Byline: Robert Kieckhefer Special to the Daily Herald
The field for Saturday's $500,000 Illinois Derby at Sportsman's Park may not have been quite good enough to make it to the Kentucky Derby.
But at least one of the 13 starters, front-running winner Natural Selection, came out of the race with a ticket to the last event of the Triple Crown, next month's Belmont Stakes. Jockey Randy Romero got Natural Selection right to the lead in the Illinois Derby as the field came past the stands for the first time.
Handling the sharp Sportsman's turns with ease, he stayed right on the lead all the way around. When the favorite, El Amante, put in his challenge, Natural Selection found another gear and drew off to win by four lengths. El Amante held second. Irish Conquest, a stablemate of Natural Selection for trainer Mohammed Moubarak, stuck close to the early pace and finished third. The 1 1/8-mile race took 1:48 3/5 on a fast track. The entry paid $15.00 $5.40 and $5.80; El Amante paid $3.20 and $2.80. The $2 exacta paid $44.20. The victory was only the second in the colt's eight-race career and his first outside the maiden ranks. But Moubarak said Natural Selection, third in the Tampa Bay Derby in his last start, has been "very slow to learn in his mind." He added the colt's race in Tampa was compromised by a bad van ride from Miami that took 11 hours. Asked about future plans for Natural Selection, Moubarak said, "Definitely the Belmont Stakes. We've been eyeing that all along. He wants a trip. …