Santiago         1-1

4              Darlin Rosie                        R. Dobbs, Jr.       C. Roman             12-1

5              Jolee                                     A. Mitchell          S. Sanjur              9-2

6              Ima Little Kitten                 R. Lindsay            J. Molina, Jr.       12-1

7              Church Road                      S. Manley            C. Ulloa                 6-1

8              Shar Ran                             M. Tomlinson    E. Perez                10-1

Lightning Jet Handicap

PP           Horse                                    Trainer                 Jockey                  M/L

1              Goneghost                         S. Becker             V. Santiago         2-1

2              Mexico Memories           L. Hellman           A. Quinonez       20-1

3              Reigning Catfish                 J. Smith, Jr.         C. Roman             8-1

4              Devileye                              M. Boyce             S. Sanjur              7-2

5              D’Rapper                             S. Becker             V. Bailon              5-2

6              Cashel Rock                        D. Matthews      J. Lopez                10-1

7              Armando’s Star                 M. Cristel             R. Prescott          5-1

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

In the latest edition of HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet, NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan makes his picks for the weekend.

Kap made his picks with the help of Eddie Olczyk this week.