When the 2019-’20 Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve kicks off with the $200,000, Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes on Sept. 14 at Churchill Downs, racing fans and handicappers will be treated to the stakes debut of a potential superstar.
The horse I’m referring to is #8 Dennis’ Moment, who will be widely expected to prevail in this 1 1/16-mile race, which also serves as a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Nov. 2 TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita Park.
Indeed, you could argue Dennis’ Moment is already the favorite for the Juvenile based off his sensational maiden victory at Ellis Park last month.
Just how impressive was Dennis’ Moment? Pick any accolade you want and it probably would fit. Breaking alertly from the starting gate, the Dale Romans-trained colt sprinted to the lead through solid quarter-mile fractions of :22.92 and :45.84. Then, he widened his lead … and widened it again… and widened it some more. By the time he reached the finish line in a quick 1:21.95 seconds for seven-eighths of a mile, Dennis’ Moment was all alone, in front by a staggering 19 ¼ lengths.
By every metric, this was a terrific performance. Dennis’ Moment sprinted the final three-eighths of a mile in an excellent 36.11 seconds and threw down a 97 Beyer Speed Figure that stands out as the faster number assigned to any 2-year-old so far this year. If he can replicate this performance in the Iroquois — or even come close to replicating it — he’s unlikely to be defeated.
All indications suggest that Dennis’ Moment is ready for another big effort on Saturday. He’s been training up a storm at Churchill Downs, breezing five-eighths of a mile in 1:00.20 on Aug. 24, in :59.60 on Aug. 31, and in :58.80 on Sept. 7. Each of these increasingly quick workouts ranked as the fastest at the distance on that morning.
There’s also no reason to worry about Dennis’ Moment’s ability to handle the 1 1/16-mile distance of the Iroquois. His sire, Tiznow, was a two-time winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic and has generally sired long-winded runners at stud, while Dennis’ Moment’s broodmare sire, Elusive Quality, is best known for his popular son Smarty Jones, winner of the 2004 Kentucky Derby.
For good measure, Dennis’ Moment will pick up the services of the reigning Eclipse Award-winning jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. Having drawn perfectly in post-position eight, Dennis’ Moment will have every opportunity to work out a clean, unencumbered trip setting or stalking the pace.
There are no sure things in racing, but it seems reasonable to conclude Dennis’ Moment will score an easy victory on Saturday.
There’s only one problem with playing Dennis’ Moment on top: he won’t offer very good odds. His virtues are obvious, so he’ll be an overwhelming favorite in the wagering. You’ll be lucky if a $2 win bet returns $3.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with a profit of 50%, so if you’re betting on a small budget and just want to cash a ticket, a win bet might be the way to go. But if you want to enhance your chances for a meaningful payoff, I suggest playing Dennis’ Moment on top in the exacta and trifecta while using #2 Letmeno, #4 Rowdy Yates, and #7 Juggernaut underneath.
Of the trio, Rowdy Yates is by far the most accomplished, having finished second in the Grade 3 Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill Downs prior to winning the Ellis Park Juvenile Stakes in convincing fashion with an 84 Beyer Speed Figure. In the Ellis Park Juvenile, Rowdy Yates led all the way to defeat impressive debut winner Letmeno by 2 ¼ lengths, although Letmeno had something of a tricky trip and could improve with a cleaner run in the Iroquois. Perhaps a ground-saving trip will be in the offing since Letmeno will have Churchill’s rail-skimming legend Calvin “Bo-Rail” Borel in the saddle.
As for Juggernaut, he didn’t run particularly fast on the Beyer scale while winning his debut at Ellis Park by 6 ¼ lengths. But trainer Keith Desormeaux rarely wins with first-time starters, so Juggernaut’s eye-catching debut is an indication he might be an above-average runner for the conditioner of 2016 Preakness Stakes winner Exaggerator.
Wagering Strategy on a $10 Budget
$10 to win on #8 Dennis’ Moment
What to say at the betting window: Churchill Downs, 10th race, $10 to win on #8 Dennis’ Moment
Wagering Strategy on a $30 Budget
$5 exacta: 8 with 2,4,7 ($15)
What to say at the betting window: Churchill Downs, 10th race, $5 exacta 8 with 2,4,7
$2.50 trifecta: 8 with 2,4,7 with 2,4,7 ($15)
What to say at the betting window: Churchill Downs, 10th race, $2.50 trifecta 8 with 2,4,7 with 2,4,7
Good luck, and enjoy the race!