2 face off in Iroquois, 1 in the mix at Los Al


In this biweekly series, racing analyst Keeler Johnson shares promising horses from his handicapping watch list, reviewing runners who have recently caught his eye and previewing horses scheduled to run back in the near future.

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Big City Lights

Three starts, three victories. Big City Lights was sensational as a juvenile, dominating his debut before crushing the Fasig-Tipton Futurity by 7 1/4 lengths. And he was as sharp as ever when returning from a 13 1/2-month layoff in the Real Good Deal sprinting seven furlongs at Del Mar last month, leading all the way to defeat multiple graded stakes winner Slow Down Andy by 1 1/4 lengths.

Big City Lights will face a new set of challenges in Saturday’s eighth race at Los Alamitos, the EB Johnston (post time 6:58 p.m. EDT). He’s stretching out over one mile and squaring off against older rivals for the first time. But with his abundant pacesetting speed, Big City Lights will surely be difficult to catch.

Damon’s Mound

The 2022-23 Road to the Kentucky Derby kicks off in Saturday’s ninth race at Churchill Downs, the Iroquois (G3, post time 4:55 pm), in which Damon’s Mound looms as a key contender for victory. Damon’s Mound showed an affinity for Churchill Downs when dominating a six-furlong maiden special weight on July 2, trouncing 10 rivals (including fellow Iroquois entrant Confidence Game) by 12 1/2 lengths. Damon’s Mound followed up with a 3 1/4-length score in the Saratoga Special (G2), from which runner-up Gulfport came back to finish second in the Hopeful (G1) and third-place finisher Super Chow subsequently nabbed an allowance optional claimer.

The Iroquois marks the stiffest test yet for Damon’s Mound, but his unbeaten and unchallenged record is a positive sign for his potential.

Echo Again

As impressive as Damon’s Mound has been, it’s possible he won’t start as the favorite in the Iroquois. That honor may fall on Echo Againan exciting son of hot young stallion Gun Runner.

Conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, Echo Again made a great impression in his Aug. 20 debut sprinting 6 1/2 furlongs at Saratoga. The gray colt led all the way to trounce his pursuers by 6 3/4 lengths in the fast time of 1:15.89. The Daily Racing Form assigned the performance a 94 Beyer Speed ​​Figure, and the Brisnet Speed ​​rating came back as a 99. In both cases, those numbers top the Iroquois field.

Echo Again is broad top and bottom to stretch out in distance and improve with maturity, so the Iroquois may very well mark the start of a productive Road to the Kentucky Derby campaign.

Expressman

One of the most impressive horses to debut at Saratoga this summer was Expressman. The 3-year-old son of Liam’s Map obliterated a seven-furlong maiden special weight on Aug. 13, leading all the way to win eased-up by 7 1/4 lengths.

Expressman’s fast final time of 1:22.94 seconds translated to a powerful 105 Brisnet Speed ​​rating and a 107 Beyer Speed ​​Figure, stamping the Todd Pletcher trainee as the horse to beat in Saturday’s ninth race at Belmont at the Big A, an allowance (post time 5:13 p.m.). Expressman is sticking to the same seven-furlong distance and looms as the fastest entrant on paper, so don’t be surprised if he dominates again.


Worth Another Try

Bubble Rock

Last year’s Matron (G3) winner failed to seriously challenge when returning to turf off a lengthy layoff in the Music City at Kentucky Downs, weakening from a stalking position to finish sixth. But the field was large, and Bubble Rock possibly didn’t relish competing over the European-style turf course. We’ll give here a chance to rebound over a more typical course next time.

Which horses do you have your eyes on?

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