West Saratoga kicks things off on the Road to the Kentucky Derby (JennyPhoto/Past The Wire)
Churchill Downs Press Release
LOUISVILLE, Ky.— Harry L. Veruchi’s West Saratoga is the early points leader on the 2024 “Road to the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve” after the Exaggerator colt won Saturday’s 42nd running of the $300,000 Iroquois (Grade III) for 2-year-olds by 1 ¾ lengths over 6-5 favorite Risk It at Churchill Downs. Liberal Arts was another neck back in third, and Seize the Grey was another neck back in fourth.
Sent to post at odds of 12-1, West Saratoga ran one mile in 1:37.28 under jockey Rafael Bejarano for Keeneland-based trainer Larry Demeritte, who collected his first graded stakes win since Memorial Maniac won the 2010 Stars and Stripes Turf (GIII) at Arlington Park.
West Saratoga banked the $180,315 first prize and 10 points on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” point system that will determine the field for next year’s 150th Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (GI) on May 4, 2024 at Churchill Downs. The Iroquois was the first in a series of 37 select races on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” and the top five finishing positions earned points on a sliding scale of 10-5-3-2-1, respectively.
“It’s very special to get started on the Road to the Kentucky Derby,” Veruchi said. “We ran a couple times here in the spring and so we knew he’d like the track. After he broke his maiden last time at a mile we were confident he’d like stretching out in distance as he got more experienced. He’s a very nice horse.”
Breaking from post position No. 2 in field of eight 2-year-olds, West Saratoga raced down the backstretch in the clear in fourth as Virginia-invader Patriot Spirit set torrid fractions of :22.37, :44.63 and 1:10.14 under Jesus Castanon with Market Street in second and Risk It in third.
The strides of Patriot Spirit began to shorten at the top of the stretch and he maintained his lead until the final eighth mile until a grinding West Saratoga charged down the stretch with a four-wide move to grab the lead and inch clear of Risk It for the win.
“I just let him get comfortable after seeing a lot of speed in the race on paper and then the outside horse (Patriot Spirit) went really fast early,” Bejarano said. “I thought I’d just let my horse settle and start to get going around the turn. I could tell at the three-eighths pole I had a lot of horse beneath me and I was seeing the horses in front of me still going fast. I figured they would come back to me a little bit. I got a great trip into the stretch, and had a lot of horse still beneath me.”
West Saratoga paid $26.96, $8.24 and $5.22. Risk It, under Tyler Gaffalione, returned $3.24 and $2.88. Liberal Arts, with Cristian Torres up at odds of 9-1, paid $5.44.
Seize the Grey at odds of 9-2 was fourth and was followed by Edified, Patriot Spirit, Union Roll and Market Street. Gettysburg Address was scratched.
“It took him a little while to get settled off a fast pace,” trainer Steve Asmussen said of favorite Risk It.
This was the sixth career start for West Saratoga, who broke his maiden at Ellis Park in his fifth start on Aug 5. His career earnings now total $276,815 from a record of 2-3-0 in six starts.
“We’ve been just trying to let him progress naturally,” Demeritte said. “He went a mile last time and we were confident today going the same distance. We’ll decide in the next day or so what’s next. I’m based in Lexington and run at Keeneland a lot so that could be a good option (in the Grade I Breeders’ Futurity).”
An $11,000 purchase at the 2022 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, the grey or roan West Saratoga was bred in Kentucky by Two Hearts Farm II LLC and is out of the Uncle Mo mare Mo Wicked.