The Road to the Kentucky Derby officially begins Saturday at Churchill Downs as 10 promising 2-year-olds, led by Saratoga Special (Grade II) runner-up Hollywood Star and Bashford Manor (GIII) winner Ten City, were entered in Saturday’s 36th running of the $150,000 Iroquois Stakes (GIII) at 1 1/16 miles.
The Iroquois, one of four stakes events on the first Saturday of the 11-day September Meet at Churchill Downs, is the first scoring race on the 2017-18 “Road to the Kentucky Derby” – the series of 35 races that will ultimately determine the field for the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) on Saturday, May 5, 2018. Points awarded to the Top 4 Iroquois finishers will be 10-4-2-1 as part of the 19-race “Prep Season” that showcases foundation-building races in advance of the “Kentucky Derby Championship Series,” which begins in late February.
The Iroquois also is part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win & You’re In Juvenile Division” and its winner will earn an automatic berth into the $2 million Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI). Breeders’ Cup will pay $60,000 in entry fees and provide travel allowances for the connections to compete in the Nov. 4 Juvenile at Del Mar.
Albaugh Family Stable’s Hollywood Star (2-1-1-0—$68,020) is the horse to beat in the Iroquois after finishing second to Copper Bullet in the $200,000 Saratoga Special over 6 ½ furlongs five weeks ago.
Purchased for $550,000 as a yearling, Hollywood Star broke his maiden at first-asking at Churchill Downs in June. For his next start in the Saratoga Special, the Malibu Moon colt broke a step slow and chased from near the back of the nine-horse field before he commenced his rally on the final turn. The Kentucky-bred was second best and came up four lengths short of impressive victor Copper Bullet but was two lengths ahead of third-place finisher Tempestad.
The Iroquois was to be the next start for Copper Bullet, but he’s been sidelined with a minor shin injury, according to his connections.
“I thought Hollywood Star ran a great race against Copper Bullet in the Saratoga Special,” said trainer Dale Romans, a two-time Iroquois winner with Cleburne (2013) and Not This Time (2016). “Copper Bullet is a really nice horse for (trainer) Steve (Asmussen) and we were just second best. The Iroquois is a great spot for him to try and get started on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. Every horse in our barn is a Derby horse until they prove us otherwise and the Albaugh Family has some very nice 2-year-olds with us right now.”
The Albaugh arsenal is headed by their top-three: Ellis Park Juvenile winner Dak Attack, Hopeful (GI) runner-up Free Drop Billy and Hollywood Star. Dak Attack appears headed to the 1 1/16-mile Breeders’ Futurity (GI) at Keeneland on Oct. 7, and Free Drop Billy may target the one-mile Champagne (GI) at Belmont Park on the same day.
Two horses that finished behind Hollywood Star in the Saratoga Special – fourth-place finisher Bal Harbour and eighth-place finisher Barry Lee – returned to win stakes in their next start: the $82,000 Sapling and $75,000 Arlington-Washington Futurity, respectively. Also, Bourbon Resolution, who finished a half-length behind Hollywood Star in his June 28 debut, broke his maiden at Saratoga against a well-meant cast of juveniles on Sept. 2.
“When we first saw (Hollywood Star) at Keeneland (during the 2016 September Yearling Sale) he stood out to both Dale and me,” Dennis Albaugh said. “He’s a great looking son of Malibu Moon.
“You know, every time I come to Churchill there’s always one goal in mind and that’s to win the Kentucky Derby. We have three very nice 2-year-olds right now and hopefully we’ll give ourselves a good shot to be in the gate. Saturday will be a good test for Hollywood Star in the Iroquois to get him on his way.”
Hollywood Star, who will break from post No. 2 under veteran Robby Albarado, is one of nine horses entered by Romans in six races on Saturday as the 50-year-old South Louisville native attempts to become only the second trainer in history to win 700 races at Churchill Downs and surpass Hall of Famer Bill Mott as the track’s all-time leading trainer in races won. Mott, who has held the record for 31 years, begins the September Meet with a 701-to-699 lead over Romans, who also has three scheduled starters for Friday’s opener. Mott has none entered Friday and two on Saturday.
Hollywood Star’s chief Iroquois rival could be Tommie M. Lewis and Magdalena Racing’s Ten City (3-2-0-1—$105,050), who dazzled onlookers in his first two starts, including a 1 ½-length victory over Copper Bullet in the six-furlong Bashford Manor at Churchill Downs on closing night of the Spring Meet. However, the Kenny McPeek-trained son of Run Away and Hide faltered as the 3-5 favorite in the $75,000 Ellis Park Juvenile over seven furlongs while finishing third, 4 ¾ lengths back of Dak Attack.
McPeek won the 2001 Iroquois with eventual $3.6 million-earner Harlan’s Holiday.
Also entered is John C. Oxley’s unbeaten Scat Daddy colt Flameaway (2-2-0-0—$92,574), who won the $100,000 Skidmore for trainer Mark Casse at Saratoga when the race was taken off the turf and run over 5 ½ furlongs in the mud. Casse also entered Gary Barber and Cheyenne Stables LLC’s Mo Diddley (2-1-0-0—$22,960), a son of Uncle Mo who won his May 18 debut at Churchill Downs and returned to finish seventh in the Saratoga Special, 7 ¾ lengths behind Hollywood Star.
Casse had previous success in the Iroquois with Uncaptured in 2012, the last year it was staged during the Fall Meet before it was moved to mid-September.
Stakes winner The Tabulator (2-2-0-0—$55,200), owned by Carolyn Wilson, invades Kentucky from trainer Larry Rivelli’s Chicago base after winning the $65,000 Prairie Gold Juvenile at Iowa’s Prairie Meadows on July 28. The Dialed In colt beat Mr. Jagermeister that day by 2 ¼ lengths, and the runner-up returned with a vengeance while winning the $85,000 Northern Lights Futurity at Canterbury Park by 15 ½ lengths.
The complete Iroquois field from the rail out (with jockey and assigned weight): Ten City (Jack Gilligan, 122 pounds); Hollywood Star (Albarado, 118); Pont Du Gard (Florent Geroux, 118); Tres Equis (Kendrick Carmouche, 118); Ebben (James Graham, 118); Smart Remark (Manny Cruz, 118); Flameaway (Julien Leparoux, 120); Big Gemmy (Brian Hernandez Jr., 118); The Tabulator (Jose Valdivia Jr., 120); and Mo Diddley (Corey Lanerie, 118).
The Iroquois is carded as Race 10 at 5:20 p.m. (all times Eastern) on an 11-race card that begins at 12:45 p.m.
The Iroquois shares Saturday’s spotlight with the 49th running of the $200,000 Pocahontas (GII) for 2-year-old fillies, a 1 1/16 mile event that kicks off the “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” and is part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In Juvenile Fillies Division.”
Other stakes races on Saturday’s program are the 34th running of the $100,000 Locust Grove (GIII) for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles and the ninth running of the $100,000 Open Mind (Listed) for fillies and mares at six furlongs.
The four stakes, which are the last four races on the card, comprise an all-stakes late Pick 4 and are part of the late Pick 5 and Single 6 Jackpot sequence.
Central Avenue will be bustling with activity Saturday. In addition to racing at Churchill Downs, ESPN’s College GameDay will be in town in advance of that night’s nationally-televised ACC showdown on ABC between the 14th-ranked University of Louisville football team and third-ranked Clemson at nearby Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Kickoff is 8 p.m., which means visitors can enjoy the best of both worlds as Churchill Downs’ final race is set for 5:50 p.m.
Two years ago, approximately 1,000 Clemson fans pre-gamed at Churchill Downs, and their alumni has booked an event for Saturday. Also, WCCP 105.5 FM, the flagship station of Clemson athletics, will broadcast a pre-game show from Churchill Downs’ Plaza that day, and are encouraging fans to attend.
Churchill Downs plans to run “hype” videos provided by both UofL and Clemson on its massive outdoor “Big Board” throughout the day, and the track’s iconic Twin Spires will be cast in a red glow through Saturday night in support of its neighboring University of Louisville.
The fifth annual September Meet Presented by Commonwealth Technology begins Friday at Churchill Downs with a 10-race program at 12:45 p.m. and continues on a Thursday-Sunday schedule through Oct. 1. This year’s three-week, boutique race meeting will feature record purse levels as horsemen compete for $4.81 million in prize money, which averages to $437,000 per day.
Admission gates on Friday and Saturday open at 11:30 a.m. with the first race scheduled for 12:45 p.m. Parking gates will open at 10:30 a.m. and parking is free in the Longfield Avenue lot (Gates 10 & 12). Valet parking is $10. Initial work on a construction project will temporarily alter traffic and parking for a segment of guests who plan to attend. Guests are advised to visit www.ChurchillDowns.com/Parking in advance of attending to view recommended alternative routes and a complete list of guest-appropriate temporary parking lots.
General admission is $3 ($1 for seniors age 60 and up) and $10 for Downs After Dark on Saturday, Sept. 23. Reserved box seats are $10 ($25 for Downs After Dark) and indoor dining options are $38 ($70 for Downs After Dark). Children 12 and under are admitted free when accompanied by an adult (Downs After Dark policy: no one under the age of 18 will be admitted to the track unless they are accompanied by a parent or responsible adult). Free seating is available over a first-come, first-serve basis in Sections 115-117. Tickets can be purchased online at www.ChurchillDowns.com/Tickets or by calling (502) 636-4400.
Opening weekend weather in Louisville will be ideal, according to the National Weather Service, with a forecast of most sunny skies and temperatures in the 80s.