By Lynne Snierson
Dennis’ Moment, who blew away the competition by an astonishing 19 1/4 lengths in a seven-furlong maiden race at Ellis Park on July 27, tops a field of 10 2-year-olds as the road to the Kentucky Derby kicks off with Saturday’s $200,000 Iroquois (G3) at Churchill Downs.
“He’s one of the most promising 2-year-olds we’ve ever had in the barn,” Romans has been saying since that eye-opening romp, which followed a scary career debut in which Dennis’ Moment clipped heels with another horse and jockey Robby Albarado was unseated.
Romans has been looking for that big Derby win at the racetrack he grew up around, in the shedrow of his late father, Jerry, for decades. He’s the all-time leading trainer at Churchill Downs with 729 wins, but he’s 0-for-10 with Derby starters. Last year, he had two Derby runners who did not fare well – Promises Fulfilled was 15th and Free Drop Bill was 16th.
The Iroquois, run at 1 1/16 miles, is the first small step on the official Derby trail, awarding qualifying points of 10-4-2-1 to the first four finishers.
“The Iroquois is a race that kicks off the path to what our ultimate goal is, winning the Kentucky Derby,” said Romans, the 2012 Eclipse Award winner as the nation’s top trainer.
Even better, the Iroquois is a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Santa Anita on Nov.1. The berth in the starting gate comes with all entry fees and travel expenses paid.
“I think the timing of the Iroquois works nicely because it gives us time after the race to train toward the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile,” Romans said of his charge surely to go off as the prohibitive favorite on opening day at Churchill Downs.
Irad Ortiz, Jr., the nation’s leading rider, jets in from New York to partner with Dennis’ Moment, who was a $400,000 yearling purchase by the Albaugh Family Stables and is a son of two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and 2000 Horse of the Year Tiznow. They will break from post 8 in a race that will be the longest any of these horses has run in their fledging careers.
The rest of the field, with jockey, is Zyramid (Ricardo Santana), Letmeno (Calvin Borel), Scabbard (Corie Lanerie), Rowdy Yates (Tyler Baze), Automate (Florent Geroux), Flute Maker (Jose Ortiz), Juggernaut (James Graham), Lebda (Trevor McCarthy) and January Won (Brian Hernandez, Jr.).
The Iroquois shares the spotlight on the card with the $200,000 Pocahontas (G2) for 2-year-old fillies.
The Pocahontas starts the road to the Kentucky Oaks (G1), offering 10-4-2-1 qualifying points to the first four finishers. Like the Iroquois, the Pocahontas is a Breeders’ Cup challenge “Win and You’re In” race, this one for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) on Nov. 1.
With so much at stake, Brad Cox will saddle two of the nine fillies in the field, British Idiom and Protrait. Both are coming in off maiden special weight victories. British Idiom, owned by Michael Dubb, The Elkstone Group, Madaket Stables and Bethlehem Stables, was 3 ½ lengths the best in a six-furlong race at Saratoga in her only start Aug. 15 and she gets first-time Lasix and the services of Irad Ortiz, Jr.
LNJ Foxwoods’ Portrait was an impressive 12-length winner when graduating at second asking in a seven-furlong test at Ellis Park on Aug. 25. Shuan Bridgmohan has the mount again.
Lazy Daisy, a Doug O’Neill-trainee for EJR Racing and Great Friends Stable, should attract attention in the wagering as she is being dispatched from California and should find the competition more to her liking as she drops down from a fourth- place finish in the Del Mar Debutante (G1) at seven furlongs in her last outing.
C & H Diamond Racing’s Morning Gold should also draw action as the daughter of Morning Line was a 5 ¼-length winner at Saratoga in her last. She, too, is receiving first time Lasix, and is the only filly to have raced the 1 1/16 miles distance of the Pocahontas. But that race and her only other start, also at 1 1/16 miles, was on the grass so she makes her dirt debut for trainer Ken McPeek. Jose Ortiz will be back in the irons.
Saturday’s Churchill card, which is the second day in the 11-day September meet, includes two other stakes, both for fillies and mares — the $200,000 Locust Grove (G3) at 1 1/16 miles on the main track and the $125,000 Open Mind at six furlongs.
Lynne Snierson, a former director of communications at Arlington Park and Rockingham Park, currently is a freelance writer and racing publicist. She covered thoroughbred racing as an award-winning sportswriter for newspapers In Boston, Miami, and St. Louis. She lives in New Hampshire. Secretariat remains her all-time favorite horse.