The Fair Grounds route to the Kentucky Derby culminates on Saturday with the 105th running of the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby. This final-round prep offers 100 points to the winner and 40 points to the runner-up, virtually guaranteeing both of those finishers a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. This field includes the top three finishers from the Risen Star, the local prep for this race, as well as the winner of Oaklawn Park’s Southwest Stakes.
The Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace in a race that features a plethora of front-runners. There are no fewer than five entrants with running styles designated as either “Speed” or “Leader” in TimeformUS PPs. The two that may play out as the fastest in the early going are Risen Star pacesetter Snapper Sinclair (#7), and the speedy maiden colt Marmello (#3). However, horses like Noble Indy (#2), Retirement Fund (#5), and Hyndford (#6) have all been most effective when racing on or near the lead, so they should be in close attendance to the pace again here. A particularly fast early tempo would clearly help the morning-line favorite My Boy Jack (#9), but there are also a couple of other closers at big prices that would benefit from a pace collapse situation.
Let’s go through the entire field:
#1, BRAVAZO (7-2): In retrospect, Bravazo’s win in the Risen Star should not have been as great a surprise as his $44 win payout might suggest. He had picked up a Grade 1 placing in last fall’s Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland and was coming off the best race of his career in his 3-year-old debut at Oaklawn. He totally validated that effort with this pace-pressing win in Fair Grounds’ penultimate Derby prep. Yet while he ran well to win, it is necessary to discuss the pace of the Risen Star as we evaluate runners exiting that race.
The blue color-coded pace figure you see in Bravazo’s running line indicates that the early pace was on the slow side, and indeed the race played out in a fashion that would suggest closers were severely compromised. None of the top four finishers were ever farther than two lengths from the front, and the two that completed the exacta were the ones that shared the lead throughout. Clearly, Bravazo was aided by a very favorable trip last time. However, I think there are nevertheless reasons to prefer him to others exiting that Risen Star. Most importantly, he had shown in prior starts that he doesn’t necessarily need to be placed close to the early pace. He had rallied from six lengths back in his prior start at Oaklawn. I would not be surprised to see Gary Stevens try to use similar tactics here. Furthermore, he seems like a colt that is improving at the right time, just realizing his full potential, whereas some others may already be peaking.
#2, NOBLE INDY (7-2): Like others that were close to the early pace in the Risen Star, Noble Indy benefited from his forward position in finishing third. Some might try to make the argument that he wasn’t fully clear when attempting to rally in the stretch, but he appeared to be running on willingly late in a race that was just not conducive to horses passing each other. Todd Pletcher adds blinkers for this second stakes attempt, and I’m not sure that it’s a great sign. According to DRF Formulator, Todd Pletcher is just 3 for 28 ($1.14 ROI) when adding blinkers in graded stakes races over the past five years. It seems like a desperate move with a horse that has been fairly professional from the start. Furthermore, if the blinkers motivate this colt to show more speed, he could be up against it from a race dynamics perspective. As one of the short prices in this race, I prefer others.
#3, MARMELLO (50-1): This overmatched maiden should force the early pace, but is unlikely to be around at the end.
#4, GIVEMEAMINIT (20-1): I think there are two ways to approach this horse. Most handicappers will likely argue that he’s just a sprinter than has been running in the wrong spots, and therefore is one to bet against yet again here. Based on his overall results, that’s fair. However, those wishing to take a more optimistic view can make some excuses for his two-turn efforts. That can certainly be the case last time, when he was taken back to last behind a slow pace in that aforementioned Risen Star. Obviously, he had little chance to make up any significant ground in the stretch. Will a much faster pace in this Louisiana Derby allow him to erase that 10-length deficit? That’s unclear, but what is certain is that he’s going to be an enticing price. There are limited options in the way of closers in this race, so I don’t want to just dismiss a capable late runner due to concerns about the distance. He’s reunited with Javier Castellano, who rode him to that solid fourth-place finish in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. I’ll be using this one in exotics.
#5, RETIREMENT FUND (12-1): It’s possible that he just hated the mud at Oaklawn last time and he also was racing two to three wide throughout over a track that was intensely favoring rail runners by the end of the day. Yet my issue with this horse is that I’m not particularly fond of either of his prior races. He was allowed to set slow to moderate early paces in both of those wire-to-wire wins at Fair Grounds in December and January. It’s unlikely that he’s fast enough to make the lead here and he may not possess enough talent anyway. I’m against him.
#6, HYNDFORD (8-1): He’s yet another colt that probably wants to find an early position within the top four slots. Such a taxing trip could make his task too difficult, as he would need to improve on his best effort to contend with this field. While his supporters will point to the fact that he was beaten just two lengths by stablemate Magnum Moon at Tampa Bay Downs, the published running line does not tell the whole story. This horse was no match for that undefeated colt, working hard to narrowly hang on for second as the winner blew by him under a hand ride. Furthermore, Hyndford was allowed to set an extremely slow early pace that day and could be in for an unpleasant surprise when others blast out to the lead in this spot.
#7, SNAPPER SINCLAIR (9-2): Conventional wisdom suggests that Bravazo is the one you want from that Risen Star win photo moving forward. As a son of City Zip out of a Yes It’s True mare, Snapper Sinclair is not supposed to improve with added distance, so this nine-furlong test could prove to be too much for him. Others failed to respect his chances when he was dismissed at 41-1 odds last time, but that’s unlikely to be the case today. There are at least three speeds drawn inside of him, and they will all be looking to gain an advantage over this colt. He’s going to be a fraction of the price he was last time, and that’s bad value in my opinion. I’m somewhat against him here.
#8, LONE SAILOR (20-1): For the most part, this colt has been a disappointment. His connections have not shied away from trying him in some of the tougher spots, and aside from a distant third in last fall’s Breeders’ Futurity, he has not rewarded them. At least not yet. I’ve been a fan of this horse since his visually impressive maiden score at Saratoga last summer, and I think he deserves one more shot against the top guns here. Naysayers will point to his dismal ninth-place finish in the Lecomte as evidence that he doesn’t belong, but he was not himself that day. In his only start with blinkers, he was uncharacteristically aggressive in the early going and showed none of his typical late interest.
While he lost to one of today’s rivals in an allowance race last time, I liked what I saw in that Feb. 19 effort. The early pace of that race was slow, and winner Dark Templar led throughout as only Lone Sailor was able to make a significant late move. He finished powerfully through the lane, looking more like the horse that was charging late to pick up those stakes placings as a 2-year-old. I feel that he’s moving in the right direction once again, and I’m optimistic that this grandson of A. P. Indy can get the distance. At what figures to be a generous price, he’s my pick in a race where the favorites look particularly vulnerable.
#9, MY BOY JACK (5-2): At first glance, he looks to have found a perfect spot in which to complete his Derby preparations. He’s one of just a few closers in this race, and is by far the most accomplished among those with his late-running style. It’s impossible to ride a horse more perfectly than Kent Desormeaux did in winning the Southwest last time over that muddy strip at Oaklawn. Breaking from the rail, he never strayed far from that inside path, gradually working his way into contention on the turn before cutting the corner into the lane. He finished up like a horse that should have no trouble with an extra sixteenth of a mile. However, it’s necessary to attach a word of caution as a footnote to that performance. The inside path at Oaklawn had become a substantial advantage by that point in the day, and My Boy Jack undoubtedly benefited from racing on the best part of the track for his entire trip.
If you’re thinking about betting My Boy Jack at a short price, it’s worth posing this question to yourself: Does he still look like a deserving favorite if I ignore that Southwest win? The answer is obviously no. Some handicappers put more stock in track biases than others, but I think this is a scenario where a horse with mediocre prior form is going to attract an inordinate amount of support based on a bias-aided win. Those runners are never for me. Therefore, I’m restricting his use to underneath in exotics.
#10, DARK TEMPLAR (12-1): He was able to wire an allowance field after setting moderate early fractions last time, but he’s unlikely to make the early lead here as he breaks from the outside post position in a race filled with speed. He’s not a horse that necessarily needs the lead, as he did rally from just off the pace when finishing behind today’s rival Retirement Fund and the talented Principe Guilherme in two prior starts. A bigger concern for me is the fact that he has a tendency to break slowly. That could be especially detrimental in this far more accomplished field.
Of the favorites, Bravazo (#1) seems like the most reliable option. I feel reasonably comfortable keying my exotic wagers around him at the expense of co-favorites Noble Indy and My Boy Jack. However, Bravazo is unlikely to offer that much value and I think this is a race that could produce an upset. Therefore, I’m taking a shot with Lone Sailor (#8) at a much more generous price. I’ll push these two in the majority of my wagers, and will bet Lone Sailor to win.
Exacta Box: 1,4,8
Trifecta: 1,8 with 1,8 with 2,4,7,9,10
Trifecta: 1,8 with 2,4,9 with 1,2,4,8,9