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Joel Quenneville’s Midnight Hawk favored to win Illinois Derby

Updated: May 20, 2014 6:14AM



Joel Quenneville will step off the Blackhawks’ team charter Saturday night and meet his fellow Midnight Hawk owners for dinner.

The coach hopes to celebrate two victories — a road triumph by his Blackhawks over the Blues in Game 2 of their playoff series, and a win by Midnight Hawk in the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne Race Course on Saturday afternoon.

“Like Joel said, ‘There’d be nothing like that Daily Double,’ ” co-owner Mike Tice said.

The 3-year-old is the morning-line favorite among eight horses in the Grade III, $500,000 Derby, which spans 1 1/8 miles.

Tice, who befriended Quenne­ville as a Bears assistant from 2010 to ’12, is part of the ownership group that also includes Hawks assistant Mike Kitchen and Kentucky Derby-­winning breeder Mike Pegram.

Trained by Bob Baffert and ridden for the first time by Martin Garcia, the horse has coaching in his blood.

His father, Breeders’ Cup sprint winner Midnight Lute, earned his moniker from Jerry Tarkanian’s pejorative nickname for former Arizona basketball coach Lute Olson, who once poached recruit Tom Tolbert from UNLV. It was a tongue-in-cheek nod to Olson, who was friends with Midnight Lute’s co-owner.

Tice and Quenneville owned lesser horses before joining together for the one that would be named, in part, after the Blackhawks.

“As Mike Pegram said, ‘You have a weekend horse,’ ” said Tice, the Falcons’ offensive line coach. “You’re only running for big pots, Coach.’”

Midnight Hawk, who was second in his most recent race, the Sunland Derby on March 23, is “doing as good as he’s ever done,” Tice said.

In five career starts, he has won twice, placed twice and shown once, earning $347,000.

With morning-line odds of 4-5, he is the clear favorite in the Illinois Derby, followed by Class Leader (5-1), a winner in his last two, and Dynamic Impact (6-1), who won his last race.

“We’re just excited for the opportunity — $500,000 is $500,000,” Tice said.

“We’re trying to win the pot.”

The most prestigious prize is still in the air.

Midnight Hawk has enough points to qualify for the May 3 Kentucky Derby, but the two-week turnaround might prove to be too short a recovery period.

The owners have yet to make an official announcement, but winning Saturday sounded more appealing than saving the horse for an unsure payday at Churchill Downs.

“We could run down to the [Kentucky] Derby and say, ‘Yeah, we ran in the race,’ ” Tice said. “But … when you get in this business, it’s a business.

“You’re trying to make money.”

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com

Twitter: @patrickfinley



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