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Illinois Derby 2024 | Hawthorne Picks [Preakness Stakes]
Real Men Violin (Bentley Breland/Eclipse Sportswire/CSM)

Illinois Derby 2024 | Hawthorne Picks [Preakness Stakes]

After a six-year hiatus, the Illinois Derby, Presented by 1/ST BET returns to Hawthorne Race Course with the 60th running on Sunday, April 21.

The 1 1/8 miles event on the main track carries a $200,000 purse and will go as race eight on the Sunday afternoon card with a post time of 5:56 PM Central.

The Illinois Derby produced 2002 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Winner War Emblem and has again been placed as a prep race for this year’s Preakness Stakes (G1). Should the winner of this year’s Illinois Derby choose to race in the Preakness, Hawthorne Race Course will reimburse the winning owner the amount of $20,000 toward the Preakness entry fee.

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After a pair of defections of expected runners on the morning of entries, a field of six has been assembled for the Illinois Derby.

Trainer Kenny McPeek sends out 3-1 second choice Real Men Violin, who draws the rail in the Illinois Derby.

With Triple Crown race victories on his resume McPeek looks to have another emerging 3-year-old in this race. With near misses in his first four career starts at Ellis Park, Saratoga, Churchill and Keeneland, Real Men Violin broke his maiden in the slop at Churchill last October.

Off of that victory, Real Men Violin was given a shot in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club and didn’t disappoint, running a good second in that start. Looking to get Derby points in 2024, he tailed off a bit in the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby but looks to get back on track in the Illinois Derby. Red Men Violin is owned by Tilted Shamrock Stables of Dan McGreevy as Reylu Gutierrez is in to ride.

The morning line favorite at 5-2 in the Illinois Derby is Woodcourt, who is owned and trained by Cipriano Contreras.

Contreras is a familiar face to Hawthorne as he was a longtime assistant trainer to Mike Reavis, who has been a staple on the Illinois training scene for over 30 years. Contreras went out on his own in 2016 and has since saddled nearly 500 winners for over $15 million in career earnings. Woodcourt is a four-time winner in his career.

Breaking his maiden in his second career start, Woodcourt was thought of well enough to be given a shot in last year’s Saratoga Special by then trainer Brendan Walsh. After a couple of unsuccessful stakes tries, Woodcourt moved to the turf to win an allowance at Churchill Downs last fall. He was dropped in for a $50,000 claiming tag on December 22 at Turfway Park where Contreras claimed him off a three-length victory.

Woodcourt followed the claim with an Oaklawn allowance score before running fourth in the Grade 2 Rebel. His most recent start was a troubled sixth-place finish in the Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks. Emmanuel Esquivel rides Woodcourt once again in the Illinois Derby.

After running a good third in his Saratoga debut last summer, Le Gris showed speed before tiring in his second start for trainer Al Stall Jr.

With the move to New Orleans and the Fair Grounds, Le Gris shifted to the turf, breaking his maiden on the grass in career start number four. He looked to remain on the turf in a high-priced allowance in February but after that race was rained off the grass, Le Gris stayed in and won convincingly on the main track.

His most recent start came in the Rushaway at Turfway Park, where he finished ninth but was only three lengths behind the winner in a blanket finish. Jareth Loveberry was aboard for the allowance score and returns to ride Le Gris in the Illinois Derby.

A familiar duo returns to Illinois with owner Mellon Patch, Inc. of George Mellon and trainer Mike Campbell sending out Patriot Spirit at 4-1 in the morning line.

The most stakes seasoned horse in the Illinois Derby, Patriot Spirit broke his maiden at first asking, winning impressively at Colonial last summer. After carving out the fractions in his second start in the Grade 3 Iroquois at Churchill before tiring late in his second career start, he would win again in start number four, taking the Inaugural at Tampa Bay Downs.

Patriot Spirit chased while stretching out in the Sam F. Davis early this year before tiring then ran a good third in the six furlong Hutchenson in his more recent start at Gulfstream. Local rider Julio Felix is off to a good start this meet and gets the call aboard Patriot Spirit.

The last time the Illinois Derby was run in 2017 it was trainer Brendan Walsh who sent out the winner as Multiplier took the Derby. Walsh is back again in 2024 as Raguel will look to pull off the upset in this year’s edition of the race.

Owned by Trade Winds Farm of Tom D’Ambra, Raguel started his career with a pair of tries on the turf. He was forced to the main track last November in a maiden race that was taken off the Churchill Downs turf and didn’t disappoint, winning on the front end that day. A son of Justify, Raguel shifted South for the winter, posting back-to-back third place performances in tough allowance events during the Gulfstream Championship meet.

With his best career success coming at the Illinois Derby distance, Raguel is 6-1 in the morning line as Edgar Morales is in to ride.

As everyone in Illinois knows, and many learned nationally last year, trainer Larry Rivelli can never be counted out with any starter he sends. In 2023, it was Two Phil’s who nearly pulled off the upset in the Kentucky Derby, leading late and ultimately running second. This year Rivelli gives a chance to lightly raced Ravin’s Town for local owners Richard Ravin and Patricia’s Hope LLC of Vince Foglia.

After a two-year-old debut where he was beaten just a nose, Ravin’s Town was given some time to mature before returning to the races last week. In that sprint start, Ravin’s Town sped away to an early lead before being caught late in the lane to finish second once again.

With the stretch in distance, along with the lack of early pace in the Illinois Derby, there’s the potential that Ravin’s Town finds himself alone on the lead for jockey Orlando Mojica.