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Long road to Kentucky Derby starts Saturday

By Ron Flatter  ( 

September 15, 2017 07:56 AM
With Robby Albarado riding, Iroquois Stakes favorite Hollywood Star won his debut race June 28 at Churchill Downs.
© Credit: Coady Photography

LAS VEGAS--Saratoga and Del Mar are done. The Breeders’ Cup is still a month-and-a-half away. And we are in the midst of a three-week spell without any Grade 1 races in North America.

This is ’tweener time in horse racing. Like everyone desperately trying to hang onto summer after Labor Day, we eventually discover that looking back is futile, especially since racetracks stubbornly refuse to take bets on yesterday’s races.


Since looking forward is the more constructive alternative, consider this weekend to be the ultimate exercise in the search for a pot at the end of the futures rainbow. That is because the $150,000 Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs is the first points prep for next year’s Kentucky Derby. The scheduled post time is Saturday at 5:20 p.m. EDT.


Not that we will necessarily see a star born this weekend. Lookin At Lee’s runner-up finish last year led to a second-place finish to Always Dreaming in the 2016 Derby. That is as good as any horse has done coming out of the Iroquois. Regardless, this race provides a baseline for the 7½ months of handicapping the next Run for the Roses.


“Every horse in our barn is a Derby horse until they prove to us otherwise,” said Dale Romans, trainer of Iroquois morning-line favorite Hollywood Star (5-2). “I thought he ran a great race against Copper Bullet in the Saratoga Special (last month). Copper Bullet is a really nice horse, and we were just second-best. The Iroquois is a good spot for him to try and get started on the road to the Derby.”


A closer sired by Malibu Moon, Hollywood Star broke his maiden nearly three months ago at Churchill Downs before he went to Saratoga. This time he will be asked to stretch out from 6½ furlongs to 1 1/16 miles with Robby Albarado retaining the ride.


Pace stalkers are forecast to be the next three choices. Ten City (3-1) will start from the rail and might have been the top morning-line choice Saturday were it not for a 4¾-length loss as the favorite last month in the seven-furlong Ellis Park Juvenile.


“We broke so poorly that day,” Ten City’s trainer Kenny McPeek said. “He actually lost a shoe. I was very proud of him that he could run that well after losing a shoe. He should like the two-turn distance. He has some route pedigree on his bottom side.”


With a 2-for-2 record, Flameaway (4-1) breaks from post 7 in the field of 10 and will be in his first race on fast dirt. Also 2-for-2, Tabulator (6-1) drew 9 and will be racing for the first time on Lasix. One of the three speed horses in the race – Tres Equis (8-1) – graduates from a 6¾-length maiden win over a mile six weeks ago at Indiana Grand.


But never mind the Kentucky Derby. More immediately relevant for the Iroquois field is the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, which arrives in seven weeks. Saturday’s winner might distract bettors from the well-bred Bolt d’Oro – the would-be favorite this fall at Del Mar. Sired by Medaglia d’Oro out of an A.P. Indy mare, he overcame an early bottleneck and then a wide turn into the stretch to win this month’s seven-furlong, $300,000 Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity.


“This horse has so much talent,” said owner-trainer Mick Ruis, who is back in racing after an eight-year break. “I had this horse maybe 70 percent cranked. I’ll have him a little bit tighter for the FrontRunner. Then we’ll see about the (Breeders’ Cup).”


The FrontRunner Stakes is late this month at Santa Anita. Not only will it provide a final impression before November at Del Mar, but it is also the second points prep for the Derby. As a matter of fact, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is also a Derby prep.


Indeed, it is a long road that starts Saturday.


Deauville tries to rebound at Woodbine

A beaten favorite in his last two races, the Coolmore 4-year-old import Deauville (5-2) is still forecast to be the most-bet horse in the $800,000 Grade 1 Woodbine Mile at 3:34 p.m. EDT Saturday.


Trained by Aidan O’Brien and ridden by Jamie Spencer, Deauville finished third at 9-5 odds last month in the Arlington Million. Sired by Galileo – as is seemingly every standout in the Coolmore stable – Deauville could be pointed to the Breeders’ Cup Mile, for which the Woodbine Mile winner automatically qualifies.


In a one-turn, turf race lacking for early speed, Deauville’s 3-year-old stable mate Lancaster Bomber (9-2) has spent his 11 races either on the lead or stalking it. The runner-up in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf has won just once in his short career, but he did finish a close second to Barney Roy in the St. James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.


With only two pure closers in the 12-horse field, Fourstardave winner World Approval (7-2) could be in a crowd of front-runners early in the race. Second on the morning line, the 6-year-old gelding sired by Street Sense was drawn into post 1. His trainer Mark Casse is practically the mayor of Woodbine, where he is on his way to his 11th consecutive title.


Notebook: Tapwrit’s year may be done

  • A foot injury has sidelined Belmont Stakes winner Tapwrit with the possibility that he will not race again this year. After finishing a weakening fourth in the Travers Stakes three weeks ago, the 3-year-old colt trained by Todd Pletcher was sent to an equine hospital in Kentucky for a full examination of his right-front foot. Before the injury Tapwrit was 25-1 at Wynn Las Vegas to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He has since been taken off the board.
  • The Delta Downs Jackpot – one of the points preps for the Kentucky Derby – was a casualty of Hurricane Harvey. Originally scheduled for Nov. 18, the $1 million Grade 3 race for 2-year-olds was one of eight stakes races at the Louisiana track that were canceled Tuesday because of the economic impact of the storm. The Delta Downs Princess – a points race for the Kentucky Oaks – was also called off. Delta Downs starts its scaled-down, 84-day meet on Oct. 18.
  • With 19 consecutive wins, Australian star Winx (9-100) goes through the motions of another mismatch at 1:15 a.m. EDT Saturday when she faces two other mares and five geldings in the $400,000 Group 1 Colgate Optic White Stakes (formerly known as the George Main). Eventually, the 6-year-old will face “fair dinkum” competition in next month’s Cox Plate, which she has won the last two years.
  • Despite the fact she is the hotter horse, Winx is still second to Arrogate in the new Longines world thoroughbred rankings posted Thursday. That is because the list measures the best performance of each horse over the past six months. Arrogate’s Dubai World Cup victory is still in that window.
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