June 21, 2024

Curly Jack kicks off Road to the Kentucky Derby series with Iroquois upset

Curly Jack wins the Iroquois Stakes to kick off the Road to the Kentucky Derby (Photo by Coady Photography)

Curly Jack launched a wide move on the far turn and charged to a clear lead by midstretch, recording a 10-1 upset in Saturday’s Iroquois (G3) at Churchill Downs, the first race in the 2023 Road to the Kentucky Derby series.

By freshman sire and 2017 champion two-year-old Good Magic, Curly Jack notched his first stakes win when stopping the teletimer in 1:45.62. Edgar Morales was up for owner Michael McLoughlin and Tom Amoss.

Damon’s Mound, who set the pace as the 2.74-1 second choice in the nine-horse field, and odds-on favorite Echo Again dueled through the far turn but were spent by upper stretch, weakening to sixth and seventh, respectively.

Curly Jack stalked about 2 1/2 lengths back in sixth, as Damon’s Mound recorded opening splits in :23.53 and :47.48, and the bay two-year-old colt rallied at least four-wide through the far turn. He surged boldly to a clear advantage after straightening for home, and Curly Jack comfortably held through deep stretch to win by a length.

“I thought going into this race it was a really good field,” Amoss said. “I was able to watch Echo Again this summer at Saratoga and he was very impressive when he won up there. I have a ton of respect for Michelle Lovell’s horse (Saratoga Special [G2] winner Damon’s Mound). I thought maybe going two turns is going to help our chances. It was a great ride by Edgar Morales. I think he is, now was, the best kept secret in the jocks room. The secret is going to be out with him. He really rode him great. I’m super proud of my horse.”

“It’s very special to win my first graded stakes race for Tom (Amoss),” Morales said. “He’s done a great job with this horse and I can’t be more thankful to him, his entire staff and the owners for allowing me to ride these really nice horses.”

The Iroquois was worth a total of 20 points to the top five finishers (10-4-3-2-1 scale).

Honed Up, a 54-1 outsider following a head win in an off-the-turf maiden at Ellis Park, got up from off the pace for second, a half-length better than 4.85-1 third choice Jace’s Road. Next came Hayes Strike and Confidence Game. Jin Tong was eighth, and Zaici trailed.

A $180,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase, Curly Jack won his career debut wire-to-wire by four lengths over 5 1/2 furlongs at Churchill in early June. He set the pace in the Sanford (G3) two weeks later before winding up fifth, and changed to stalking tactics in the Aug. 14 Ellis Park Juvenile S., missing by a head in second.

“In the Ellis Park Juvenile he showed me he can relax well off of horses and come with one run,” Morales said. “We were able to do that today. He handled the extra distance well and when I was able to get him outside he showed his best run.”

Curly Jack thrived while stretching out in distance on Saturday. Bred in Kentucky by Betz/J. Betz/Burns/Camaquiki/C. Kidder/et al, the youngster is out of Grade 1 runner-up Connie and Michael, a daughter of Roman Ruler, and she counts graded winners High Ridge Road and Senor Rojo as half-siblings.

The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Keeneland on Nov. 4 is likely next for Curly Jack.

“I don’t have an issue with running horses off a layoff so it won’t be a big deal going straight to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile,” Amoss said. “We’ll see how he comes out of things and make a decision in the coming days.”