09/06/2014 6:03PM

Lucky Player earns first points on road to Kentucky Derby with Iroquois win

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - On the first Saturday in September at Churchill Downs, Lucky Player took the first step toward being back under the twin spires on the first Saturday in May, edging stablemate Bold Conquest by a neck to win the Grade 3, $100,000 Iroquois Stakes.

The Iroquois was the first race to offer qualifying points toward the 2015 Kentucky Derby, with Lucky Player earning 10 points for his victory. Additionally, the race was a “Win and You’re In” automatic qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, to be contested Nov. 1 at Santa Anita.

Lucky Player ($25), who was ridden by Ricardo Santana, Jr., topped a sweep of the exacta for Steve Asmussen. The trainer scored his third victory in the Iroquois after previously winning with Thiskyhasnolimit (2009) and Astrology (2010).

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Under Ricardo Santana, Jr., Lucky Player sat in second on the outside of favored Mr. Z as the latter led through moderate splits of :24.41, :49.51, and 1:14.82, and was ready to strike as the field turned for home. Bold Conquest – fifth after the half – was the first to pounce, and briefly put a head in front in deep stretch before Lucky Player outgamed him for the neck victory. The winner stopped the clock in 1:45.75 for the 1 1/16 miles on a track rated fast.

“Lucky Player was away extremely well, he was in a beautiful spot,” Asmussen said. “I thought Ricardo gave him a great trip. He benefitted a lot from his two-turn race that he had previously. Bold Conquest was a little wide early, not a lot of pace, but he still continued well to the wire. I thought that they both looked well, they looked good under the wire. I think that both colts will get better with the experience.”

Following the top two, it was another 1 ½ lengths back to stakes winner Hashtag Bourbon, who lacked running room around the turn, in third. Mr. Z faded to fifth in the field of nine.

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Lucky Player, who has now won two of four career starts for Asmussen and owner Jerry Durant, is from the first crop of champion Lookin At Lucky. The colt was one of the few members of the Iroquois field with a previous one-mile race under his belt, as he finished finished second by a neck to Private Prospect in the Prairie Meadows Juvenile Mile on Aug. 9. The latter was seeking to keep his unbeaten streak alive in the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Futurity later on Saturday.

Asmussen said that since Lucky Player has already made four starts, he may head directly to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, whereas Bold Conquest, a Saratoga maiden winner who was making his third start in the Iroquois, may benefit from an additional prep.

“Lucky Player has four races already, he’s a different type,” Asmussen said. “Bold Conquest, I think, will benefit a lot from this one, being a bigger, heavier horse. He would most likely come back sooner. We’ll see how they come out of this, attitude-wise, and how they go back to the track.”