The road to the 150th editions of the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Kentucky Oaks (G1) officially kicks off Saturday as Churchill Downs offers the $300,000 Iroquois (G3) and $300,000 Pocahontas (G3) as the first point-scoring opportunities for the two races.
In a change from recent years, the Iroquois and Pocahontas (the latter for fillies) will be run over the one-turn mile, rather than at 1 1/16 miles. The point allotment has been modified slightly, too, with points of 10-5-3-2-1 awarded to the respective top five finishers in each race.
Many eyes will be on Risk It in the Iroquois. The son of prolific sire Gun Runner impressively won on debut at Saratoga Aug. 19, leading throughout to win by 4 1/2 lengths. Like his sire, Risk It is trained by Steve Asmussen, who is seeking a record-tying fourth win in the Iroquois.
Other recent debut winners looking to make a splash in the Iroquois include Patriot Spirit, a six-length graduate at Colonial Downs; Union Roll, who won easily at Monmouth Park; and the Brad Cox-trained Gettysburg Address, who prevailed at Ellis Park.
Other last-out maiden winners from Ellis include Liberal Arts and West Saratoga. Seize the Gray enters off a third-place effort in the off-the-turf Skidmore S. at Saratoga, while Market Street and Edified were non-threatening in previous stakes attempts.
The Pocahontas field is led by V V’s Dream, who impressively won her debut over the Churchill strip in May and then finished a half-length second in the July 2 Debutante S. at Ellis to Brightwork, subsequent winner of the Adirondack (G3) and Spinaway (G1).
Also lining up for the Pocahontas are the top three finishers from the Aug. 13 Ellis Park Debutante. Hot Beach won that heat by two lengths from Riperton, with odds-on favorite Youalmosthadme third after an early stumble. The latter had dominated in a pair of baby races earlier in the spring, including an 8 3/4-length procession in the Kentucky Juvenile.
The field is rounded out by recent graduates Courbe, Regal Rumor, Raining Sugar, Empire Island, and Peignoir.