Saturday Stakes Preview: War Story has upside in The Louisiana Derby

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>Go to the PPs for the Louisiana Derby/ Post Time: 5:24 PM CDT

On a grand day of racing in New Orleans, the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby goes as race 11 and has a field of nine three-year-old colts and geldings going a mile and 1/8 on the dirt. The field is led by International Star, who has already qualified for the Kentucky Derby and is going for his fourth graded stakes victory.

According to our Pace Projector, the pace of the Louisiana Derby will favor neither frontrunners nor closers. No surprise, the early leader is projected to be Mr. Z. St. Joe Bay is projected to be just to his outside at the opening half-mile. Defondo is shown stalking in the clear in third place.

This is the field in post position order:

Stanford (5-1): Pletcher colt has done his best work in Florida. This will be his first try at Fair Grounds. Pletcher gets a rating of 100 out of 100 at this racetrack and 98 with second-time routers. Stanford’s speed figures are a little soft relative to the fastest horses in here, but this colt is lightly raced and no prisoner to a frontrunning style. Gets a class test today. A contender.

Mr. Z (4-1): As a three-year-old, this talented lug-out artist has yet to get within 14 points of his two-year-old top. That is a distinct negative. Durable, for sure, and a good thing, too, because his durabilitfree membership ady gets put to the test at seemingly every opportunity. Blinkers come off today. There are no class questions with this horse, who finished in a three-way photo with Dortmund and Firing Line in December, nor are there talent questions with a horse who has run a speed figure of 106. But there are other questions, namely: Is he over the top? What does the lugging signify? This is a colt who can lug his way from one end of the track to the other. And in his last start, while he did not lug badly, he did get out a little bit, and he seemed to do some of it against a right-hand whip, which adds to our concerns. We can handle all of these negatives if we’re getting price, but 4-1 falls a little short of what we’d need to play him to win.

Defondo (12-1): Too slow, and just lost an entry-level allowance despite receiving a friendly trip.

Fusaichi Flame (20-1): Had to labor too hard to work his way up to a lifetime top of 81. Not interested.

A Day in Paradise (12-1): Too slow. But since he’s trained by Larry Jones, one is permitted to embrace the hope that a huge jump will come out of nowhere.

War Story (4-1):

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Lightly raced colt is 2 for 4 lifetime and may have more upside than the morning line favorite. Speed figures are improving handsomely. Trainer gets a perfect 100 rating at this racetrack. Rider Joe Talamo returns to his old stomping grounds. War Story is a poor gate horse. He has had self-caused trouble at the gate in three of his four races. This can be read in multiple ways. Minor gate problems have a way of becoming bigger gate problems, but they also have a way of becoming no gate problem. And so far in his career, this gelding has done just fine for himself despite the gate problem. Indeed, he came up just a length short against International Star in his last start, earning a speed figure of 89. War Story is our selection.

Keen Ice (5-1): No match for International Star in the Risen Star. The Pace Projector shows him a distant last early. Best chance is probably a heated speed duel, but even if he gets it, there are plenty of other horses in here who will benefit too. We don’t really like him at 5-1 ML.

St. Joe Bay (10-1): Was pestered early by a no-hope longshot in the Risen Star or he almost certainly would have hit the trifecta or even the exacta. Tough break. But that doesn’t mean he is owed any luck today. Figures to be contending with Mr. Z right out of the gate. No fun. Has a lifetime top speed figure of 90 and has never won a race above the maiden claiming level. Goes for a good trainer, Pete Miller, who loses a lot of stakes races (52 rating in 3YO stakes) because he believes that a prerequisite for winning big races is entering them.

International Star (3-1): Likely favorite is 4 for 8 lifetime. Enters off wins in Grade 3 LeComte and Grade 2 Risen Star. His speed figures have been improving, and his last number (92) ties for best last-out speed figure in the field. Have a hard time thinking the extra half-furlong will bother him in the least. Has a pleasing running style and a nice turn of foot. Trainer Michael Maker gets a 95 rating at this racetrack, a 97 rating with this spacing, and a 93 rating with this rider. There are a lot of positives here, and we would not quarrel with anyone for thinking this colt the most like winner of this race.

The play:

Win bet on War Story.

Use War Story and a little bit of Stanford in multi-race bets and protect under International Star in vertical exotics (exactas, trifectas, and superfectas).

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