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Baffert sends out Midnight Hawk

Midnight Hawk has earned enough points in the "Road to Kentucky Derby" series to compete in the May 3 classic at Churchill Downs, but any potential trip the colt makes to Louisville will involve a pit stop in Chicago on Saturday for the Grade 3, $500,000 Illinois Derby.

The 1 ⅛-mile Illinois Derby, the spring meet highlight at Hawthorne, does not offer any qualifying points for Kentucky Derby eligibility, and is now seen as more of a prep for the Preakness on May 17. That was the case last year when Claiborne Farm's gelding Departing used a romping win in the race as a springboard to Pimlico.

Midnight Hawk's presence at Hawthorne perhaps has something to do with the 1 ΒΌ-mile Kentucky Derby distance, specifically the colt's ability to get it. The son of champion sprinter Midnight Lute has racked up Derby eligibility points with second- and third-place finishes in the Robert B. Lewis, San Felipe and Sunland Derby, but noticeably lost ground late in those races, which were contested at either 1 1/16 miles or 1 ⅛ miles.

Whether or not Midnight Hawk will appreciate the distance of the Illinois Derby, the gray will at least experience some welcome class relief. A winner of his first two starts, including the one-mile Sham at Santa Anita in January, Midnight Hawk has futilely chased the likes of probable Kentucky Derby favorite California Chrome, Candy Boy, and Chitu in recent outings.

Midnight Hawk's most serious rival on Saturday might be Class Leader. The late-blooming Smart Strike colt, from the barn of Neil Howard, makes his stakes debut after back-to-back wins at Fair Grounds, the latter a one-length allowance score on March 13.

Trainer Todd Pletcher, whose barn has racked up wins in the Florida Derby and Arkansas Derby in recent weeks, has entered King Cyrus and Global Strike. Second in a minor stakes at Calder two back, King Cyrus will add blinkers for the Illinois Derby after a nondescript seventh-place effort in the Louisiana Derby. Global Strike, who is also cross-entered in Saturday's Lexington at Keeneland, is probably better than his last-out sixth in the Sunland Derby would indicate.

Like Global Strike, the Mark Casse-trained Dynamic Impact was cross-entered in the Lexington. The Tiznow colt needed five starts to break his maiden, but did so over a mile at Oaklawn last time in an effort which garnered a solid 96 BRIS Speed rating.

The Illinois Derby field is completed by longshots A Step Ahead, Irish You Well, and Emmett Park.

Recently sixth against a tough field in the Azeri at Oaklawn, Flashy American might move forward in her second start of the season in the Grade 3, $150,000 Sixty Sails Handicap over nine furlongs. A three-time stakes winner last season, the five-year-old gray mare also placed in the Shuvee Handicap and Falls City Handicap for trainer Ken McPeek.

Also entered in this wide-open renewal are Gamay Noir, who upset the Rampart at Gulfstream at odds of 49-1 last time, and Imposing Grace, a recent allowance runner-up who will probably move on to defend her title in next month's Arlington Matron.

Likely to show speed here are Sonja's Angel, second against optional claiming foes at Gulfstream last out, and Dress the Part, who landed the $50,000 Wayward Lass at Tampa Bay Downs most recently. Todd Pletcher's Brazilian import Ana Luisa and 2012 Canadian classic winner Dixie Strike are also among the eight fillies and mares entered.