Churchill Downs will kick off its September meet on Friday, but racing fans will have to wait one more day for the stakes action to heat up.
And boy, will it heat up!
The home of the Kentucky Derby has carded four stakes on Saturday, and the two main events will both feature juveniles.
The $200,000 Pocahontas S. (G2) and $150,000 Iroquois S. (G3) each drew nice, competitive fields, and it’s no wonder. The races are not only part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win & You’re In” Challenge series, they also kick off the Road to the Kentucky Derby/Oaks as the first races of the year to award points for starting berths in those two events next spring.
The Pocahontas, restricted to two-year-old fillies, has attracted a field of eight and will award points on a 10-4-2-1 basis to the respective top four finishers toward a spot in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) starting gate. It also guarantees a spot in the Keeneland stalls for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) on October 31.
Just Wicked is looking to claim both the points and guaranteed berth for herself following a pair of nice wins at Saratoga. The Steven Asmussen pupil just missed by a half-length when making her career debut over Belmont Park’s turf, but hasn’t lost since in two main track tries, including the Adirondack S. (G2) last out on August 15.
Like all but one in the Pocahontas field, Just Wicked will be trying something other than a sprint distance for the first time in the 1 1/16-mile contest. Jose Ortiz has been aboard for her three previous efforts and retains the mount aboard the 122-pound highweight.
Dothraki Queen is the only filly in the field to have competed beyond 6 1/2 furlongs, and that came while making her career debut going a mile on the turf at Ellis Park in mid-July. The Kenny McPeek trainee hasn’t raced since that seven-length romp and will attempt to transfer that grass form to the dirt in this spot. She’ll be getting first-time Lasix and a jockey switch to Corey Lanerie.
Bold Quality will also be getting first-time Lasix off a 4 1/2-length maiden debut victory at Parx Racing on August 10. Both Princess Kennedy and Decked Out were on the track in mid-August as well, with the former posting an effortless 8 3/4-length stakes win at Emerald Downs and the latter finishing fourth in the Adirondack.
One race following the Pocahontas, a field of 12 colts and geldings will line up in the Iroquois at the same 1 1/16-mile distance. The contest is a “Win & You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and also awards points on a 10-4-2-1 basis to the top four toward a starting berth in next year’s Kentucky Derby (G1).
Conquest Windycity is the slight 7-2 morning-line favorite, boasting a runner-up effort at the Iroquois distance in his career bow last out at Saratoga, but a lot of people will be watching to see if Cocked and Loaded can get back on the winning track.
Trained by Larry Rivelli, Cocked and Loaded was an exciting prospect after taking the Tremont S. at Belmont Park in June, but has failed to hit the board in his last two. He ran sixth, beaten 3 1/2 lengths, in the Sanford S. (G3) at Saratoga and was a well-beaten fifth in the Arlington-Washington Futurity (G3) over Arlington’s synthetic Polytrack last out. A return to dirt, and jockey switch to Emmanuel Esquivel, could be just what the bay colt needs to regain the winning thread.
Another hoping to revitalize his short career is Twirling Cinnamon, who broke his maiden by a nose at Churchill Downs on June 19 but was a one-paced eighth in the Sanford last out at the Spa. The Brad Cox pupil earned a field-best 90 BRIS Speed rating for his debut and will have Brian Hernandez Jr. in the saddle for the first time Saturday.
The Iroquois truly does look wide open, with maidens, maiden winners and stakes runners all thrown in the mix.
Rated R Superstar broke his maiden second out at Ellis Park by five lengths, while Meeteetse Fly took his debut over that track’s turf while going a mile. Both colts are trained by McPeek and will be getting first-time Lasix for the Iroquois, as will the Rusty Arnold-conditioned Star Hill, who was third in his first career outing at Saratoga.
Churchill will kick off its Saturday stakes action in the $100,000 Open Mind S. sending a half-dozen distaffers six furlongs. The track will wrap up the black-type festivities one race after the Iroquois when 12 fillies and mares line up to go 1 1/16 miles in the $100,000 Locust Grove S. That latter race features multiple Grade 2 heroine and last-out Delaware H. (G1) runner-up Frivolous as well as Black-Eyed Susan S. (G2) victress Keen Pauline, who will be facing her elders for the first time.