ILLINOIS DERBY | PURSE: $500,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS | GRADE 3 | 1 1/8-MILES
Dynamic Impact continued trainer Mark Casse's big spring April 19, edging 2-5 favorite Midnight Hawk by the narrowest of noses in the $500,000 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne Race Course.
Casse, who leads the current Keeneland meet with eight winners for a 21% win ratio, and a 50% in-the-money rate, sent the 3-year-old Tiznow colt to the 1 1/8-mile Illinois Derby off a March 1 maiden special weight for owner John Oxley last time out at Oaklawn Park. He had been cross-entered in the $200,000 Coolmore Lexington at the Kentucky oval, but was scratched from that spot to run at the Chicagoland track instead.
"He was training really well at Keeneland and I had to think long and hard about whether to run him in the Lexington or the Illinois Derby," Casse said. "I kind of thought Hawthorne is similar to Oaklawn, so I thought we would have a bit of an edge going in there. I didn't know if we could beat Midnight Hawk, but I thought he might not want to get a mile and an eighth."
Jockey Miguel Mena said he knew the Bob Baffert-trained Midnight Hawk couldn't be left alone on an uncontested lead, and he was the only rider to go after the favorite in the sophomore test. Midnight Hawk, the Sham Stakes victor who came off a runner-up finish in the March 23 Sunland Derby (gr. III), stumbled at the start under jockey Martin Garcia but recovered to strike out as the early pacesetter.
"My horse broke OK, he didn't break too sharp, but (Midnight Hawk) wasn't having any pressure at all, and I was like, 'I've got to do something, that horse is speed and I can't let him go,' " Mena said.
Dynamic Impact pressed the issue on the inside through a quarter in :24.11 and a half in :48.06, taking it to Midnight Hawk on even terms for three-quarters in 1:12.19. Those two separated themselves in the eight-horse field, and as they turned for home it appeared as if Midnight Hawk might edge away-but Dynamic Impact shifted outside through a 1:36.36 mile and dug in again to regain lost ground. The two flashed under the line together as the clock stopped at 1:49.07 on the fast track.
"I knew it was pretty close; you never know on those head bobs," Mena remarked.
Earlier in the season Midnight Hawk ran second in the San Felipe and third in the Robert B. Lewis (gr. II) for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. The Midnight Lute colt has enough earnings to make the field for the May 3 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), but it is unlikely that Baffert would wheel him back in two weeks off this effort.
Midnight Hawk has strong Chicago ties among the group of owners who have partnered with Hill `n' Dale Equine Holdings and Mike Pegram; Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville and assistant coach Mike Kitchen are in on the second-place colt along with Atlanta Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice. The Blackhawks also lost a heartbreaker, 4-3 in overtime at St. Louis, just minutes before the Illinois Derby.
Off at odds of 9-1, Dynamic Impact paid $21.20, $6, and $4.80 while Midnight Hawk returned $2.20 and $2.10. Irish You Well paid $4.80 at 22-1, closing well to get the show but still 8 1/2 lengths back of the top two. Class Leader, King Cyrus,A Step Ahead, Emmett Park, and Global Strike completed the order of finish. All runners carried 122 pounds.
Dynamic Impact was bred in Kentucky by Blue Heaven Farm out of the Smart Strike mare Featherbed and was a $125,000 purchase by Mark Casse from the 2012 Keeneland September yearling sale when consigned by Taylor Made Sales Agency. The victory improved his earnings to $360,716, with two wins and two seconds.
It took Dynamic Impact five starts to break his maiden, including outings at Churchill Downs, Keeneland, and Oaklawn. But he became a graded stakes winner in his sixth start.
"We were high on him in the beginning and he was disappointing; he didn't train well when we got to Hot Springs, but he started training better and his last race was a really good effort," Casse said. "The horse he beat (Knock Em Flat) came back and won with a 97 Beyer (Speed Figure) and then was just beaten in the (Northern Spur) Stakes at Oaklawn. We felt he'd shown some quality in that victory."
Not worth points on the road to the Derby and run just two weeks before the Louisville classic, the Illinois Derby is now typically viewed as a better prep for the May 17 Preakness Stakes. But Casse sounded less than inclined to push his runner down the Triple Crown trail, although he did not completely rule out the chance of trip to Baltimore.
"We'll talk about it with Mr. Oxley; I would be really surprised if we end up at the Preakness, but if that's where he wants to go, that's where we'll be," Casse said. "We'll talk about it, but for now we're just going to cherish this victory. It's been a funny spring; we've lost some big races by three or four inches this year, so it was nice to be on the winning end of the photo in this one."