Trainer Doug O'Neill has been spending some time in Argentina, but has two shots at a spot in the 2010 Kentucky Derby when he returns to Santa Anita on Saturday. He will enter a big longshot, Thomas Baines, in the Santa Anita Derby, April 3. His other hopeful is taking a more unique route, one his connections hope earn them a saddlecloth at the biggest event in horse racing.
Stephen's Got Hope, a 3-year-old colt by the sire Stephen Got Even, will be making his fourth lifetime start in the Grade 3 $500,000 Illinois Derby, April 3. The race is held at Hawthorne Race Course and is the highlight of their meet. Stephen's Got Hope was claimed out of his first start by Doug O'Neill for owners Neil Haymes,Russ Sarno, and Westside Rentals. They paid a hefty price of $75,000 to claim him that day, so hopes have always been high.
After running seventh in a maiden race at Santa Anita, Stephen's Got Hope then finished five lengths back in G2 San Felipe Stakes, won by Sidney's Candy. Sidney's Candy will return as one of the favorites for the Santa Anita Derby. In the San Felipe, jockey Tyler Baze, gave a patient ride sitting at the back of the pack but was left wth too much to do in the lane to catch the top contenders. The way Stephen's Got Hope finished does allow room for improvement with longer distances.
One member of the ownership group, Mark Verge of Westside Rentals, sounded very optimistic about taking a shot in the Illinois Derby. "We are excited to run at Hawthorne, the weather in Chicago has been great and we had to take a shot to get in the Derby." Verge said. There are even more questions to answer considering, Stephen's Got Hope, has never raced on a dirt surface. "That is one of the main reasons we decided to run him here... Doug (O'Neill) thinks this horse is going to love a dirt track." said Verge.
Julio Garcia has been given the mount on Stephen's Got Hope because his regular rider, Tyler Baze, will stay at Santa Anita to ride horses there. Other local horses that made the trip to Hawthorne are American Lion, Dave in Dixie, and Boulder Creek.