The $150,000 Sixty Sales Handicap for fillies and mares compliments the $400,000 Illinois Derby for 3-year olds as the pair of Grade 3 stakes are featured on the 10-race card at Hawthorne this afternoon.
The mile and an eighth Illinois Derby, once a stop on the Derby trail, will have a closely matched field of nine lining up in the starting gate led by a pair of West Coast invaders.
Cross the Line, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer and ridden by Florent Geroux, is coming in off a fifth place finish in the Santa Anita Derby. Prior to the Santa Anita, Cross the Line had never missed the board in five career starts including a victory in the California Derby and a fast closing 2nd to Metaboss in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby.
In the Santa Anita Derby the $55,000 Fasig Tipton purchase finished nearly 7 lengths behind Dortmund, a leading Kentucky Derby contender, as well as the highly regarded Bolo. The question on Cross the Line is whether it was the tougher level of competition or the natural dirt surface that may have been the issue, with the Santa Anita being his first start on dirt. His improving Brisnet speed figures would lean toward the former.
Whiskey Ticket is a highly regarded colt out of the Bob Baffert barn. Only a maiden winner, albeit in his first career start, Whiskey Ticket showcased grit and determination rarely shown in first time starters as he gave up a 3-length lead into the lane only to battle back and win by a head. Martin Pedroza ships in with the horse to ride.
Verraco completes a trio of left coasters in for the Derby. A winner last out in $80,000 optional claiming company, he really steps up in class today with regular pilot Elvis Trujillo in to ride.
A pair of starters in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn come in to join the fray as well with Private Prospect, starting from the far outside, and Phenomenal Phoenix, just to his inside, look to take on the California trio. Private Prospect was precocious at 2, taking two Prairie Meadow stakes before finishing behind the stellar Recount in the Arlington Washington Futurity. He has yet to get untracked in his 3-year old season, however,, with 3 disappointing efforts.
Phenomenal Phoenix faltered in his only graded stakes experience in the Southwest, but has been a threat in each of his other five career starts. While perhaps not the fastest in the field today, he does appear to have some tactical speed and could be dangerous against this group.
The mile and an eighth Sixty Sales drew a small field of five and is led by Ramsey Farms 6-year old mare Awesome Flower. Awesome Flower is making her first trip to Hawthorne but is no stranger to the region having finished 3rd in the Grade 3 Arlington Matron last summer before battling late to take the $100,000 Lady Canterbury Stakes at Canterbury Park.
The race seems to set up perfectly for Awesome Flower . There should be plenty of early speed with Parc Monceau, Ketel Twist and Yahilwa. She should be able to sit behind the pace with Sea Shadow before they take aim at the leaders. Should a stretch dual ensue between these two, I would look for Awesome Flower to prevail late.