Yes, it is football season, and the 2024 Kentucky Derby is still more than seven months away. However, the first prep race for the 150th Run for the Roses takes place on Saturday, and it’s under the same Twin Spires that next year’s winner will race past next May. It’s also among the big races during the first weekend of Churchill Downs’ annual September meet.
Saturday’s Grade III Iroquois Stakes begins the Road to the Kentucky Derby Series, a set of 37 races that award qualifying points to the top five finishers in each race. The winner of the mile race for 2-year-olds will receive 10 points toward earning a spot in the Derby. Five points will be awarded to the horse that places, with the remaining top finishers getting three, two, and one points, respectively.
A field of nine will run in the stakes race, with several prominent trainers entering some of their Derby hopefuls. Steve Asmussen trains Risk It, the 2-1 morning-line favorite. The Gun Runner colt is coming off a four-and-a-half-length win in his debut, an Aug. 19 race at Saratoga for maidens.
Other entries of note in the Iroquois include Todd Pletcher’s Union Roll, Mike Campbell’s Patriot Spirit, and Edified, another colt trained by Asmussen. Both Union Roll and Patriot Spirit are coming off wins last month in their debuts at Monmouth Park and Colonial Downs, respectively. Edified won his maiden in July but finished fifth in the Grade II Herb Moelis Memorial Saratoga Special Stakes last month.
If you visit Churchill Downs this month, you’ll notice many changes are being made to the track. Most notably, the $200 million paddock renovation, is set to open in time for next year’s Derby. Of course, there’s also retail Kentucky sports betting now available as Churchill Downs celebrated the grand opening of its Race & Sports Book last week.
First Races At Historic Track After HISA Report
Horse racing returns to Louisville on Thursday as the annual September meet at Churchill Downs begins. The meet starts with an eight-race evening card, as the first post time is slated for 5 p.m. Races will be held through Sunday and then from Wednesdays to Sundays through Oct. 1.
It’s the first time live racing will take place at the historic track since its Spring Meet ended early three months ago due to concerns over a spate of horse deaths that occurred there over the span of a month. Churchill Downs moved the rest of the meet to Ellis Park, a track it owns in Henderson.
The June suspension came at the recommendation of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority. That group released a study earlier this week that found no common cause for the fatalities. Churchill Downs wasn’t the only track to experience a high fatality rate. Similar numbers were reported at Laurel Park in Maryland and Saratoga, with a couple of the deaths at the New York track involving horses in the lead nearing the wire.
“The events at Churchill Downs, Laurel Park and Saratoga Race Course this spring and summer were a sobering reminder of the complexity of that mission,” HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus said in a statement. “We must create a culture of safety and an ecosystem of care that takes into account all factors contributing to equine fatalities. And it is the responsibility of all racing participants to do their part. That is why HISA is making ambitious recommendations and further mandates to ensure everyone involved in the sport acts, first and foremost, in the best interest of the horse. Racing can and must do better.”
The Iroquois and Other Big Races This Weekend
The Iroquois is one of five stakes races on Saturday’s card. Others include the Grade III Pocahontas, the first prep race for fillies gearing toward next year’s Kentucky Oaks, and the Grade III Locust Grove for older fillies and mares. The total purses for Saturday’s 11-race card will top $2.25 million, making it the richest day in the meet.
After the meet ends in two-and-a-half weeks, thoroughbred horse racing in Kentucky will shift to Keeneland. The Lexington track will run its fall meet from Oct. 6 to Oct. 28. Before Churchill Downs resumes racing on Oct. 29. Churchill’s fall meet will run through Thanksgiving weekend.
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