A pair of heavy longshots trained by Dale Romans for Donegal Racing swept the exacta in the $171,750 Iroquois Stakes (gr. III) Sept. 7 at Churchill Downs when Cleburne edged a fast-closing Smart Cover by a neck in the key juvenile test (VIDEO).
"They both ran super races," Romans said. "They're both nice horses, they want to run long, and I couldn't be happier with them."
The Iroquois, contested for the first time at 1 1/16 miles, provided a guaranteed berth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park as part of the "Win & You're In" challenge series. It also gave points to the top four finishers (10-4-2-1) toward a potential start in next year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
"We'll at least go with the winner, and we might go with both," Romans said of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Cleburne, ridden by Corey Lanerie at odds of 34-1, wrested the lead from second choice Tapiture in deep stretch and dug in resolutely to reach the wire just in front of 26-1 Smart Cover. The latter was flying late for Shaun Bridgmohan in a terrific finish with Tapiture a second neck behind them. The final time was 1:45.65 on a fast track in a field of 10.
"It always feels good to win a big race, especially with young horses," said Romans, the 2012 Eclipse Award winner as the nation's leading trainer. "You can start thinking about next year. It's been a tough year. But we've had a lot of reasons for that, we've worked them all out, and we're going good again."
The winner paid $70.20, $22.80, and $12 across the board, topping the Donegal/Romans exacta worth $500 even. Smart Cover, returned $18 and $9.60, while 2-1 shot Tapiture, ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr., was part of a $4,256.80 trifecta while paying $3.40 to show. Favored Ride On Curlin, also sent off at 2-1 odds, was fourth. The superfecta was $14,587 for a $2 ticket.
The Iroquois was previously contested as a one-turn mile and was also moved forward from its traditional spot on the fall schedule at Churchill Downs to be part of the track's inaugural September stand.
A son of the late sire Dixie Union, Cleburne is the first foal from the winning Distorted Humor mare Joyful. Bred by Earle I. Mack, the bay colt sold for $310,000 at last year's Keeneland September yearling sale, consigned by Denali Stud.
Cleburne debuted at Ellis Park Aug. 16, coming from off the pace to register a half-length victory over a maiden special weight field going one mile on turf.
Lanerie had the winner reserved along the inside while racing in seventh or eighth as 47-1 Laddie Boy showed the way by about a length over Rise Up as Tapiture stalked in fourth through quarter mile fractions of :23.34, :46.61, and 1:11.63. Cleburne advanced along the inside rounding the turn and angled out for the drive.
Still fifth on the outside at the eighth pole, Cleburne caught the eye with a flashy finish. He inched past Tapiture, who made a gutsy move himself to get through along the rail for Santana to edge clear of Ride On Curlin at the eighth pole. Smart Cover, racing in ninth for the opening half mile, rallied four wide to just miss while getting past Tapiture in the final strides.
"He broke sharp and put me in a really good spot," Lanerie said of his inside trip. "I tried to keep him close to the rail because the dirt wasn't hitting him and I think he would have come on through if I'd had the opportunity, but I was following Tapiture and when he took that spot, I went around and it was just a race to the wire."
"He was a little farther back than I anticipated, but I just let him be comfortable," Bridgmohan said of the runner-up, a son of Any Given Saturday. "He kicked in really good the last part."
Cleburne earned $101,151 for the victory.
Ride On Curlin, two lengths back, was followed by Laddie Boy, Rise Up, Stonecrusher, Solemnly Swear, Jimmy Connors, and Honorable Judge. All Cash and Cee 'n O scratched.