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Illinois Derby assembles strong cast for Saturday
Daily Herald News Services
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Published: 4/1/2010 12:31 PM

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A field of eight will line up Saturday to start in the $500,000 Illinois Derby in one of the strongest fields in the history of the Grade III race.

The Illinois Derby will be run as the seventh race of 11 for the Saturday card with a post time of 4:37 p.m. First post for Saturday is 1:35 p.m.

The race features five stakes-placed runners, four graded stakes-placed horses and a pair of graded stakes winners.

While many horses are looking for a little more in the earnings column to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, this field could send multiple runners to that race in May.

Leading the Illinois Derby field is Gold Mark Farm LLC's Backtalk. One of the most highly regarded 2-year-olds in the country in 2009, Backtalk had posted wins in both the Grade 3 Bashford Manor and Grade 2 Sanford last summer at Saratoga. Following a wide-trip and fourth place finish in the Grade 1 Hopeful, Backtalk was sent off as the favorite in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland last fall. Following a flat effort in that event, and given some time off, Backtalk returned this spring with a victory in the Sportsman's Paradise Stakes at Delta Downs.

Trained by Tom Amoss and ridden by Miguel Mena, Backtalk is the morning line choice at 3-1.

WinStar Farm LLC's American Lion comes to Hawthorne from California looking for his second graded stakes win. The Eoin Harty trainee followed a maiden score at Keeneland last fall with a win in the Grade III Hollywood Preview in November. This year, he has posted third and fourth place efforts, respectively, in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis and Grade 2 San Felipe at Santa Anita.

Ridden by David Flores, American Lion is 7-2 in the morning line.

The "now" horse may be Yawanna Twist. Owned by Steel Your Face Stables and trained by Richard Dutrow Jr., Yawanna Twist was a winner first out last December at Aqueduct and followed that score with a strong allowance win early in February. His next start came in the Grade 3 Gotham at Aqueduct as he swung five wide off the turn and was getting to winner Awesome Act nearing the wire, finishing second but only a little over a length back.

Yawanna Twist will be ridden by Edgar Prado and is 4-1 in the morning line.

Dave in Dixie is another solid California invader with a huge upside. Trained by John Sadler and owned by Ike and Dawn Thrash, Dave in Dixie kicked off his year with a solid second-place effort in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita in February. After a sixth-place effort in the San Felipe, Dave in Dixie will make his dirt debut in the Illinois Derby as Jose Valdivia, Jr. rides.

Dave in Dixie is the fourth choice in the line at 9-2.