By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
How time flies! It's hard to
believe, but the 2022-23 Road to the Kentucky Derby is about to begin.
The first official stop on
the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail is Saturday's $300,000 Iroquois S. (G3) on
opening day of the Churchill Downs September meet. Inaugurated 1982, the
Iroquois has yet to produce a Kentucky Derby winner, but the 1 1/16-mile prize
has churned out nine Derby starters since 2010, including 2017 Derby runner-up
Lookin At Lee.
It won't be a shock if the
2022 Iroquois produces a Derby starter or two. The nine-horse field is packed
with promising names, including the undefeated #3 Damon's Mound.
If accomplishments were the
only criterion for determining betting favoritism, Damon's Mound would be an
odds-on choice to win the Iroquois. After all, his form lines are impressive.
Did you see Damon's Mound's debut at Churchill Downs, when he smashed a
six-furlong maiden special weight by 12 1/2 lengths? Or his 3 1/4-length romp
in the Saratoga Special S. (G2) traveling 6 1/2 furlongs at Saratoga?
You might be thinking, "Damon's
Mound probably beat easy competition," but that isn't the case. He defeated 10
rivals in his maiden score, a performance flattered when third-place finisher #8 Confidence Game came back to trounce
an identical maiden sprint at Churchill by five lengths. And in the Saratoga
Special, Damon's Mound got the better of Gulfport and Super Chow. The former
entered off a 12 1/4-length victory in the Bashford Manor S. and later ran
second in the Hopeful S. (G1), while the latter came back to win an allowance
optional claimer at Pimlico.
Damon's Mound is a serious
contender to win the Iroquois, but you know what? It's possible he won't start
as the favorite, because #9 Echo Again might
be even more talented.
Certainly Beyer and Brisnet
speed figures suggest Echo Again is the horse to beat in the Iroquois. When
Echo Again debuted in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight at Saratoga last
month, he led all the way to trounce his pursuers by 6 3/4 lengths in the
excellent time of 1:15.89. That final clocking produced a 99 Brisnet Speed
rating (the highest in the Iroquois field by six points) and a 94 Beyer (the
highest in the Iroquois field by eight points).
From a pedigree perspective,
Echo Again is cut out to be something special. He's a son of 2017 Horse of the
Year and red-hot young sire Gun Runner out of a mare by three-time leading
North American sire Tapit. Gun Runner's first crop of foals has produced
champion Echo Zulu, Preakness S. (G1) winner Early Voting, and Grade 1 winners
Cyberknife, Taiba, and Gunite, while Tapit's numerous top-level winners include
Belmont S. (G1) heroes Tonalist, Creator, Tapwrit, and Essential Quality.
Clearly there's an abundance
of stamina in Echo Again's pedigree, so stretching out over 1 1/16 miles for
the Iroquois should only help his chances. With hot jockey Joel Rosario in the
saddle for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, Echo Again looks ready to make
his second start a winning one.
#6 Jace's Road is
another Iroquois entrant with talent and potential. The son of four-time Grade
1 winner Quality Road made a nice impression in his debut sprinting six
furlongs at Ellis Park, casually tracking the early pace before surging clear
to win by 6 1/4 lengths. This $510,000 yearling acquisition is conditioned by
two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox, and since Cox trainees often
improve second-time out, Jace's Road is eligible to fire a big shot in his
stakes and route debut.
If you want to throw a
longshot into the mix for exotic wagers, #7
Honed might be worth a try. The Kenny McPeek trainee didn't run especially
fast in his July 10 debut racing one mile at Ellis Park, but he showed some
determination to rally and win by a head. McPeek strikes at only a 9% rate with
first-time starters, but his success rate with last-out maiden winners jumps to
19%, so Honed figures to move forward off his debut. It's worth noting the
third-place finisher from Honed's maiden victory came back to win his next
start, quietly flattering Honed's performance.
1st: Echo Again
2nd: Damon's Mound
3rd: Jace's Road
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like in the Iroquois?
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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, 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.