After a battling debut win at Saratoga, WinStar Farm and Siena Farm’s Major General turned in another gutsy display to prevail in the first points race toward the Kentucky Derby (G1) – Saturday night’s $300,000 Iroquois (G3) at Churchill Downs. The Iroquois also serves as a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), so the Todd Pletcher pupil was picking up a free pass to Del Mar as well as the first 10 Derby points.
Major General didn’t make the same kind of splash at the Spa as Stellar Tap, who accordingly ranked as the even-money Iroquois favorite. But the 4.90-1 Major General learned more from his first racetrack experience. The dark bay put it to use here, and survived an objection, to capture his stakes and two-turn debut.
Breaking on top despite a quick bobble from post 8, Major General found himself in a scrum entering the first turn, and Hall of Fame rider Javier Castellano eased him a few lengths back. A contested pace unfolded as longshots Roger McQueen and Magnolia Midnight vied through fractions of :23.82 and :47.89. Stellar Tap chased in third on the outside, while the rail-drawn Tough to Tame was living up to his name being tough to handle in the pocket.
Rounding the far turn, Stellar Tap advanced to put his head in front at the six-furlong split in 1:12.83, but Major General was already circling up to his throat-latch. The two pulled away to duke it out in upper stretch, and Major General bumped Stellar Tap as they scrimmaged eyeball to eyeball. Stellar Tap didn’t flinch upon contact, but he did ultimately succumb and retreat.
No sooner had Major General won that war of attrition, than he found fresh opponents on the battlefield. Tough to Tame was gaining momentum now that he steered into the clear, and Red Knobs and Bourbon Heist were rallying into the frame from the rear of the field.
Much as he did at Saratoga, Major General dug in tenaciously and reached for the wire. His margin was the same as his maiden – a neck – while completing 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.88. The Iroquois time was more than a second slower than the filly Hidden Connection’s stakes record in the Pocahontas.
Tough to Tame, who nearly sprang a 37.30-1 upset, earned four points toward the Kentucky Derby. The 29.70-1 Red Knobs took home two points for his third-place effort. Bourbon Heist, the near-misser to Major General at Saratoga, received one point in fourth.
Stellar Tap wound up fifth, and jockey Ricardo Santana lodged a claim of foul against Castellano on Stellar Tap. The stewards reviewed the incident in upper stretch and upheld the order of finish.
A length behind Stellar Tap was his Steve Asmussen stablemate, Guntown, who made a middle move on the inside before dropping back and coming again. Both are liable to be better than they showed under the lights. Next came Strike Hard, Husband Material, and early duelists Roger McQueen and Magnolia Midnight. Lucky Boss was scratched.
Major General increased his earnings to $232,525 while extending his record to 2-for-2.
Castellano commented on his trip, and Santana’s objection:
“You’re always confident whenever Todd puts you on a horse. His team does a great job and this horse is just learning. He seemed to enjoy going two turns and when the other horses got to him in the stretch he started to re-break.
“I was a little surprised Ricardo claimed foul. Going past the three-sixteenths pole, his horse’s head sort of came into mine when he was switching leads and I don’t think it affected the outcome of the race. After that, my horse was looking around a little bit when he got to the lead. This was his first time under the lights and with a crowd like this.”
Bred by Circular Road Breeders in Kentucky, Major General has been a profitable servant. The Constitution colt sold for $265,000 as a newly-turned yearling at Keeneland January and brought $420,000 at the same venue last September.
Major General is the first foal from the Uncle Mo mare No Mo Lemons, who descends from the family of Grade 1 hero Leofric as well as smart sprinters Multiple Choice, Inspired, and Silver City. Further back, this is the female line of mother-and-son Grade 1 stars Well Chosen and Telling.