By Dick Downey
Departing, the fan favorite at 9-5, easily won the Grade III Illinois Derby.
Cut out of the new Kentucky Derby points system by Churchill Downs. Hawthorne officials remade the Illinois Derby, adding $250,000 to the purse and moving it later on the calendar to serve as a Preakness prep.
The race attracted a full field of 14 -- and Departing cashed in, taking home $450,000 of the $750,000 bankroll. That pushed his total earnings to $628,000.
Departing, trained by Al Stall, Jr., already had sufficient Kentucky Derby points -- 20 of them -- to contend with others for the 20th spot in the race at this point. The additional earnings today would have put him ahead in the tie-breaker -- non-restricted stakes earnings. But connections, who said before the Illinois Derby that the Kentucky Derby was out of the question, reiterated that stance after the win. The Preakness would be a logical next step.
After breaking from post 13 in the 14-horse field, Brian Hernandez, Jr. and Departing went six wide in the first turn and were in eighth place after four furlongs run in :47.71 by Taken by the Storm, who took over after Ground Transport went the first quarter-mile in :23.10.
Departing passed four horses on the backstretch and was fourth hitting the second turn, where he was four wide. Despite that adversity, Departing took the lead leaving the bend and drew off in the stretch to prevail by 3 1/4 lengths over 23-1 Fordubai, one of the local contingent that contested the race. Siete de Oros finished third at 9-1
Next in line across the wire were Abraham, Street Spice, For Greater Glory, Narvaez, Dewey Square, Ground Transport, Bells Big Bernie, Show Some Magic, Stormin Monarcho, Taken by the Storm and Dakota Mac.
A stewards inquiry was conducted after Fordubai veered four paths into the path of Abraham, interfering with him during the stretch run. However, no change was made, and the existence of the inquiry does not appear on the Equibase chart as of this post.
Departing was timed in 1:50.78 for the 1 1/8-mile race and paid $5.80, $3.60 and $3.00 to his backers.
It was Departing's first race with Lasix and his fourth win in five starts. He came into the Illinois Derby off a third-place finish in the Grade II Louisiana Derby, beaten 3 1/4 lengths by Revolutionary.
Departing is a son of War Front out of the Pulpit mare Leave. Claiborne Farm and Adele B. Dilschneider bred and own him.
Al Stall, Jr.: "There's no use talking about the Preakness until we see what happens in the Kentucky Derby/. There are some good horses there. If they do their thing and scare everybody off, we might do something differently."
Brian Hernandez, Jr.: "Once he got down the backside, I thought I was on the best horse. "He was just kind of cruising and going really easy today. He looks like he's getting better with distance."