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Denis of Cork - Kentucky Derby Contender


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Denis of Cork


Pedigree: Harlan's Holiday - Unbridled Girl (Unbridled)

Owner: W. K. Warren, Jr.

Trainer: David Carroll


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William K. Warren’s Denis of Cork will put his undefeated record on the line and try to remain near the top of a small list of Kentucky Derby (gr. I) favorites April 5 when he takes on six rivals in the $500,000 Illinois Derby (gr. II) at Hawthorne Race Course.

Among Denis of Cork’s main challengers will be Z Humor, who is third on the Kentucky Derby graded-earnings list but has been a non-factor in both of his 3-year-old starts, and Atoned, a Florida-bred colt who has been a bridesmaid in his last four efforts, including a neck defeat in the March 15 Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III).

Also in the field is fifth-place Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) finisher Golden Spikes, Texas Heritage Stakes winner Real Appeal, and the only two colts that have a win on the Hawthorne dirt – Instill and Recapturetheglory.

Though having started only three times, Denis of Cork is the one to beat. The son of Harlan's Holiday broke his maiden in November at Churchill Downs, won an allowance event on a sloppy track at Fair Grounds Jan. 19, and then conquered the one-mile Southwest Stakes (gr. III) by 2¼ lengths Feb. 18 at Oaklawn Park.

The 1 1/8-mile Illinois Derby will present a new set of challenges for Denis of Cork, who has never traveled more than one mile and 70 yards. The bay colt will also try his fourth different racetrack, and his connections will have to prove that deciding to skip the March 15 Rebel Stakes (gr. III) was not a mistake.

“After the Southwest Stakes, the game plan was to run in the Rebel,” trainer David Carroll said. “But everyone talked it over, and decided the best plan was to spread the races a bit further apart. Mr. Warren and his team are big on speed sheets and numbers. This is the plan that they felt most comfortable with.

“This horse has only run over dirt tracks in his starts, so it would have been too risky to try the Blue Grass (on Polytrack) at this stage of his career when we’re trying to get to Churchill. I felt the Illinois Derby gave us the best chance right now to see where we are.”

Out of the Unbridled mare Unbridled Girl, Denis of Cork could also use more graded earnings. Currently, he has earned $150,000, which puts him 18th on the list. The top 20 graded earners are guaranteed a spot in the Kentucky Derby field.

Bred by Westbury Stables, Denis of Cork last worked March 30 at Churchill, breezing five furlongs in :59.40. Julien Leparoux has been assigned to ride for the first time. Denis of Cork drew post five.

"He's training very well. He had a really nice final work," Carroll continued. "We're in need of a big race. He's sitting right on the bubble as far as graded earnings, so we'll hope to pick up enough money to secure our place."