09/22/2016 1:09PM

Road to the 2017 Kentucky Derby: Iroquois Stakes analysis

Churchill Downs/Coady Photography
Not This Time wins the Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs, and will head next to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

Grade 3, $150,000 Iroquois Stakes; 1 1/16 miles; Churchill Downs; Sept. 17, 2016
(10 Derby qualifying points for a win, 4 for second, 2 for third, 1 for fourth)

Winner: Not This Time
Trainer: Dale Romans
Jockey: Robby Albarado
Owner: Albaugh Family Stable
Beyer Speed Figure: 86

The long and winding road that leads to the first Saturday in May began a full 7 1/2 months earlier with the Iroquois, the first of more than three dozen races run in the United States, Dubai, and – for the first time this year – Japan in which horses can earn points toward a berth in the 143rd Kentucky Derby on May 6, 2017.

The Iroquois, like the Derby, is run at Churchill Downs, and this year’s running was particularly noteworthy because the winner, NOT THIS TIME, is based at Churchill Downs and showed in September of his 2-year-old year that he’s just fine going a route of ground. This was only his third start, and he is now unbeaten in both his races going two turns.

The Iroquois was run on a muddy track, but Not This Time won on a fast track when beating maidens in his prior start at Ellis Park, so he appears to be just fine be it wet or dry.

Not This Time is a half-brother to Liam’s Map, the winner of the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and one of the most-talented middle-distance runners of this decade. It’s obviously very early in the process, but Not This Time looks like the real deal. His next start is scheduled to be the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita on Nov. 5.

In the Iroquois, Not This Time hopped leaving the gate to be off last, the second time in three starts he has broken poorly. He had the outside post in this race, though, so Robby Albarado was able to let him find a comfortable position near the back of the pack without having horses cross in front of him. He was three paths wide on the first turn, stayed wide while under a snug hold down the backstretch, advanced with minimal encouragement while four paths wide on the far turn, motored past his rivals in upper stretch and drew away with authority.

The final time of 1:45.22 for 1 1/16 miles compared favorably with the 1:47.19 recorded by 2-year-old fillies on the same card in the Pocahontas, and with the 1:46.24 in the Locust Grove for older females.

LOOKIN AT LEE, who finished second, used his rail position to secure a comfortable spot inside in the second flight around the first turn, remained inside for most of the far turn, was tipped out in upper stretch while under aggressive handling, and went rather one-paced while just getting up in the last jump to claim the place.

RECRUITING READY, who was third, bobbled slightly leaving the gate, was three paths wide while just in front of Not This Time around the first turn, was in an ideal spot outside the two leaders around the far turn, could not keep pace with the winner in upper stretch, then was touched out late for the place.

HONOR THY FATHER, who was fourth, raced second along the inside and just behind BLAME WILL around the first turn. He was in a perfect tracking spot down the backstretch and around the far turn, was gradually angled off the rail in upper stretch, but never made a significant impact despite his super trip. This was his first try around two turns.

THIRSTFORLIFE, who finished fifth, had to check slightly into the first turn as Blame Will angled over. Thirstforlife wound up just behind and outside of Blame Will into and down the backstretch, advanced to challenge for the lead with three furlongs to go, poked his head in front with a little more than a quarter-mile remaining, but was no match for Not This Time nor Recruiting Ready in upper stretch and tired.

JUST MOVE ON, who was sixth, had no early speed and was last into the first turn, stayed there into the far turn, came under an aggressive ride three furlongs out, initially appeared to make up some ground, but never really made any impact through the lane. This was his first try on dirt after two grass races.

Blame Will, who was seventh, showed good speed and crossed over from post 5 to take the early lead, set a comfortable pace (49.57) through the first half-mile, had to be asked aggressively nearing the quarter pole to try and keep up with Thirstforlife, but began to yield soon after turning into the stretch and had nothing to offer thereafter.

SKINFLINT, who finished last of eight, raced between runners in the second flight around the first turn, began to fade with three furlongs to go, and was not persevered with through the final quarter-mile.