Only two weeks remain until the 2013 Kentucky Derby gets underway, and qualifying for the event comes down to the final two "wild-card" weekends leading into the first Saturday in May.
One such event will be the 2013 Coolmore Lexington Stakes, a $200,000 event that could give the winner a chance to compete in the start of the sprint toward the elusive horse-racing stat—three-straight summer wins.
With a Triple Crown at stake, this is an important qualifying race.
Worth 20 points, the Lexington Stakes will give some of these horses a chance to make the Derby in "wild-card" fashion, while others (Pure Fun, h/t ESPN via BloodHorse.com) will aim to make the Kentucky Oaks without a shot to make the 20-horse field.
While it might not seem like a big deal to the naked eye, the Lexington Stakes is one of the final looks at horses that will be racing at Churchill Downs on May 4. Let's take a look at the field and some horses to watch as things heat up with an eye on the Derby.
Where: Keeneland; Lexington, Kent.
When: Saturday, April 20, at 5:13 p.m. ET
Watch: Television Games Network (TVG, Check Local Listings)
Radio: Horse Racing Radio Network
Purse: $200,000 (Grade III)
Distance: 1.0625 miles (Synthetic)
Derby points: 20-winner, eight-2nd, four-3rd, two-4th
|1||Winning Cause||Julien R. Leparoux||Todd A. Pletcher||4/1|
|2||Pick of the Litter||Jesus Lopez Castanon||Dale L. Romans||9/2|
|3||River Rocks||James Graham||Wayne M. Catalano||8/1|
|4||Hip Four Sixtynine||Gabriel Saez||Bobby C. Barnett||15/1|
|5||Where's Dominic||Edgar S. Prado||Michael J. Trombetta||12/1|
|6||Sunbean||Gary L. Stevens||Michael J. Maker||3/1|
|7||Examen||Garrett K. Gomez||Thomas F. Proctor||4/1|
|8||Cerro||Joel Rosario||H. Graham Motion||4/1|
|9||Wings of Fortune||Calvin H. Borel||Michael J. Maker||10/1|
|10||General Election||Joseph Rocco Jr.||Kellyn Gorder||10/1|
|11||Pure Fun||Rosie Napravnik||Kenneth G. McPeek||2/1|
Saturday's Top Contenders
Posting on the outside at No. 11, there isn't a horse with better odds (2/1 right now) at winning the Lexington Stakes than Pure Fun.
The Derby is out of reach for the three-year-old filly, but she has 20 points that can be transferred toward the Kentucky Oaks. With a 34-point cutoff, an additional 20 points on Saturday with a win would vault her into the field at the Oaks.
With a third-place finish in the March 23 Fathead Bourbonette Oaks at Turfway Park under her belt and a spot in the Oaks at stake, there are very few that are betting against Pure Fun this weekend.
The Derby might not be a possibility, but a spot on the outside and solid odds are, making Pure Fun the horse to beat this weekend in Lexington.
With a Hall of Fame jockey and a new trainer (Gary Stevens and Mike Maker), Sunbean has a chance to regain his early-season form and earn a spot at Churchill Downs in the process.
After three-straight wins to open up the 2013 campaign, Sunbean had a terrible run (eighth) at the Louisiana Derby after being unable to climb up the rail late. Maker knows how to get the best out of a horse on a synthetic track—as noted by DRF.com's Mike Watchmaker—making it an automatic favorite after a disappointing finish in the Bayou.
Oddsmakers (3/1) agree, and Sunbean can sneak into the Derby field with a win and the 20-point uptick that comes with the Lexington victory.
While many are using these final races as a late-blooming chance to sneak into the Derby, others are not.
Three-year-old colt Examen is one of those that is not, but that doesn't mean you should ignore his 4/1 odds or two wins at Santa Anita Park in 2013.
Trainer Tom Proctor thinks his horse is good enough to win the Lexington Stakes but has no intention on using this race as a stepping stone to the big dance at Churchill Downs (h/t Marty McGee of DRF.com):
I don’t need anybody or any points to tell me whether I have a Derby horse or not...He’s not even nominated....He’s a May foal and just starting to figure things out.
I’d actually like to win the Swaps with him this summer at Hollywood Park. I was going to leave him out in California, but we thought he might like the synthetic, so we brought him this way to find out.
Although that might be the case, winning this race could give pause to the fact that Examen would make the short list as the bubble shrinks for the Derby field.
In any event, Examen is a favorite at Keeneland over the weekend and should be just one of what promises to be an exciting field of last-ditch candidates to climb the Derby ladder.