Cairo Cat earned 10 points towards a berth in the 2019 Kentucky Derby and stamped his Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) ticket winning Saturday’s Iroquois (G3) at Churchill Downs, overhauling pacesetter and even-money favorite Tight Ten in deep stretch for a half-length decision.
The 1 1/16-mile Iroquois serves as the first of 35 races in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series.
Cairo Cat has won two straight but don’t expect the son of freshman sire Cairo Prince to receive much respect in his next start. Kenny McPeek will train his pupil up to the November 2 Juvenile at Churchill Downs and the dark bay colt will probably continue to be a double-digit longshot in his fourth career outing.
He finished eighth at 35-1 odds when making his career debut in a July 21 turf race at Saratoga. Wet weather forced 50 races to be moved from turf to the main track at Saratoga and, while it caused plenty of angst for bettors, a surface switch proved fortuitous for Cairo Cat as he rallied to post a head upset at 18-1 in his second outing, an off-the-turf maiden special weight tilt on August 11.
That prompted an Iroquois bid but Cairo Cat was dismissed at 17-1 among 12 runners after registering only a 77 BRIS Speed rating. With the addition of first-time Lasix in the Iroquois, Cairo Cat dropped back to ninth as the field entered the first turn and Brian Hernandez Jr. guided his mount to the inside rounding the first bend.
Cairo Cat saved all the ground while advancing down the backstretch and edged closer on the far turn, maintaining his positioning along the rail as he entered the stretch drive. Tight Ten still gripped a short lead as eight horses bunched up behind him straightening for home.
Tight Ten appeared to have more in reserve as he reasserted control in midstretch and I was surprised to see him cough up the lead. The Tapit colt switched back to the wrong lead in deep stretch and suddenly was out of gas. Cairo Cat angled out in the latter stages and finished well to score going away, with Tight Ten easily holding second by more than three lengths.
Cairo Cat’s BRIS Speed (92) and Late Pace (96) numbers increased significantly in the Iroquois, but I have some doubts about the competition. Tight Ten remains a nice prospect at shorter distances, however the impressive sprint maiden winner and Saratoga Special (G2) runner-up faltered in his first two-turn start after getting away with an opening six furlongs in 1:14.06.
Cairo Cat will try to keep outrunning his odds against deeper company in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.