West Saratoga captures the Iroquois (G3) Sep. 16 at Churchill Downs (JennyPhoto/Past The Wire)
Breeders’ Futurity Is First Keeneland Stop on Road to Kentucky Derby + Win and You’re In for Breeders’ Cup Juvenile
By Amber Joyce
LEXINGTON, Ky.— The Road to the Kentucky Derby continues Saturday at Keeneland and looking to collect more qualifying points is Harry L. Veruchi’s West Saratoga, in a field of nine in the $600,000 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (G1), a 1 1/16 mile main track event for juveniles.
West Saratoga broke through in his last start and racked up 10 points towards next year’s Kentucky Derby (G1) when capturing the Iroquois (G3) Sep. 16 at Churchill Downs, the first prep for the Run for the Roses.
The gray son of Preakness winner Exaggerator chased a blazing pace in the one-mile Iroquois and with a five-wide bid, edged clear to notch a 1 ¾ length score over impressive Saratoga debut winner Risk It. He stopped the clock in 1:37.28.
Larry Demeritte will be looking for the biggest win of his training career when he sends out his Iroquois victor in the Breeders’ Futurity. Demeritte has been part of the racing community in Lexington for decades and now has a shot to win a signature race.
“It means a lot to be in this race because Keeneland is like my second home,” Demeritte told Keeneland publicity on Tuesday. “I enjoy training horses here, and it would mean a great deal to win because it would mean he is the kind of horse I think he is.”
“You have to be around good horses to have something to compare them to,” he went on. “The Breeders’ Futurity is a good test for him because a lot of these horses are going to wind up in the Kentucky Derby.”
West Saratoga broke his maiden at fifth asking in his start right before the Iroquois, taking a one-mile maiden in gate-to-wire fashion Aug. 5 at Ellis Park. West Saratoga will be racing at Keeneland for the first time since his debut sprinting April 7, in which he was fourth.
On behalf of owner Veruchi, Demeritte picked up West Saratoga for a bargain $11,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale last year. Bred in Kentucky by Two Hearts Farm II LLC, West Saratoga has now racked up total earnings of $276,815.
Gerardo Corrales picks up the mount from Rafael Bejarano from post position five.
Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher has the likely favorite in the Breeders’ Futurity, in the form of Locked [Jose Ortiz, post position nine] for Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Walmac Farm.
Pletcher, who won this race last year with champion two-year-old Forte, sends out Locked off of a dazzling maiden-breaking performance Sep. 1 at Saratoga. The chestnut son of Gun Runner bumped with a rival at the start, prompted the pace, and then went on to a 7 ¼ length victory.
Locked had a troubled debut sprinting Aug. 5 at Saratoga but rallied from last to secure show honors behind fellow Breeders’ Futurity rival Just Steel [Joel Rosario, post position seven] and stablemate Be You, who will contest Saturday’s American Pharoah (G1) at Santa Anita.
Previously mentioned Just Steel, owned by BC Stables, LLC, looks to bounce back after a disappointing seventh in the Hopeful (G1) Sep. 4 at Saratoga. Should the Justify colt win, that would be a record seventh victory in the race for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Lukas’ most recent Breeders’ Futurity triumph was in the 2004 edition with Consolidator.
Also exiting the Hopeful is Siena Farm LLC and WinStar Farm LLC’s Timberlake [Florent Geroux, post position two] for trainer Brad Cox. By Spendthrift Farm’s leading sire Into Mischief, Timberlake ran on to a runner-up finish in the Hopeful behind 54-1 upsetter Nutella Fella.
The bay colt impressed with a handy, gate-to-wire victory in a seven-furlong maiden July 21 at Ellis Park. He won that race by 9 ¼ lengths, besting West Saratoga. Timberlake is cross-entered in Saturday’s Champagne (G1) at Aqueduct.
Cox has another runner entered, Albaugh Family Stables LLC and Donegal Racing’s Awesome Road, a son of Quality Road. Awesome Road exits a debut win Aug. 27 at Ellis Park, in which he shrugged off his rivals to boast a 2 ¾ length score in the six-furlong maiden.
A win by either of his two entries would give Cox his second win in the Breeders’ Futurity. He captured the 2020 renewal with eventual Belmont Stakes (G1) champ Essential Quality.
Kenny McPeek has won the race three times (most recently in 2021 with Rattle N Roll) and will also saddle a pair of runners, including Walking L Thoroughbreds, LLC’s Generous Tipper [Brian Hernandez, Jr., post position six]. The Street Sense bay was a clear second-best behind West Saratoga when that one broke his maiden in August. Generous Tipper returned to the races three weeks later and dominated a one-mile maiden at Ellis Park.
John Oxley, Harold Lerner LLC and AWC Stables’ Flameway colt Northern Flame [Julien Leparoux, post position eight] enters from a frontrunning maiden win Sep. 15 at Churchill Downs.
Entering with a perfect 3-for-3 record, including two stakes wins, is Paradise Farms Corp. and David Staudacher’s New York-bred The Wine Steward [Luis Saez, post position one].
A chestnut son of Spendthrift Farm’s leading freshman sire Vino Rosso, The Wine Steward was last seen defeating next-out stakes winner El Grande O by a head in the Funny Cide—restricted to New York-breds—Aug. 27 at Saratoga. The Mike Maker trainee had previously driven clear to a 2 ¾ triumph in the July 2 Bashford Manor, following an impressive debut in New York.
Completing the field is Baytown Partnership and Resolute Racing Alliance, LLC’s Baytown Chatterbox [Jane Elliott, post position four], who pulled off a 60-1 shocker in the Aug. 13 Ellis Park Juvenile. The Street Sense colt was eighth in the Hopeful last out.
The Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity will award qualifying points towards next year’s Kentucky Derby to the top five finishers on a scale of 10-5-3-2-1. West Saratoga currently tops the Derby leaderboard, with those 10 points he earned in the Iroquois.
As part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series: Win and You’re In, the Breeders’ Futurity will also offer the winner an automatic and free entry into the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Other graded stakes featured on Keeneland’s action-packed Saturday card are the Woodford (G2) Presented by FanDuel, Thoroughbred Club of America (G2), First Lady (G1) Presented by UK HealthCare, and the $1 million Coolmore Turf Mile (G1).
The Thoroughbred Club of America and Turf Mile are Win and You’re In races for the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) and $2 million Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), respectively.
The field for the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) with riders, trainers, and weights from the rail out:
|1||The Wine Steward||Luis Saez||Mike Maker||122|
|2||Timberlake||Florent Geroux||Brad Cox||122|
|3||Awesome Road||Flavien Prat||Brad Cox||122|
|4||Baytown Chatterbox||Jane Elliott||Paul McEntee||122|
|5||West Saratoga||Gerardo Corrales||Larry Demeritte||122|
|6||Generous Tipper||Brian Hernandez, Jr.||Kenny McPeek||122|
|7||Just Steel||Joel Rosario||D. Wayne Lukas||122|
|8||Northern Flame||Julien Leparoux||Kenny McPeek||122|
|9||Locked||Jose Ortiz||Todd Pletcher||122|