Donegal Racing’s unbeaten Cleburne, a 34-1 longshot making just the second start of his young career, rallied from eighth to grab the lead near the finish and then held off a furious late surge by stablemate Smart Cover to win the 32nd running of the $173,250 Iroquois (Grade III) for 2-year-olds by a head on Saturday night at Churchill Downs.
The result of a three-horse photo finish provide a 1-2 finish for Iowa-based Donegal Racing and trainer Dale Romans, a Louisville, Ky. native who won the Iroquois for the first time. With the victory, Cleburne became the first horse to collect points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby, the points system that will determine the eligibility of horses to compete in the 2014 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands on Saturday, May 3 at Churchill Downs. The victory in the Road to the Kentucky Derby opener provided Cleburne with 10 points, while runner-up Smart Cover collected 4. Third-place Tapiture, who finished a neck back of the top pair in third, earned two points.
The Iroquois also was a stop on the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series and Cleburne’s victory earned the son of Dixie Union a spot in the starting gate for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) at Santa Anita on Saturday, Nov. 2. Cleburne also earned a travel stipend for the trip to Southern California for the Breeders’ Cup Championships.
Cleburne, whose only previous race was a victory on grass at Kentucky’s Ellis Park, covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.65 over a fast track under jockey Corey Lanerie and paid $70.20, $22.80 and $12.00. Stablemate Smart Cover, a 26-1 risk ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan, paid $18 and $9.60. Tapiture, the second-betting choice under jockey Ricardo Santana Jr., paid $3.40 to show.
“They both ran super races,” Romans said. “They’re both nice horses, they want to run long and I couldn’t be happier with them.”
Ride On Curlin, the favorite in the field of 10, led by a half-length in mid-stretch, but finished fourth under Calvin Borel.
“He’s just a baby and this was his first time going two turns,” Borel said. “Believe me, he’s a racehorse and if we do right by the horse he’ll show up. He’ll be just fine.”
The top two finishers lagged well behind a solid pace set by Laddie Boy and Rise Up, with the former leading through fractions of :23.34 for the quarter-mile, :46.61 for a half-mile and six furlongs in 1:11.63. Tapiture, who stalked the leaders along the inside, and Ride On Curlin, who was four-wide on the run down the backstretch, moved on the leaders on the far turn. Ride On Curlin moved to the lead in upper stretch, while Tapiture was forced to squeeze through a narrow opening along the rail and brushed with Laddie Boy inside the final furlong. Cleburne, who had saved ground along the inside, swung out of the drive under Lanerie, caught Tapiture near the finish and just held off the surging Smart Cover, who finished fast in the middle of the track and just missed catching his stablemate.
Pacesetter Laddie Boy finished fifth and was followed by Rise Up, Stonecrusher, Solemnly Swear, Jimmy Connors and Honorable Judge.
The Iroquois victory by Lanerie was one of two stakes victories on the night at the historic track. He also won the $100,000-added Locust Grove aboard Flashy American.
DALE ROMANS, trainer of CLEBURNE(winner) and SMART COVER (runner-up): “They both ran super races. They’re both nice horses, they want to run long and I couldn’t be happier with them.”
Q: This is been a tough year by your recent standards. Does that make this finish any sweeter? “It always feels good to win a big race, especially with young horses. You can start thinking about next year. It’s been a tough year. But we’ve had a lot of reasons for that, we’ve worked them all out and we’re going good again.”
Q: Did you think both of these horses would run well tonight? “I did think they would run well. I thought they were both underbet. They’re both nice horses, they both want to make the distance and they both ran super races.”
Q: So you’ve earned a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with the winner – will you be heading in that direction? “We’ll at least go with the winner, and we might go with both.”
Q: And then start thinking about May? “We’re thinking about May right now.”
COREY LANERIE, rider on CLEBURNE (winner): “He’s a nice horse. He broke out of there a lot more aggressive than he did in his first race. I didn’t ride him that day, but I was able to watch it. I was hoping he would do that, but I wasn’t going to take him out of his game. He broke sharp and put me in a really good start. I tried to keep him close to the rail because the dirt wasn’t hitting him and I think he would have come on through if I’d had the opportunity, but I was following Tapiture and when he took that spot, I went around and it was just a race to the wire.
“He’s got a big future. Dale (Romans) takes his time with his babies and they’re not really geared up for their first couple of races. But this horse is two-for-two and he’s got a lot of promise.”
SHAUN BRIDGMOHAN, rider of SMART COVER (runner-up): “He ran hard. There was a lot of speed and he settled back there. The more I rode him, the more he gave to me. He just ran out of ground.”
Q: Is that the kind of trip you were expecting? “He was a little farther back than I anticipated, but I just let him be comfortable. He kicked-in really good the last part.”
RICARDO SANTANA JR., rider on TAPITURE (third): “He ran good but that was a tough spot down on the inside. This was only the second time he’s run.”
CALVIN BOREL, rider of RIDE ON CURLIN (fourth as the 2.20-1 favorite): “No excuse. He ran good. He’s just a baby and this was his first time going two turns. We asked a lot of him today. He took me out there good and to the quarter pole, but then he had enough. Believe me, he’s a racehorse and if we do right by the horse he’ll show up. He’ll be just fine.”
Churchill Downs, the world’s most legendary racetrack, has conducted Thoroughbred racing and presented America’s greatest race, the Kentucky Derby, continuously since 1875. Located in Louisville, the flagship racetrack of Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ: CHDN) also operates Trackside at Churchill Downs, which offers year-round simulcast wagering at the historic track. Churchill Downs will conduct the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands on May 3, 2014, and has two more racing meets in 2013: the first September Meet scheduled for Sept. 6-29 and its Fall Meet, which runs from Oct. 27-Nov. 30. The track has hosted the Breeders’ Cup World Championships a record eight times. Information about Churchill Downs can be found on the Internet at www.ChurchillDowns.com.