Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen leads Stellar Tap into the winner's circle after the colt gave him his North American record-setting 9,446th career win at Saratoga on Aug. 7, 2021. NYRA/Chelsea Durand photo.

Stellar Tap Aims for More Spotlight In Iroquois Stakes

By Alicia Hughes

One race into his career was enough for Stellar Tap to earn an exceptional measure of sentiment from his Hall of Fame trainer.

Anytime a juvenile wins a maiden race at Saratoga by open lengths is cause for open eyes and, in his career debut, Stellar Tap certainly announced himself by drawing clear by 5 ¼ lengths in a seven-furlong test on Aug. 7. That triumph, of course, symbolized more than just the arrival of a potential high-level performer as it also provided Steve Asmussen his record-setting 9,446th career victory, making him the all-time winningest conditioner in North American Thoroughbred racing history. 

Having already been part of a moment for the ages, Stellar Tap will now try and become the latest protégé to add to his trainer’s laundry list of graded stakes achievements when he heads a field of 11 entered in the $300,000 Iroquois Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs on Sept. 18.

The 1 1/16-mile Iroquois is one of five stakes events on the first Saturday of the 12-day September Meet beneath the Twin Spires. The Top 4 finishers of the race will receive 10-4-2-1 points on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” and both the Iroquois and the $300,000 Pocahontas Stakes (G3) for 2-year-old fillies are part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” series offering an automatic entry-fees paid berth to the season-ending championships held on Nov. 5 at Del Mar. 

Owned by L and N Racing and Winchell Thoroughbreds, Stellar Tap came through Asmussen’s parents’ training operation in Laredo, Texas where he earned high regard while earning his early lessons. The son of Tapit backed up those expectations in his debut when he rated just off the pace through the opening quarter-mile before taking command at the half and kicking on handily en route to covering the distance in 1:23.82 over a track rated fast.

“I was really happy with that baby (Stellar Tap),” jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr., who will have the mount on Saturday, said after the colt’s successful debut. “I went by the barn and I told Steve how much I liked the horse. He was working crazy good.”

Bred in Kentucky by Moyglare Stud Farm, Stellar Tap was purchased by Winchell Thoroughbreds for $250,000 out of the 2020 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.

The Winchell colors will have dual representation in the Iroquois as their homebred colt Guntown is also set to be in the starting gate. The bay runner, who is also trained by Asmussen, is by red-hot first-crop sire Gun Runner and out of 2014 Broodmare of the Year Fun House, making him a half-sibling to champion Untapable. 

After finishing third in his debut at Ellis Park on July 11, Guntown broke his maiden by 4 ¼ lengths going a mile at the Pea Patch on Aug. 13.

Carolyn Wilson’s $125,000 Ellis Park Juvenile winner Roger McQueen will attempt his first victory around two turns on Saturday for trainer Larry Rivelli. The Unified colt, who was purchased for $530,000 at the 2021 OBS March Sale, was the half-length winner of the seven-furlong Ellis Park Juvenile under jockey Adam Beschizza, Roger McQueen drew post No. 3 with Beschizza back in the saddle again. 

Other main rivals in the Iroquois include WinStar Farm and Siena Farm’s Saratoga debut winner Major General for newly-elected Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. The Constitution colt broke his maiden in a 6 ½-furlong maiden special weight contest as the 5-2 post time favorite. New York-based Javier Castellano will be in town to ride from post 8.

Ontheonesandtwos seeks first stakes win in Pocahontas

Deuce Greathouse, Cindy Hutson, Madaket Stables and Thomas Romano’s Ontheonesandtwos will be in search of her first graded stakes win in Saturday’s 53rd running of the Pocahontas – the kickoff to the “Road to the Kentucky Oaks.”

The 1 1/16-mile race offers points to the Top 4 finishers on a 10-4-2-1 scale to the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1). 

Trained by Norm Casse, Ontheonesandtwos, a 2-year-old Jimmy Creed filly, won her debut in May at Churchill Downs by 1 ¾ lengths. The former $37,000 purchase from the 2020 Keeneland September Yearling Sale finished second behind Behave Virginia in the $150,000 Debutante and sixth in the $200,000 Adirondack Stakes (G2) at Saratoga. 

“Ontheonesandtwos probably should have won the Debutante at Churchill on Closing Day,” Casse said. “She had a really tough trip.”

Jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. will ride from post No. 4. 

Among Ontheonesandtwos’ rivals in the Pocahontas is Hidden Brook Farm’s flashy debut winner Hidden Connection. Trained by Bret Calhoun, Hidden Connection won four weeks ago at Colonial Downs by 7 ½ lengths under jockey Reylu Gutierrez.

Hidden Connection is among the first-crop of 2-year-olds from her sire Connect. She was purchased at the 2021 OBS June Horses of Racing Age Sale for $85,000. Gutierrez has the return call from post 9.