Michael McLoughlin’s Curly Jack is the early points leader on the 2023 “Road to the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve” after the Good Magic colt won Saturday’s 41st running of the $299,250 Iroquois (Grade III) for 2-year-olds by one length over Honed at Churchill Downs. Jace’s Road was another half-length back in third and betting favorites Damon’s Mound and Echo Again faltered around two turns to finish sixth and seventh, respectively.
Sent to post at odds of 10-1, the Tom Amoss-trained Curly Jack ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.62 to give jockey Edgar Morales his first graded stakes victory.
“It’s very special to win my first graded stakes race for Tom,” 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.”
Curly Jack banked the $178,920 first prize and 10 points on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” point system that will determine the field for next year’s 149th running of the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (GI) on May 6, 2023 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 10-4-3-2-1, respectively.
“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 (Damon’s Mound). I thought maybe going two turns is going to help our chances.”
Damon’s Mound, the Saratoga Special (GIII) winner who was the 2-1 second betting choice, emerged as the early leader from post 3 after hesitating at the start of the two-turn affair. He led the field of nine colts down the stretch through a first quarter-mile in :23.53 and the half in :47.48 as impressive Saratoga maiden debut winner Echo Again, the odds-on 3-5 favorite for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, tracked wide in second.
Entering the far turn, Damon’s Mound and Echo Again kicked clear from the chasing Jace’s Road, Confidence Game and Hayes Strike with Curly Jack just behind. After six furlongs in 1:11.66, Echo Again briefly took over from Damon’s Mound at the top of the stretch but it was apparent that the two leaders were weary and had nothing left for the final quarter-mile. Curly Jack tipped out wide, grabbed the lead with a furlong to run and held off 54-1 Honed, who closed from last for second-place honors.
“It was a great ride by Edgar Morales,” Amoss said. “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. The owner Michael McLoughlin is at the Notre Dame game this afternoon but I know he’s watching. 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. We’ll see how he comes out of things and make a decision in the coming days.”
Curly Jack paid $23.66, $8.48 and $4.88. Honed, under Julien Leparoux, returned $31.08 and $12.72. Jace’s Road, a half-length back of the runner-up with Florent Geroux up, paid $3.74.
Hayes Strike was another four lengths back in fourth and was followed by Confidence Game, Damon’s Mound, Echo Again, Jin Tong and Zaici.
This was the fourth career start for Curly Jack, who broke his maiden at first asking at Churchill Downs in June and then finished fifth in the Sanford (GIII) and a close second in the Ellis Park Juvenile. His career earnings now total $280,180.
“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.”
A $180,000 yearling purchase at the 2021 Keeneland September Sale, Curly Jack was bred in Kentucky and the son of Good Magic is out of the Roman Ruler mare Connie and Michael.