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Big stakes at Hawthorne for Denis of Cork
By Mike Spellman | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 4/4/2008 12:06 AM

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Denis of Cork.

No, it's not that guy who played guitar at the Blarney Tavern.

Rather it's the name of an undefeated 3-year-old who's the 2-1 morning-line favorite heading into Saturday's running of the 51st Illinois Derby at Hawthorne Race Course.

And with a victory Saturday, the Harlan's Holiday colt, winner of the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn in mid-February, will punch his ticket to the Kentucky Derby.

For trainer David Carroll, just a strong finish and a big payday Saturday -- one that might ensure a spot in the Run for the Roses -- would be more than enough.

"What he needs to do is leave there with a big check," Carroll told

To do that, he'll have to outrun the likes of Atoned (second in the Tampa Bay Derby), Golden Spikes and Z Humor.

Atoned is trained by Todd Pletcher, who has won the Illinois Derby three times in the last seven years. Atoned comes into the race off four consecutive second-place finishes.

"I thought he ran and fought hard in the Tampa Bay Derby," Pletcher said. "We've had a lot of success at Hawthorne and I hope that continues Saturday."

The Bill Mott-trained Z Humor boasts the largest bankroll ($524,000) in the field, but comes into the race off fifth- and fourth-place finishes his last two out.

Golden Spikes was fifth behind Z Humor in the Fountain of Youth and comes into the Illinois Derby minus a key piece of equipment.

"We took the blinkers off him after the Fountain of Youth," trainer Marty Wolfson said. "He's really doing great now without them."

Also in the field are Recapturetheglory and Instill, the only Illinois Derby starters to have raced at and won over the Hawthorne oval.

Hawthorne will offer a guaranteed $50,000 Pick 4 pool on the Illinois Derby card. The Pick 4 will involve races 7 through 10, beginning with the Illinois Derby.

Did you know? Golden Spikes owner Rob Murphy is a former major-league pitcher. He played 15 seasons and was a reliever for six teams, including Cincinnati, Boston, Seattle, Houston, St. Louis and the Florida Marlins. One of his partners is catcher Paul Lo Duca of the Washington Nationals.