Photo: Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
The G3 Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs officially kicked off the Road to the Kentucky
Derby. While most of the twelve entrants were all maiden winners with the
exception of one stakes winner and three non-winners, most of the general
public’s interest rested with a select few, with a special emphasis on just
Topping the list of those favored was Ride On Curlin, a bay son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin out of the Storm Cat mare
Magical Ride. The mass of avid Curlin fans and the accomplishments of Palace Malice and Stopshoppingdebbie aside, it’s not hard to see what all the hype
was about. Despite breaking slowly in his debut, he closed to get up for
second, and he then built upon that learning experience to break his maiden to
the tune of a 7 ¾ length romp his second time out. In the process, he again
overcame breaking a step slow and set an Ellis Park track record for 5 ½ furlongs.
Friend and fellow blogger Matthew Scott and I were discussing and handicapping the race
yesterday around lunch time, and as I looked over the PPs, the thing that
caught my eye was how many turf runners were entered. After noticing that, I
sarcastically asked, “What’s with all the turf runners?” Before I could even
get the question completely typed, I realized the answer to my own question and
quickly followed up my question with an equally sarcastic, “Oh yea, this is
Churchill Downs we’re talking about.” I then proceeded to scratch out all the
turf runners. Remember that for later.
The general consensus among the oddsmakers and the betting
public was that Ride On Curlin’s main competition looked to be Tapiture, Solemnly Swear, Honorable Judge, and Rise Up. As for myself, as good as Ride On
Curlin looked on paper, my top two choices ended up being Solemnly Swear and
Rise Up. However, the actual outcome was much different than expected.
True to form, Laddie
Boy and Rise Up went straight to
the front with the longest shot on the board setting the pace. Jockey Calvin
Borel had post time favorite Ride On Curlin up close to the pace in third.
Speedster Laddie Boy clicked off decent fractions of 23:34 for the quarter and
46:61 for the half with Rise Up glued to his flank and Ride On Curlin parked
3-4 wide the entire trip. Unable to sustain such a pace, Laddie Boy backed off
the gas, putting up his third quarter in a pedestrian 25:02. As the field
turned for home and entered the stretch drive, Ride On Curlin briefly struck
the lead, but the wide trip had taken its toll. Within strides, Tapiture had snatched the lead away
after finding an opening on the rail.
As all this was taking place on the front end, Cleburne, racing in the familiar green
and yellow blocked silks of Donegal Racing, was saving all the ground on the
rail about 7 ½ lengths off the pacesetter. Thanks to the fairly quick opening
half, some of the speed was falling apart, and he and jockey Corey Lanerie were
ready to pounce. Swinging off the rail, Cleburne was slowly but surely making up
ground down the center of the track just as Tapiture and jockey Ricardo
Santana, Jr. thought they had the race won. It was a perfectly timed move on
Lanerie’s part because Cleburne just did get under the wire first,
simultaneously beating Tapiture to the punch and making sure Smart Cover just missed.
The bay son of Dixie Union finished up the 1 1/16 Iroquois
distance in 1.45:65 and paid his backers a whopping $70.20/$22.80/$12.00 as the
second longest shot on the board. Smart Cover ($18.00/$9.60) and Tapiture
($3.40) completed the trifecta followed by Ride On Curlin, Laddie Boy, Rise Up,
Stonecrusher, Solemnly Swear, Jimmy Connors, and Honorable Judge. Thanks
to the Iroquois being added to the Kentucky Derby Prep Season list of races,
Cleburne (10), Smart Cover (4), Tapiture (2), and Ride On Curlin (1) all earned
points toward the Kentucky Derby points standing.
Sometime during the
course of pre-race betting, Cleburne’s odds had crept up from his 10-1 morning
line odds to his 34-1 post time odds. The reason for the discrepancy? Maybe it
was the silks he carried which have become synonymous with Dullahan’s failures.
Maybe it was his poor speed figure in his only prior start. Or maybe, and this
is where my anecdote comes in, it was the fact that he broke his maiden on
turf. The same thing held true for Smart Cover, who also carried the Donegal
Racing colors. His ML odds were 12-1, but he went to post at odds of 26-1.
Whatever the reason, those that had them on top had to have been happy with
their pay day ($2 exacta paid $500), and you know the Donegal Racing operation was ecstatic.
As good as those two looked finishing strongly down the
center of the track, I am loath to be too excited about their futures on the
Road to the Kentucky Derby. It was just last year that Dullahan turned a 4th
place Breeders’ Cup Juvenile finish at Churchill Downs into a strong closing 3rd
place finish in last year’s Kentucky Derby. I don’t think I need to expound
upon what he has and hasn’t accomplished since then. Cleburne profited from a
fairly strong early pace and a well-timed ride and stablemate Smart Cover
finished best of all, but in the traditional dirt races not held at Churchill
Downs that lead up to the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby, I
believe these two will flounder.