The Road to the Kentucky Derby series kicks off Saturday with the $150,000 Iroquois (G3) at Churchill Downs, the first of 35 races that determine preference for a 20-horse field in the first leg of the American Triple Crown. The 1 1/16-mile Iroquois offers a total of 17 points (10-4-2-1 scale) to the top four finishers and Steve Asmussen holds a strong hand in the 12-horse field with Saratoga Special (G2) runner-up Tight Ten and Ellis Park Juvenile winner Tobacco Road.
Tight Ten recorded an impressive debut win under the Twin Spires on June 28, taking a six-furlong maiden special weight by a widening 4 1/4-length margin, and came back six weeks later with a respectable second to Call Paul in the August 12 Saratoga Special. The Tapit colt registered a field-best 92 BRIS Speed rating last time and Ricardo Santana Jr. retains the assignment.
Tobacco Road was no match for Tight Ten when checking in fifth in his initial outing and graduated the second time out at Ellis by open lengths. The son of Quality Road came back to win the August 19 Ellis Park Juvenile, rallying from just off the pace to score by about a length, and Tobacco Road will receive a rider switch to Julien Leparoux.
Corey Lanerie was up on Tobacco Road the last two starts but will pilot Hog Creek Hustle, who closed boldly to win his first start at Ellis on August 18. Other contenders include last-out Prairie Meadows Juvenile victor Mr Wrench It; California invader Synthesis, a non-threatening third to Instagrand in the August 11 Best Pal (G2) at Del Mar; Ellis Park Juvenile third-placer Manny Wah, an Arlington maiden winner two back for Wayne Catalano; and Pole Setter, who adds blinkers and goes turf-to-dirt for Brad Cox.
The Iroquois is one of four Saturday stakes under the Twin Spires and the Road to the Kentucky Oaks series begins with the $200,000 Pocahontas (G2), which will feature a field of 12 juvenile fillies over 1 1/16 miles.
Serengeti Empress, a 13-length winner of the August 19 Ellis Park Debutante as the 7-5 favorite, will take some beating after posting a 98 BRIS Speed rating last time. Lanerie has the call on the Tom Amoss-trained daughter of Alternation.
Splashy Kisses merits respect for Doug O’Neill following a 5 3/4-length maiden win at Del Mar four weeks ago and Two Dozen Roses invades for Todd Pletcher after experiencing a rough trip and being disqualified in a Saratoga maiden. It Justhitthe Wire, who was disqualified and placed third after finishing first in Two Dozen Roses’ maiden, will also wheel back in this spot for Kiaran McLaughlin.
Mike Maker has a promising runner in Love My Honey. The Shackleford filly exits a smart debut maiden special weight triumph at Saratoga as the 7-5 favorite. Tapping Pearl, a nice debut winner at Churchill Downs, is eligible to show more for Mark Casse after an unplaced effort in the Schuylerville (G3) at Saratoga and Taylor’s Spirit ships in from Louisiana with a three-for-three ledger, easily winning the grassy Happy Ticket at Louisiana Downs most recently.
The $100,000 Locust Grove (G3) features a Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) prospect in Blue Prize, who will make her first start since winning the June 16 Fleur des Lis (G2) over the track. The five-year-old mare also captured the Fall’s City (G2) at Churchill Downs last November for Ignacio Correas and Leparoux will pick up the mount.
The stakes action begins with the $100,000 Open Mind and multiple graded winner Vertical Oak is the one to beat following a runner-up effort to Finley’sluckycharm in the July 25 Honorable Miss (G2) at Saratoga.