Saturday, April 4, 2009

Musket Man stays hot with Illinois Derby win

Musket Man punched his ticket to Louisville via an impressive layover at Hawthorne Race Course as he delivered a convincing two-length win on Saturday in the $500,000 Illinois Derby (G2).

The Tampa Bay Derby (G3) winner solidified his credentials as a legitimate contender for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) with his second straight graded stakes win and his fifth victory in six career starts.

Musket Man was reserved in sixth then fifth early by Eibar Coa in the 1 1/8-mile race but advanced willingly into contention on the turn. The Yonaguska colt uncoiled his winning bid with a sweeping move into the stretch and drove clear to a dominant win in 1:49.91 on a track rated as fast.

Trained by Derek Ryan for owners Eric Fein and Vic Carlson, Musket Man won his first three career starts before he suffered his first and only defeat to date—a third-place finish in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) on February 14 at Tampa Bay Downs. He rebounded in the Tampa Bay Derby on March 14, closing gamely from eighth to prevail by a neck in his final start prior to the Illinois Derby.

"We were very confident going into the race. Tthere's no doubt he'll get the distance of the Kentucky Derby," Ryan said. "He really ran a big race today.

"Everybody has been questioning his ability to get the distance, but they don't [know] the horse. I do. I know what I've got and I knew he would have no trouble getting the distance and he showed it today."

Sent off as the 2.80-to-1 favorite, Musket Man rated comfortably under Coa as Perfect Song dictated the pace through an opening quarter in :23.84 and a half-mile in :47.67. His Greatness stalked from second followed by Al Khali and 2.80-to-1 second wagering choice Giant Oak.

His Greatness seized a brief lead entering the stretch and Giant Oak rallied under Shaun Bridgmohan, but Musket Man effortlessly accelerated on the outside and took charge in the stretch to secure his spot in the Kentucky Derby field.

The $285,000 winner’s share gave Musket Man $485,000 in graded stakes earnings and cemented his spot in the Derby field. The field for the May 2 classic race is determined by graded stakes earnings if more than 20 horses are entered.

Giant Oak finished strongly for second, five lengths clear of third-place finisher His Greatness. Perfect Song faded to finish seventh as the 3.10-to-1 third choice and Al Khali flattened out and finished eighth.

Out of stakes-placed winner Fortuesque, by Fortunate Prospect, Musket Man boosted his earnings to $572,600.