Walking L Thoroughbreds’ Cairo Cat stamped himself as one of the top contenders for the $2 million Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Grade I) after besting 11 rivals by a half-length in Saturday’s Iroquois Stakes (GIII) at Churchill Downs.
“That was something special yesterday,” trainer Kenny McPeek’s assistant Greg Geier said. “I’m not too sure if Kenny will run him again or wait for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He’s been pretty busy at the (Keeneland September) sale this week so we’ll catch up and see what the plan is in the next couple of days. We’re just very pleased with his effort and he was full of himself after the race and this morning. He’s maturing and getting smarter. We’re excited Breeders’ Cup is right here at Churchill. We don’t have to go very far for the race.”
Cairo Cat raced near the rear of the Iroquois filed early on and moved into contention from the inside down the backstretch. Patiently handled by jockey Brian Hernandez Jr., Cairo Cat waiting for an opening at the top of the stretch, found room and then switched to outside of favored Tight Ten inside the final furlong to edge clear in the final stages.
By winning the Iroquois, Cairo Cat’s $60,000 entry fees will be paid by Breeders’ Cup Ltd. and his connections will receive a travel stipend.
Cairo Cat’s earnings total $133,750. Previously, he broke his maiden at 18-1 in an off-the-turf, seven-furlong maiden special weight at Saratoga on Aug. 11.
The 2-year-old son of Cairo Cat also garnered 10 points on the ‘Road to the Kentucky Derby’ with his victory in the Iroquois. Tight Ten, Pole Setter and Tobacco Road earned 4-2-1 points for their second, third and fourth-place finishes, respectively.
Joel Politti’s Serengeti Empress marked herself as a likely Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) favorite following her jaw-dropping 19 ½-length score in Saturday’s $200,000 Pocahontas (GII) – a “Win and You’re In” for the $2 million championship race on Nov. 2 at Churchill Downs.
“She’s doing great after the race,” trainer Tom Amoss said. “We’re just absolutely thrilled with how she ran and very excited for the Breeders’ Cup. I would venture to guess her next race will be right here in the Breeders’ Cup. Just as we’ve done the entire time, Joel and I will get together in the next day or so to talk things over and come up with a plan.”
Ridden by Corey Lanerie, Serengeti Empress broke alertly from the rail and ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.47 to easily dismiss her 10 rivals. She set solid early quarter-mile fractions of :23.17, :46.94 and 1:12.20 along the way. Southern California invader Splashy Kisses was a distant second with Lightscameraaction another 1 ½ lengths back in third and My Wynter Rose another head back in fourth.
“This is a thrill of a lifetime,” Politti said. “To have my family and friends here at Churchill Downs is very special.”
The victory by Serengeti Empress was a record for the Pocahontas and largest winning margin in a stakes race at Churchill Downs since Rachel Alexandra won the 2009 Kentucky Oaks by 20 ¼ lengths.
Serengeti Empress, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Alternation out of the Bernardini mare Havisham, banked $116,560 for the win.
Serengeti Empress also is the early points-leader on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks after collecting 10 points. The Pocahontas was the first of 30 qualifying races to the Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI) to be run next May, and points were awarded to the Top 4 finishers on a 10-4-2-1 scale.