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Mike previews the 2022 Iroquois Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs, then gives his top picks and longshots in the first prep race for the 2023 Kentucky Derby (G1). The undefeated Saratoga Special Stakes (G2) champion Damon’s Mound takes on Echo Again, an impressive debut winner at Saratoga for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
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The Road to the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve will begin Saturday at Churchill Downs where eight 2-year-olds, including impressive maiden winner Echo Again, were entered to face undefeated Grade II winner Damon’s Mound in the 41st running of the $300,000 Iroquois (Grade III).
The Road to the Kentucky Derby, a series of select races that award a sliding scale of points to the top finishing positions, has determined preference for its 20-horse Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (Grade I) field since 2013. The 1 ¼-mile classic for 3-year-old Thoroughbreds will be run at the historic Louisville, Ky. racetrack for the 149th consecutive year on Saturday, May 6, 2023.
The 1 1/16-mile Iroquois was carded as Race 9 of 11 with a post time of 4:55 p.m. The race shares the Saturday spotlight with the $300,000 Pocahontas (GIII), $400,000 Locust Grove (GIII), $300,000 Open Mind (Listed) and $275,000 Louisville Thoroughbred Society. The five stakes will be run as the last five races on the card and comprise an all-stakes 50-cent Pick 5.
Cliff and Michele Love’s homebred Damon’s Mound, the headliner in the Iroquois, is trainer Michelle Lovell’s first starter in a Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying race. The Florida-bred son of Girvin dominated in his debut at Churchill Downs on July 2 where he demolished a field of 10 rivals by 12 ½ lengths. In his second start, Lovell shipped the homebred to Saratoga where he defeated a compact field of four in the Saratoga Special (GII) by 3 ¼ lengths.
“He’s done everything right since we got him into our barn this spring,” Lovell said. “He has the mind of an older horse and that’s what makes him so special. The Loves have been in this game for a very long time and it’s very rewarding they are able to have a horse like him, especially being a homebred. The two-turns in the Iroquois is obviously a test but he’s passed his others we’ve given him with flying colors. I think this is the next progression to take.”
Damon’s Mound has done the majority of his training this summer at Colonial Downs but shipped back to his home base of Churchill Downs on Tuesday to continue preparing for the Iroquois. Jockey Gabriel Saez will have the return mount from post No. 3.
The top rival to Damon’s Mound in the Iroquois is Winchell Thoroughbreds highly-touted Saratoga maiden special weight winner Echo Again. The son of former Horse of the Year Gun Runner cruised to a 6 ¾-length debut score on Aug. 20 under jockey Ricardo Santana Jr., who was filling in for regular pilot Joel Rosario.
“We’re extremely excited about who this horse is,” Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen said. “It’s a family affair. He came from mom and dad’s farm in Laredo, Texas. He was my son Erik’s favorite horse all winter and Keith’s favorite all summer. He gets on him regularly. It was a very meaningful victory.”
Rosario will be back aboard Echo Again and break from post 9.
Another 2-year-old with potential star power that was entered in the Iroquois is West Point Thoroughbreds and Albaugh Family Stables’ Jace’s Road. The son of Quality Road was a first-out winner on Aug. 6 at Ellis Park under jockey Joe Talamo. Trained by Brad Cox, Jace’s Road was a $510,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase in 2021. Horses campaigned by Dennis Albaugh’s Albaugh Family Stables have won three runnings of the Iroquois: Not This Time (2016), Dennis’ Moment (2019) and Sittin On Go (2020). Jace’s Road will be ridden by Florent Geroux from post 6.
Here’s the complete filed for the Iroquois from the rail out (with jockey and trainer): Hayes Strike (Brian Hernandez Jr., Kenny McPeek); Zaici (David Cohen, Ricky Courville); Damon’s Mound (Saez, Lovell); Jin Tong (Rafael Bejarano, Doug O’Neill); Curly Jack (Edgar Morales, Tom Amoss); Jace’s Road (Geroux, Cox); Honed (Julien Leparoux, Kenny McPeek); Confidence Game (James Graham, Keith Desormeaux); and Echo Again (Rosario, Asmussen).
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