12/11/2015 2:24PM

Road to the Derby: Iroquois Stakes

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Grade 3, $150,000 Iroquois Stakes; 1 1/16 miles; Churchill Downs; Sept. 12, 2015
(10 Derby qualifying points for a win, 4 for second, 2 for third, 1 for fourth)

Winner: Cocked and Loaded (Sire: Colonel John)
Trainer: Larry Rivelli
Jockey: Manny Esquivel
Owner: Richard Ravin and Patricia’s Hope LLC
Beyer Speed Figure: 82

And so it begins. A full 8 1/2 months before the Kentucky Derby, the road to the Derby commenced with the Iroquois, run at the home of the Derby. This is the first of 35 races in which horses can earn points toward one of the coveted 20 slots in the Derby field.

Only two of the 11 runners in this race had ever been around two turns. The victorious COCKED AND LOADED was one of the nine who was making his two-turn debut, and he returned to his winning ways after losing as the favorite in his two prior starts.

Cocked and Loaded hesitated ever so slightly at the break but had enough speed leaving the gate to secure a good stalking position behind the runaway dueling leaders, CONDOMINIUM and EXPECTED RULER. He pulled aggressively entering the far turn and made the top when the leaders quickly backed up, then settled under Esquivel nearing the quarter pole and awaited his cue, was put to an all-out drive in upper stretch and maintained a safe margin to the wire.

RATED R SUPERSTAR, who rallied for second, was caught three paths wide around the first turn after breaking from an outside post, remained wide down the backstretch, made a bold rush while four paths wide on the far turn and got within a length of Cocked and Loaded with five-sixteenths to go, could not stay with the winner in upper stretch but kept to his task and held the place.

UNBRIDLED OUTLAW, who was third, deserved a better fate. He saved ground just behind and inside of Cocked and Loaded around the first turn, got through inside Cocked and Loaded down the backstretch and was right with him with a half-mile to go, but was forced to take up sharply when Expected Ruler backed up into his face with three furlongs to go. He ran into more traffic trouble near the quarter pole after finally getting around Expected Ruler, rallied between horses in upper stretch, drifted to the rail in midstretch while racing on his wrong lead, switched back to his proper lead near the sixteenth pole, and bravely kept on chugging away.

CONQUEST WINDYCITY, who finished fourth, broke a step slowly, had no early speed and was in front of just one horse heading into the first turn. He was guided between horses down the backstretch and went about four paths wide on the far turn, advanced into third in upper stretch, but couldn’t gain on the top two and lost third in the final 50 yards to Unbridled Outlaw. This was only his second start, and his first on dirt.

BAYCHIMO, who was fifth, was able to drop over from his outside post under Paco Lopez and was in the two path around the first turn. He had to go wide entering the far turn to rally, had to wait in traffic briefly with 3 1/2 furlongs to go, advanced to fifth in upper stretch, bobbled awkwardly near the three-sixteenths pole, and went evenly late.

STAR HILL, who was sixth, was able to get to the rail heading into the first turn, was outrun heading into the far turn, was taken about four paths wide to rally on the turn, was fanned about six paths wide into the lane, and never made an impact.

MEETEETSE FLY, who was seventh, had no early speed and trailed early, dropped farther behind down the backside, and only passed tired horses.

TWIRLING CINNAMON, who was eighth, raced in mid-pack about two lanes off the rail around the first turn, was even with the winner with three furlongs to go, but failed to quicken at that point and was no factor thereafter.

MISSLE BOMB, who was ninth, was three paths wide while just behind the dueling leaders into the first turn, could not hold his position heading into the far turn, wound up four paths wide on the turn, was fanned five paths wide into the lane, and was very late to swap leads in upper stretch in his first try on dirt after two races on synthetic.

Condominium, who was 10th, raced outside Expected Ruler through a demanding half-mile in 46.29 seconds, got the best of that rival nearing the far turn, but had nothing to offer when Cocked and Loaded and all the rest subsequently attacked.

Expected Ruler, who finished last of 11, could not keep up with Condominium after a half-mile and then tired badly from his early efforts.