Contact: Jim Miller
Illinois Derby Boasts Rich & Proud History
Saturday, April 8 marks the 49th running of the Illinois Derby, Chicago's richest race restricted to three-year-olds. The Grade 2, $500,000 event is positioned as one of the top Kentucky Derby prep races, one month before the Run for the Roses.
The Illinois Derby will be broadcast nationally on ESPN's "Racing to the Kentucky Derby" telecast airing from 4:00 - 5:00 PM central. Additionally, the race will be heard live on ESPN radio Chicago as part of the Chicago White Sox broadcast. Coverage will include pre-race commentary, live running of the race, and post-race analysis. The 2003 Illinois Derby will also receive expanded coverage on Fox Sports Net with a special show from 5:00 - 6:00 pm as well as on "Thoroughbred Today" from Hawthorne at 10:00 pm on CLTV.
Repent was one of the top 3-year-olds in the country when he was entered for the 2002 Illinois Derby at Sportsman's Park. Trainer Kenny McPeek was going to use the $500,000 G-II spectacular as a springboard to the Kentucky Derby for his flashy colt.
When Repent finished second to locally based War Emblem in the 1 1/8 miles race, many in the crowd were disappointed. But a month later on Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs, War Emblem made the 2002 running of the Illinois Derby the most memorable in the long history of the event.
For the first time in history the Illinois Derby champion went on to win the greatest horse race in America. Not only that, War Emblem would capture the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes. Only a stumble at the start of the Belmont Stakes prevented him from becoming a Triple Crown champion.
The Illinois Derby is not only rich in local racing lore, but also thoroughbred racing history in general, boasting an honor roll of horses, jockeys, trainers, and owners.
In 2001, Dogwood Stable's Distilled thrust himself into national prominence following his front-running 1¾ length victory under jockey Mike Smith. Performing Magic, ridden by Shane Sellers, wore down 6-5 favorite Country Only in the closing strides to score a head victory in the 43rd running of the race in 2000.
Vision and Verse, the fourth longest shot in the field of 10 three-year-olds at 17-1, rallied strongly through the stretch to win the 1999 running of the Derby at Hawthorne. Vision and Verse went on to race a gallant second in the Belmont Stakes, beaten in a photo finish in the final jewel of the Triple Crown.
The 1998 Illinois Derby, which was telecast across the nation on ABC's "Wide World of Sports" attracted such thoroughbred luminaries as Souvenir Copy, trained by Bob Baffert; Yarrow Brae, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, and Orville n' Wilburs, trained by Wallace Dollase.
The winner was Yarrow Brae, ridden by Willie Martinez, giving Lukas his first Illinois Derby triumph. Yarrow Brae went on to compete in the Belmont Stakes.
Wild Rush, ridden by Kent Desormeaux, took the lead at the start of the 1997 Illinois Derby and went on to score a 3¾ length victory over 1-2 favorite Anet. The winner, owner by world-wide industrialist Frank Stronach, covered the distance in track record time of 1:47 2/5 over a fast track.
Natural Selection, ridden by Randy Romero, took the lead from the first post position at the start and was never seriously challenged en-route to posting a four-length victory in the 1996 running of the $500,000 event.
Pin Oak Stud's Peaks and Valleys, the winner of the 1995 Illinois Derby, was hailed by season's end as one of the best three-year-olds in the country, according to no less a critic than Billy Mott, trainer of Horse of the Year Cigar.
Peaks and Valleys went on to win the Molson Million in Canada and the prestigious Meadowlands Cup, both Grade 1 events. He completed his sophomore campaign by racing against Cigar and company in the $3 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Belmont.