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The Road to the Kentucky Derby officially begins Saturday at Churchill Downs with the 36th running of the Grade 3, $150,000 Iroquois Stakes. Ten hopeful 2-year-olds, led by Grade 2 Saratoga Special runner-up Hollywood Star and Grade 3 Bashford Manor winner Ten City, are entered.
The Iroquois is the first points 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 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.
Trainer Dale Romans has a trio of young stars this year and looks to get Hollywood Star into the winners circle in this spot. As always, Romans was very high on his colts’ chances.
“I thought Hollywood Star ran a great race against Copper Bullet in the Saratoga Special,” said 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.”
His owner, Dennis Albaugh, also had nothing but good things to say about his colt. For many of the Albaugh Stable runners, it all starts at the Keeneland Sales.
“When we first saw (Hollywood Star) at Keeneland (during the 2016 September Yearling Sale), he stood out to both Dale and me,” 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.”
The Iroquois is carded as Race 10 at 5:20 p.m. EST on an 11-race card that begins at 12:45 p.m.
#2 Hollywood Star – There’s no doubt that Dale Romans is loaded with juvenile runners this year; he has three that he could’ve entered in this race that would be competitive. He went with Hollywood Star, coming off of a second-place effort to Copper Bullet in the Saratoga Special last time out. That was a good race for him, and he should get better with the added distance here. His pedigree suggests two-turn races will be something at which he excels, and Romans usually trains horses that like going long. This is an exciting prospect heading forward, although I’m not sure that this is Dale’s best. He may actually be his third-best, as Dak Attack and Free Drop Billy also look very good.
#7 Flameaway – Coming into the race off of a nice win in the $100,000 Skidmore at Saratoga last time out, he’s an interesting horse because that last race was meant for the turf, but the rain forced it to the dirt. His only other start came over a synthetic surface, so it’s not a lock that his connections believe dirt is his best surface. However, he’s worth a shot here, and the 1 1/16-mile distance will be something that he can handle. There are enough positives to make him part of your tickets.
#1 Ten City – Last time he raced at Churchill Downs, he was victorious over Copper Bullet, who came back to win the Saratoga Special. However, in his last start, he ran at Ellis Park in a small stakes race and was third while being beaten by over 4 lengths. It’s hard to determine how good this horse might be. Does he just love Churchill Downs? Also, will he be as good when stretching out to two turns? These questions have me a little worried about him, especially knowing that he will most likely be the first or second choice in the race.
#4 Tres Equis – He had a poor debut effort on the turf, but he got to the dirt last time out and destroyed a field at Indiana Grand. Obviously, this race will be much tougher than a maiden special weight at Indiana Grand, but he won that race like a horse with a big future. He’s also a horse that should love stretching out in distance, as he showed last time out going a mile. Trainer Mike Maker seems to be high on this one and is no stranger to success at Churchill Downs. He’s a very intriguing prospect heading into this race and one that you must use on your tickets.
#10 Mo Diddley – He won over this track on debut but struggled last time out at Saratoga in the Special. That last race was a bit concerning because he was really distanced from the field late in the race. However, trainer Mark Casse knows how to get them back in form, and the win over the track at Churchill Downs could help him here. He must learn to relax early in the contest, as he burned himself out quickly at Saratoga.
#8 Big Gemmy – After struggling in his Saratoga debut over 5 1/2 furlongs, he stretched out to 7 furlongs in his next race and got a victory. This race will be much tougher, without question, but the stretch-out to two turns will really help him and t he outside post position should allow him to stalk the early pacesetters. If all things go right, he could finish underneath in the trifecta, which would create a nice payout.
#9 The Tabulator – This guy has a shot to come in under the radar. He debuted on the synthetic surface and won by nearly 10 lengths, and then came back with a 2 1/4-length win at Prairie Meadows in a small stakes race. The horse has won from both on the lead and just off the pace, so he has some versatility. With his outside post position, look for him to stalk the pace, which could lead to a perfect trip. Hopefully, his price stays high, as several other horses in this race should take money.
#3 Pont Du Gard – He won impressively on the turf in his last race at Arlington Park. However, now he changes to the dirt for the first time in a race that should be very tough. Also, his speed figures will have to improve, as his turf effort doesn’t match up with the best horses in this race.
#5 Ebben – He has a little bit of class, as he’s been beaten by some very nice horses in the races that he’s lost. Unfortunately for him, a couple of those same horses are in this race. He’s a nice horse, but he might be a cut below the top group in this crop so far.
#6 Smart Remark – He won a maiden special weight on the turf in his last effort but switches to the dirt here. His pedigree is iffy as far as running on the dirt, and this is a tough race to try it for the first time. Take a wait-and-see approach with this one.
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