Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who enjoyed success in the Grade 2 Indiana Derby two years ago with eventual three-year-old champion Lookin at Lucky, will seek to land Saturday's $500,000 renewal at Hoosier Park with the highly-regarded Fed Biz. The Corinthian colt had better bring his running shoes with him from Southern California as the 1 1/16-mile heat has attracted a deep, attractive field of 12.
Considered a Triple Crown prospect following an impressive 5 3/4-length allowance tally at Santa Anita in early February, Fed Biz was soon off the classic trail after developing hind-end issues. As the stable's other leading sophomores, like Bodemeister and Paynter, dropped by the wayside over the summer, Fed Biz got back to work in the August 31 El Cajon at Del Mar. After dueling most of the way with a determined Jimmy Creed, Fed Biz fought back along the inside to deny that rival the victory by a neck.
Neck 'n Neck and Bourbon Courage will likely vie for being second choice in the Indiana Derby. A dynamite winner of the Grade 3 Matt Winn at Churchill Downs in June, Neck 'n Neck was a solid second to Alpha in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy next time. However, he failed to launch a serious rally in the Grade 1 Travers after a wide trip around both turns.
Bourbon Courage enters in peak form after a brief dry spell over the summer. Second by a half-length after coming from 13 lengths down in the Grade 2 West Virginia Derby on August 4, Bourbon Courage posted his first stakes win last time in the Grade 2 Super Derby, swooping to take the lead in the stretch and drawing off to win by five lengths.
O'Prado Again, who never had a chance to establish himself as a Triple Crown candidate after cracking a shin in his right front leg following a win in last year's Grade 2 Remsen, will make his first start since that Aqueduct feature more than 10 months ago. The Dale Romans charge has been working steadily throughout the summer at Churchill Downs.
Three others in the Derby field are exiting graded stakes wins. Easter Gift stalked and pounced his way to a 4 1/2-length score in the Grade 3 Smarty Jones at Parx Racing in the slop on Labor Day, while former mid-Atlantic mainstay Second City recently outclassed 10 opponents in the Grade 3 British Columbia Derby at Hastings Park in Vancouver. Stealcase, whose signature placing in a U.S. stakes was a third in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational, shipped to Woodbine last month to take the Grade 3 Ontario Derby over the Polytrack.
Others of note in the Indiana Derby are Morgan's Guerrilla, who placed in both the Grade 2 Dwyer and Grade 3 Illinois Derby earlier this year, and the Steve Asmussen-trained Tritap, who exits a second-placed finish in a swiftly-run Saratoga allowance.
Despite offering a mere $200,000 purse, the Grade 2 Indiana Oaks drew an outstanding group of fillies to go 1 1/16 miles. The marquee attraction is Grade 1 vixen Grace Hall, whose stakes scores this term include the Grade 2 Davona Dale and Grade 2 Delaware Oaks. The Tony Dutrow pupil, who's also placed in top-level events such as the Kentucky Oaks and Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, exits a sub-par performance in the Grade 1 Alabama.
Baffert will saddle Eden's Moon, who's captured the Grade 1 Las Virgenes and Grade 2 San Clemente Handicap this season. The versatile talent has also demonstrated class on synthetic, finishing a neck second to the well-regarded Potesta in the Grade 2 Hollywood Oaks. Like Grace Hall, Eden's Moon exits a disappointing fifth-place try, in her case the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks.
Trainer Steve Margolis will saddle the entry of Wine Princess and Uptown Bertie, both of whom captured graded races over the summer. A winner in three of five starts, Wine Princess, a daughter of Hall of Fame mare Azeri, recently went wire-to-wire in taking the Grade 3 Monmouth Oaks. Uptown Bertie, who landed the Grade 3 Iowa Oaks in late June, most recently trailed the seven-horse Alabama after a rough trip.
In addition to a plethora of Indiana-bred stakes, Hoosier Park also hosts the $100,000 Michael G. Schaefer Memorial Mile and $100,000 Mari Hulman George on Saturday.
Fast Alex, who was competitive against better company at Fair Grounds last winter, might go off a slight favorite in the Schaefer Mile, but others expected to attract pari-mutuel support are Grade 2 veteran Shadowbdancing, 2011 Schaefer runner-up Hurricane Ike, and multiple stakes winner Good Lord.
The Mari Hulman George, a 1 1/16-mile test for older fillies and mares, has attracted multiple Grade 2 queen Ellafitz from the Baffert barn. She will face a solid group that includes Grade 2 Molly Pitcher winner Brushed by a Star, 2011 Indiana Oaks winner Juanita, multiple Grade 3 heroine Salty Strike, and the well-traveled D. Wayne Lukas trainee Absinthe Minded.