With the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve beginning with the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes Sept. 14 at Churchill Downs, a points leader was established with victorious Dennis’ Moment, and perhaps, too, a legitimate early Derby favorite.
Living up to the hype that contributed to him starting as the 2-5 favorite, Dennis’ Moment delivered as advertised, strolling to a 1 3/4-length victory in stakes-record time of 1:43.58 for 1 1/16 miles. Eased up over the final eighth of a mile by jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., he crossed the finish line comfortably ahead, with only runner-up Scabbard putting a dent in his advantage late.
The victory was the second straight for the 2-year-old colt, who had won a maiden race by 19 1/4 lengths at Ellis Park July 27, a start after he lost his rider when clipping heels in a debut maiden race at Churchill Downs June 23.
The Iroquois provided him with 10 qualifying points for the 2020 Kentucky Derby, and with the Iroquois being part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series, he earned free entrance into the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita Park Nov. 2.
Similarly, the Grade 2 Pocahontas Stakes, another stakes race Saturday at Churchill, provided points toward the Longines Kentucky Kentucky Oaks in 2020 and a ticket into this year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, which Lazy Daisy earned with a front-running victory.
Dennis’ Moment, though, turned in the performance of the day. In addition to smashing the stakes record, going back to 2013 when the race started being contested at 1 1/16 miles, he ran notably faster than the Lazy Daisy, who covered the same distance on a fast track in 1:44.89.
The Juvenile is the immediate race on trainer Dale Romans’ mind, though he was having trouble not looking ahead to next spring’s run for the roses. As the horse entered the Churchill Downs’ winner’s circle Saturday, he asked Ortiz, “Mile and a quarter?” —an obvious reference to the distance of the Derby.
Ortiz simply smiled back at Romans. He had a lot to smile about. His mount settled comfortably in fourth in the early stages of the Iroquois —a few lengths off quarter-mile splits of :23.35, :47.31, and 1:11.96, and pounced with a three-wide advance when given his cue. He took command at the head of the lane, opened up two lengths, and coasted to the finish line. The colt paid $2.80 for a $2 win wager.
“This is just an amazing animal,” Romans said. “He goes out there and does it with his ears up like he is just galloping around there. The jock was shutting him down the last sixteenth of the mile there, and he still runs the time he did. He’s something special.”
In addition to Dennis’ Moment, who earned 10 qualifying points, Scabbard was awarded 4 points for his runner-up finish, and third-place Lebda and fourth Lemeno received 2 and 1, respectively.
The connections of Scabbard had another reason to be excited about their colt, who had been second previously in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special. He encountered traffic late on the backstretch, and still managed to rally from sixth to be well clear of the rest of the pack.
“The winner did win in hand, he sure did, but our horse was brave,” said his trainer, Eddie Kenneally. “To get shuffled back, and come on again, nice horse.”
A 2-year-old son of Tiznow, Dennis Moment’ is the first starter out of the winning Elusive Quality mare Transplendid. He was a $400,000 purchase by his owner, Albaugh Family Stables, at last year’s Fasig-Tipton New York Saratoga select yearling sale from consignor Ballysix Bloodstock.
“The first week in May is our ultimate goal when we go out and look at horses and try to buy them,” said Dennis Albaugh of Albaugh Family Stables. “This is the first step. We’re moving toward that target.”
That target this fall is the Juvenile with no other race in between, Romans said.
Likewise, no stops are planned before the Nov. 2 Juvenile Fillies for Lazy Daisy by trainer Doug O’Neill. She will return to her base in Southern California after winning the Pocahontas, which awarded Kentucky Oaks points on a 10-4-2-1 scale.
“We’ll put her in bubble wrap, hopefully we can stay injury free with her, and have a good Breeders Cup,” O’Neill said via telephone.
Assistants Sabas Rivera and Danny Robles handled Lazy Daisy for O’Neill in Kentucky with her trainer staying behind to oversee his stable in California.
Unlike Dennis’ Moment, she used speed to record her Saturday victory. After coming off the pace in her first two starts, first in winning a maiden race at Del Mar Aug. 3 and then when fourth in the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante Aug. 31, she shot to the lead in the Pocahontas and put away a stubborn runner-up in His Glory to notch a 1 1/4-length score under Abel Cedillo.
“I compare him to like a ‘Baby Rosario,’ ” O’Neill said of the jockey. “He rides so much like Joel Rosario.”
Lazy Daisy is one of four winners from as many starters out of the Suave mare Romantic Intention. She is owned by Erik Johnson’s ERJ Racing, Great Friends Stable, and Tom Mansor.
Mansor purchased her at the 2019 OBS April sale of 2-year-olds in training for $39,000 from the Off The Hook consignment.
Johnson, a defenseman with the Colorado Avalanche of the National Hockey League, urged O’Neill to consider shipping her to Churchill Downs.
“She ran better than it looked from the one hole in the Del Mar Debutante and went a little wide into the lane,” O’Neill said. “She came back bucking and squealing, cleaned up her feed tub. So Erik said to me, ‘If she is doing so good, why don’t we consider the Pocahontas?’ ”
The decision paid off for her owners and to those that backed her at the mutual windows. She returned $16.40 to win.
Also outrunning her odds was 43-1 His Glory, who stayed with Lazy Daisy until the final 70 yards. She finished 3 1/2 lengths in front of third-place Portrait, the 6-5 favorite who ran another 9 1/4 lengths head of fourth-place Blood Curdling.