Horse racing continues its return from the post-Saratoga/Del Mar hiatus today, with the beginning of Churchill Downs’ 12-day September Meet.

Shedaresthedevil-Churchill opener
Shedaresthedevil bedeviled her opponents in April’s Grade 1 La Troienne at Churchill Downs. She returns to one of her favorite tracks on opening weekend for the 12-day fall meet. (Image: Churchill Downs/Coady Photography)

The Kentucky track joins Belmont Park, which began its fall meet Wednesday. All 117 September races at Churchill Downs will run on dirt. The track began work on its new $10 million turf course in July, but that won’t be ready for action until the 2022 Spring Meet.

Instead, Churchill Downs contents itself with an eight-race, Thursday opener under the lights. The track’s 12-day meet runs Thursdays through Sundays over the next three weekends on a predictable pattern. Thursday’s cards feature eight races. Friday’s and Sunday’s 10. Saturday’s cards offer 11.

That sets the table for 11 stakes worth $3.26 million in purses. Two of those this weekend are noteworthy for their entrants: the Grade 3 Iroquois and the Grade 3 Pocahantas. The Iroquois is the first Kentucky Derby trail race of the 2021-22 campaign. The 1 1/16-mile race offers 10-4-2-1 qualifying points to its top four finishers, along with a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to its winner.

Stellar Tap returns after noteworthy victory

The Iroquois could feature two Saratoga maiden winners, Major General and Stellar Tap, along with the duo who ran 1-2 at the Ellis Park Juvenile, Roger McQueen and Lucky Boss. If Stellar Tap sounds familiar, he should. He was the colt who gave trainer Steve Asmussen his record-breaking 9,446th career victory.

The 1 1/16-mile Pocahontas does the same for the Kentucky Oaks and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. You could see Hidden Connection come off her 7 ½-length Colonial Downs debut score join Debutante runner-up Ontheonesandtwos in that race.

The other intriguing race this weekend is the Grade 3 Locust Grove. That 1 1/16-mile Saturday race pits three-time Grade 1 winner Shedaresthedevil against the talented, but inconsistent, Envoutante. Shedaresthedevil is 3-for-4 in 2021, coming in off a 3 ¼-length win in the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch at Del Mar Aug. 1. The Brad Cox charge, who won the 2020 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs, also captured the Grade 1 La Troienne on the Kentucky Oaks undercard and the Grade 2 Azeri.

Knicks Go could go at Churchill Downs

Kenny McPeek’s Envoutante ran her last three races at Churchill Downs (1-1-1). All were stakes events, including a second in that La Troienne. She scored in the Black-Type Shawnee in late May. Last out, Envoutante finished third in the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis in late June.

Fast forward to closing weekend and we could see Knicks Go tune-up for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. That tune-up would be the Grade 3 Lukas Classic. The race is named after D. Wayne Lukas, the Hall of Fame trainer, four-time Kentucky Derby winner, and denizen of Barn 44 at Churchill Downs for the last 32 years. Cox told Churchill Downs that Whitney winner Knicks Go may use the 1 1/8-mile Lukas as his Breeders’ Cup prep.