The Road to the Derby Begins at Churchill

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

It’s hard to believe, but on September 12th, the Road to the 2016 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) will begin with the running of the $150,000 Iroquois Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs. The Iroquois is the first official prep race for the Derby, offering a total of 17 qualification points to the top four finishers, and it has produced at least one Derby starter in each of the last three years. In other words, keep an eye on the Iroquois and you might just see a future Derby runner in action, so without further ado, let’s start handicapping the race!

Iroquois Stakes (gr. III)

# Horse Jockey Trainer Last race
1 Conquest Windycity Shaun Bridgmohan Mark Casse 2nd Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
2 Meetseetse Fly Joe Johnson Kenny McPeek 1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
3 Expected Ruler Wilmer Garcia Liam Benson 1st Tyro Stakes (VIDEO)
4 Condominium Jon Court D. Wayne Lukas 2nd Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
5 Unbridled Outlaw Corey Lanerie Dale Romans 1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
6 Cocked and Loaded Emmanuel Esquivel Larry Rivelli 5th Arlington-Washington Futurity (gr. III) (VIDEO)
7 Star Hill Jose Ortiz Rusty Arnold 3rd Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
8 Dothat Dance Marcelino Pedroza Jimmy Corrigan 4th Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
9 Missle Bomb Victor Lebron Darrin Miller 3rd Arlington-Washington Futurity (gr. III) (VIDEO)
10 Rated R Superstar Calvin Borel Kenny McPeek 1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
11 Twirling Cinnamon Briand Hernandez Brad Cox 8th Sanford Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
12 Baychimo Paco Lopez Kelly Breen 1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)

A large field of twelve two-year-old colts and geldings will contest this 8.5-furlong race, and since most of them have never traversed two turns before, handicapping the race could prove tricky.

At first glance, one horse really jumps out at me, and that is the Mark Casse-trained maiden Conquest Windycity. His pedigree (by Tiznow out of an A.P. Indy mare) suggests that distance won’t be a problem, and indeed, Conquest Windycity ran well in his debut at Saratoga, finishing second by 1 ¼ lengths in an 8.5-furlong maiden special weight on the turf. The switch to dirt shouldn’t be an issue—given his pedigree, he might even improve—and I like the fact that he spent a month training at Churchill Downs back in June, posting five solid workouts over the track. Having drawn the rail, he should be able to save ground on the turns, and if he can find an opening in the homestretch, I think he has a strong chance to make his graded stakes debut a winning one this Saturday.

But looking at the running styles of the horses in the Iroquois, there doesn’t appear to be much early speed, which could give Condominium an advantage. After pressing the pace and tiring to finish eighth in his debut at Saratoga, Condominium took a big step forward in his second start (not unexpected for a D. Wayne Lukas-trained juvenile), setting sharp fractions of :22 2/5 and :45 4/5 before staying on well to finish a clear-cut second behind Todd Pletcher’s promising colt Ready’s Dancer. The extra 2 ½ furlongs of the Iroquois is a question mark, but being by Tiznow out of a Dixie Union mare suggests that Condominium should have a good chance to stretch out. Like Conquest Windcity, he spent the better part of the spring training at Churchill Downs, and signaled his readiness for the Iroquois by breezing a half-mile in :48 2/5 at Churchill on September 5th. The only horse that seems likely to challenge Condominium for the lead is Rated R Superstar, who set fractions of :23 and :46 when winning his debut by five lengths at Ellis Park last time out. But Ellis Park played fast this summer, and with Condominium having draw post four versus post ten for Rated R Superstar, I expect to see Condominium get out in front early on and take this field a long way on the front end.

Cocked and Loaded could draw some wagering attention after opening his career with two straight wins, including the Tremont Stakes, and if your forgive his poor showing in the Arlington-Washington Futurity (gr. III) over the Polytrack at Arlington, his form is pretty good. From a pedigree perspective, he should relish the distance of the Iroquois, and I think he has a chance to rebound on Saturday.

Star Hill offers interest as a well-bred colt that finished third in his debut sprinting six furlongs at Saratoga, rallying impressively despite encountering a bit of traffic in early stretch. He’ll be racing on Lasix for the first time this Saturday, which has been a strong move in the past for trainer Rusty Arnold, and I think Star Hill will show improvement while stretching out in distance. Also, for what it’s worth, Rusty Arnold has had remarkable success at the last two Churchill Downs September meets, winning 8 races from 16 starters. His success has been even better on dirt, where he’s won with 6 of his 11 starters. Granted, it’s a small sample size, but my point is that Rusty Arnold’s horses are usually ready to roll at this meet, which is encouraging when considering the chances of Star Hill.

Given the lightly-raced nature of all the runners in the Iroquois, you can make a case for any horse to run well or win, and I haven’t even gotten a chance to mention Kenny McPeek’s Meeteetse Fly, who broke his maiden going a mile on the turf at Ellis Park; Expected Ruler, winner of the Tyro Stakes at Monmouth in his debut; and Unbridled Outlaw, who won a six-furlong maiden race at Ellis in the time of 1:09 4/5. I could go lots of different directions in handicapping this race, but in the end, I like Conquest Windycity, Condominium, and Star Hill best, with the slightest preference for the latter as my selection to win.

Now it’s your turn! Who do you like in the Iroquois Stakes?


To help keep track of all the Breeders' Cup prep races, here is the link to's Breeders' Cup news page. Also, here is the link to the currrent standings, entries, rules, and schedule for our "Road to the Breeders' Cup Classic" Handicapping Challenge. Enjoy the racing, everyone!

J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website

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