STICKNEY, Ill. -- Hawthorne Race Courses lists seven 3-year-olds as probable starters for the April 3 Illinois Derby, but don't let the compact field size put you off: At least five of those seven could be serious horses, and Hawthorne's biggest race of the spring should generate plenty of interest if the prospective field stays together.
Heading the list of likely runners is Schoolyard Dreams. Second to Rule in the Sam Davis Stakes and second by a hair's breadth to Odysseus in the Tampa Bay Derby, Schoolyard Dreams is trained by Derek Ryan and co-owned by Eric Fein and Anthony Mitola, and it was Ryan and Fein who won the 2009 Illinois Derby with Musket Man. Musket Man also had wintered at Tampa Bay Downs, and he went on to finish third in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before suffering a season-ending injury last year.
Schoolyard Dreams may be the Illinois Derby favorite, and Backtalk could be the race's second choice. Trained by Tom Amoss, Backtalk was one of the better summer 2-year-olds of 2009 before losing his last two starts of the year. But Backtalk returned with a fine win Feb. 26 in the Sportsman's Paradise at Delta Downs and turned in a sizzling six-furlong workout in 1:09.60 on Thursday at Fair Grounds.
California shippers American Lion and Dave in Dixie finished fourth and sixth in the March 13 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita. Both have shown quality, and both will make their dirt debut Saturday.
New York-shipper Yawanna Twist has raced only on Aqueduct's inner-dirt track but appears talented. Trained by Rick Dutrow, he won his first two starts by a combined 9 1/2 lengths and finished a closing second behind Awesome Act in the March 6 Gotham Stakes.
Much-traveled Turf Melody won the Springboard Mile at Remington Park Dec. 13, but then finished sixth in the Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds and fourth in the Gotham. Game Ball, twice entered for $50,000 claiming tags in maiden races, was a Tampa Bay allowance winner in his most recent start.
Uh Oh Bango and Call Shot are possible starters in the race, which will be drawn Wednesday.