Pure Fun and jockey Garrett Gomez, left, overpower Blonde Fog to win the Grade I Hollywood Starlet in December at Hollywood Park. Pure Fun will run against the boys in the Lexington Stakes on Saturday.(Photo: Benoit Photo)
The Lexington Coolmore Stakes is the last real Derby prep race before the May 4 Run for the Roses
The filly Pure Fun will race against the boys at Keeneland on Saturday
The Illinois Derby, a non points race, will also be run on Saturday
(PhatzRadio / USA Today) — Since it was moved to two weeks before the Kentucky Derby, the Lexington Stakes has been more likely to produce horses for the Preakness Stakes than the Derby.
Charismatic, the 1999 Derby winner, is the last horse to wear the roses after racing back in two weeks.
The Lexington is a “wild-card” race, worth 20 points to the winner under Churchill Downs’ new points system for determining which 20 horses get in the Kentucky Derby.
No horses in Lexington’s 11-horse field have any points. But a Lexington win could land the winner on the bubble, with a fair chance of making the field, considering the typical Derby attrition in the final weeks. But first that winner must be nominated to the Triple Crown, and its connections must be interested in running.
This year the Lexington could have more impact on the Kentucky Oaks than the Derby or even Preakness. The Grade III stakes’ 7-2 favorite is Magdalena Racing’s filly Pure Fun, who, after a dazzling 9 1/4-length romp in a Churchill Downs allowance race on dirt last fall, went to California and won the Grade I Hollywood Starlet.In her lone race this year, Pure Fun was third in Turfway’s Grade III Fathead Bourbonette Oaks. She will start from Post 11, with Rosie Napravnik picking up the mount in the 11/16-mile Lexington on Keeneland’s Polytrack surface.
CALVIN’S MOUNT: Borel to ride Revolutionary in Derby
Trainer Kenny McPeek isn’t looking at the Derby — Pure Fun isn’t nominated — but rather the Oaks. While 3-year-old filly races don’t count toward Derby points, the Derby preps do count toward Oaks points. Churchill’s reasoning is that the Derby preps are open to both sexes, but the Oaks preps are not. Pure Fun is probably safely in the Oaks with 20 Oaks points, which ranks her 13th; the Oaks is limited to 14 fillies.
“I’m not really running for points; I think she needs to run,” said McPeek, who a week earlier won the Toyota Blue Grass with Java’s War. “(Otherwise) I’m six weeks between races. I don’t have anything fast enough to think I can prep her for a mile-and-an-eighth race. I’d rather use the race as a steppingstone.”
Other top contenders are Gulfstream Park allowance winner Cerro, who started his career on turf in Italy; Turfway’s John Battaglia winner General Election; Todd Pletcher-trained Keeneland allowance winner Winning Cause; Louisiana-bred Sunbean, making his first start for Mike Maker; and Santa Anita off-the-turf allowance winner Examen.
General Election and Examen are among the five Lexington horses not nominated to the Triple Crown.
Derby production: The Lexington has produced two Derby winners: Swale, who was upset in the 1984 Lexington when it was three weeks before the Derby, and Charismatic, who won both races.
The Illinois Derby, excluded from the points system by Churchill Downs, repositioned itself to be a Preakness prep, moving to four weeks before the middle leg of the Triple Crown and bumping the purse to $750,000. Departing, third in the Louisiana Derby after capturing his first three races, heads the capacity field of 14. Trainer Al Stall has said there is no interest in trying to run Departing (who has 20 points) in the Kentucky Derby, even if he should win the Illinois Derby.
Road to the Derby: Churchill Downs has changed the method in which horses earn their way into the Kentucky Derby if more than 20 are entered for the next May 4 race, abandoning preference based on graded-stakes earnings in favor of a tiered points system involving 36 races. There are two remaining points races left, billed as “wild-card” races to allow bubble horses to try to earn enough points to make the field. Saturday’s Coolmore Lexington and the April 27 Derby Trial at Churchill offer 20 points to the winners. It appears now that 30 points easily gets a horse in the field, with 20 the new bubble number.
Point leaders (only horses still being considered for the Derby listed): Orb, Verrazano, 150; Goldencents, 129; Java’s War, 122; Overanalyze, Revolutionary, 110; Lines of Battle, 100; Vyjack, 70; Will Take Charge, 60; Itsmyluckyday, Govenor Charlie, Black Onyx, Palace Malice, 50; Normandy Invasion, Frac Daddy, 44; Mylute, 42; Oxbow, Super Ninety Nine, Falling Sky, 30.
Saturday’s Derby points race: $200,000 Coolmore Lexington (G3), 11/16 miles on Polytrack, Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky., 5:13 p.m. ET, TVG. Also on Saturday: $750,000 Illinois Derby (G3), 11/8 miles, Hawthorne Race Course in Stickney, Ill., 6:15 p.m. ET, TVG.
Rees also writes for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal