Photo: Gary Johnson/Eclipse Sportswire
When Damon’s Mound won the Saratoga Special (G2) last month, it confirmed trainer Michelle Lovell’s claim that his impressive debut win was not a fluke.
“He was showing off,” she said of his 12 1/2-length win at Churchill Downs, her home track.
Next up with Damon’s Mound, she’ll look for Kentucky Derby qualifying points in Saturday’s Iroquois (G3), also at Churchill Downs. The race offers 10-4-3-2-1 points for the two top five finishers.
Damon’s Mound is a Florida-bred son of Girvin out of San Antonio Stroll, and he’s owned by Michele and Cliff Love. His last published work was on Sept. 7 at Colonial Downs, where Lovell moves for the summer. He breezed six furlongs in 1:14.0, the fastest of two at the distance.
“He’s been awesome,” Lovell said Horse Racing Nation from Churchill Downs this week. “We had both this race and the Breeders’ Futurity (G1, Oct. 8) on the table. And just getting back from Virginia, I wanted to make sure that we settled in really well, and he got over the track really well. And he’s been doing great. I thought it was good timing for him and would give him a little bit more time if – depending on how we do here – if we’re so fortunate to be able to go to the Breeders Cup, it would be really good timing from this race to that.”
Lovell won two Grade 3s last year with Change of Control as a 5-year-old, and she got her first Grade 3 in 2017 with Fault at age 3. With Damon’s Mound, it is different.
After his debut win over 11 rivals at Churchill Downs in July, he went on to take the Saratoga Special, with a field of four. Damon’s Mound took over in the stretch and won by 3 1/4 lengths.
Gabriel Saez was his rider for both races, and he will be back in the irons on Saturday. Lovell said that continuity is important.
“He helped get him ready before we ran his first race. And we also flew him in the week before for his last breeze before the Saratoga Special. He loves him, he knows him really well.”
Damon’s Mound drew post No. 3 in the nine-horse field and is the second choice on the morning line at 5-2.
“I was hoping for the middle, and so we’re OK in the draw. And I just think it’s a good spot to test him going around two turns. I think he’s really ready for it, and I’m really excited about it. There’s some nice horses in there, and we’re ready for Saturday.”
Among those “good horses” is Echo Again, the morning-line favorite at 2-1. The Gun Runner colt has raced once, winning by 6 3/4 lengths at Saratoga on Aug. 20 for trainer Steve Asmussen.
And Jace’s Road (7-2) also is 1-for-1 after winning for Brad Cox at Ellis Park on Aug. 6.
Echo Again is “a wonderful horse,” Lovell said. “He’s obviously very well bred. I saw him when I was at Saratoga the day he won, I was up there running another horse. And so I got to witness that. He’s a big, pretty horse. So we’ll have to have our running shoes on, but I think we’ll be OK. And there’s other nice horses in there stretching out, there’s a couple others that showed some talent. So who knows? Babies change all the time. But I feel really confident in my horse. I’m just really excited about it.”
Along those lines, it’s difficult to predict how the race might unfold.
“Obviously, Echo Again has a ton of speed and talent,” Lovell said. “And there’s a few other horses in there with some speed. So it should be a pretty good pace. And my horse isn’t slow. But it is the first time around two turns for a lot of them, so they have to negotiate that first turn. And I’m comfortable wherever my horse is in the race. I think Gabe will work that out, depending on the break. He’s extremely fast away from the gate anyway, so we should have, hopefully, a good trip.”
Lovell said she hasn’t changed her training routine, although that six-furlong drill was his first published work at that distance.
At Churchill, “he’s been galloping around there very comfortably – nice, big open gallops – and he seems to love the track,” she said. “He won on it, breaking his maiden, and I really haven’t done anything different. He’s pretty simple to train. He trains very nicely. So he does whatever the rider asks him to do. Just doing some nice, stretchy gallops.”
What helps with training Damon’s Mound, Lovell said, is that he’s smart. “He’s got a really, really good mind. Very intelligent horse and oozes class. And he’s got the look. So he’s, like, everything.”