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Musket Man Fires Away in Illinois Derby

Coming into the 52nd running of the Grade 2, $500,000 Illinois Derby, Eric Fein and Vic Carlson’s Musket Man was the lone entrant with a graded victory. When the 1 1/8 miles race for 3-year-olds had concluded, Musket Man was the only multiple graded stakes winner by virtue of a two-length victory over Giant Oak, stopping the clock in 1:49.91.

It was five lengths back to longshot His Greatness who was well clear for third.

The win came on the heels of a game score in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby and had the connections, including trainer Derek Ryan and jockey Eibar Coa, thinking the Kentucky Derby is the next stop.

“I suppose we have to go to Kentucky now,” said Ryan, tongue in cheek following the race. And Coa certainly sounded pretty sure about a trip to Louisville, as well. “We were very confident going into the race…there’s no doubt he’ll get the distance of the Kentucky Derby.”

With the early scratch of Lord Justice, the early lead figured to fall in the lap of Perfect Song…and it did. Essentially unopposed early, Perfect Song reached the first quarter in 23:84. To his outside and a constant presence was His Greatness. The two picked up the pace with Perfect Song holding a slim lead, the half-mile run in 47:67.

Meanwhile the eventual winner was biding his time, unhurried but never too far back. When Coa asked Musket Man to commence his rally just before the far turn, the son of Yonaguska responded kindly. Moving four wide into the stretch, the duo soared past the embattled leaders and under a drive held off the only possible threat, Giant Oak, for the impressive-looking victory.

“He really ran a big race today. Everybody has been questioning his ability to get the distance, but they don’t the horse. I do,” Ryan said. “I know what I’ve got and I knew he would have no trouble getting the distance and he showed it today.”

As for the Illinois-bred, Giant Oak, his trainer Chris Block was prudent in his assessment following the second-place finish.

“I thought he ran well,” Block said. “Musket Man was obviously the better horse today. My horse ran his heart out, just didn’t catch him.”

The connections of Musket Man earned $285,000 for the victory, assuring enough graded stakes winnings should Musket Man, indeed, make his next stop in the Run for the Roses.

Sent off as a slight favorite over Giant Oak, Musket Man paid $7.60 to win.

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