The final round of Kentucky Derby prep races begins with Saturday’s Grade 2 Louisiana Derby. The main attraction is War of Will, who has dominated the local 3-year-olds in New Orleans, registering impressive wins in the Lecomte and Risen Star. He faces new challenges this time, but is strictly the one to beat as the prohibitive 6-5 morning line favorite.
The Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace. Yet, despite that characterization, this is not a race that features an abundance of need-the-lead speed types. Lemniscate (#2) has put forth his best efforts when able to make the front, but his two main pace rivals, War of Will (#6) and Spinoff (#10), have both been content to sit off another horse in their wins. While they should be laying down honest fractions on the front end, I would be surprised if this race featured the sort of pace meltdowns that we have seen in some other prep races. There are a number of late runners who would benefit from a fast pace, including Country House (#8) and Hog Creek Hustle (#11).
Let’s go through the field:
#1, ROILAND (12-1): This deep closer took advantage of a favorable race flow in the Risen Star when he closed to be third at odds of 69-1. While the early fractions of that race were fast and color-coded red in TimeformUS PPs, the pace was hardly extreme. Yet, the manner in which the race developed undoubtedly favored late runners, as second- through fifth-place finishers occupied the trailing four positions on the backstretch. Roiland got an excellent ride from James Graham that day, as he saved ground in last position for the first six furlongs before gradually working his way to the outside in the stretch. While he made up a significant amount of ground in the lane, he was primarily passing tiring runners late and was never a threat to the top two finishers. The stretch-out to nine furlongs may help him, but it’s hard to envision a horse with his running style earning more than a minor award once again. Using underneath.
#2, LEMNISCATE (15-1): He figures to be sent to the lead, as he has run his best races when able to control the early tempo. His runner-up finish on Feb. 9 was flattered when Last Judgment returned to win an allowance race a Oaklawn Park last Saturday, but he would still require a significant speed figure boost to contend here. Pass.
#3, LIMONITE (20-1): Six runners in this field exit last month’s Risen Star, and this colt figures to be among the biggest prices of that lot. Whereas other deep closers like Roiland and Hog Creek Hustle found their way to clear sailing approaching the quarter pole, Brian Hernande, Jr. elected to stay inside on Limonite as the field turned into the stretch. That proved to be the wrong move, as a number of tiring horses gravitated towards the rail at the eighth pole, causing a traffic jam that claimed Limonite as one of its victims. While I doubt that he would have finished better than third with clear sailing, Limonite was certainly cost several lengths of momentum in that incident. This colt had shown more positional speed in his 2-year-old performances, so I would not be surprised to see new rider Jose Ortiz leave for midpack position this time. If he works out a clean trip, he could outrun his odds. Don’t underestimate.
#4, SUENO (8-1): This modestly bred colt has been improving with every start and may be able to leap into the Kentucky Derby field with another forward progression. He clearly had more to offer when taking down the Gold Rush off a layoff at Golden Gate, as he was green while not appearing to relish the synthetic surface. He ran a more professional race in the Sham, fighting back to finish second after seeming to lose interest coming to the head of the stretch. Both of those races were relatively slow in comparison to the top contenders in this field, but his last race is cause for optimism that he may be able to compete on their level. Sueno worked out a similar trip to Long Range Toddy in that Southwest, as both raced relatively close to the pace in a stalking position. Long Range Toddy did have more significant trouble leaving the quarter pole, as he had to sit behind tiring runners for about an eighth of a mile waiting for room. However, Sueno also lost momentum at that point in the race, finding a seam to daylight just a few strides before that rival did the same. I thought both of these horses finished with good interest that day and there’s a strong argument that they would have been first and second with clean trips. Sueno gives no indication that he will be hindered by added distance and he figures to work out a good trip from midpack in this field.
It seems like most of the main challengers for War of Will are looking to launch rallies from the back of the pack, and Sueno could get the jump on all of them. The 108 TimeformUS Speed Figure that he earned last time out is just two points lower than War of Will’s best figure and he may have more room for improvement than that rival. The value play.
#5, BY MY STANDARDS (12-1): His victory on the Risen Star undercard was solid for that level, but it’s a big leap from the maiden ranks into graded stakes company. The two bullet workouts in early March give some reasons to be optimistic that this colt’s best days are ahead of him, but I doubt that he can overtake the top contenders in this field. Possible for a minor award.
#6, WAR OF WILL (6-5): I’m usually not one to strongly endorse a favorite, especially when that horse is likely to get bet down to odds-on territory. However, it’s difficult to find any major faults with this colt. He’s undefeated since switching to dirt and he has dominated the local 3-year-olds in both Fair Grounds preps. The Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace once again, but his tactical style makes him adaptable to almost any scenario that develops. He easily spurted away in the lane off relatively slow fractions in the Southwest, and still produced the same stretch kick after tracking a far swifter pace – one that collapsed behind him – in the Risen Star. The added sixteenth should not be a major concern since he’s bred to handle classic distances.
While War Front is generally regarded as more of a speed sire, his dam is by stamina influence Sadler’s Wells, and she has produced a stakes winner over marathon distances on the dirt. As long as he maintains his form, his competitors, barring any major improvement, will be hard-pressed to usurp him. The most likely winner.
#7, MR. MONEY (20-1): He was forced to miss the Lecomte with a setback and then was no match for a number of today’s rivals upon return in the Risen Star. Some may be tempted to cite his fourth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile as evidence that he has more to offer, but the speed figure he earned that day is no higher than his surrounding numbers. In retrospect, his placement in that championship race may have been more a function of other horses failing to show up, as opposed to an exceptional performance by this colt. At this point, he’s still too slow to contend with the top 3-year-olds and his Bret Calhoun stablemate may be the one with more upside. Pass.
#8, COUNTRY HOUSE (9-2): The second choice on the morning line briefly loomed as a threat to War of Will in deep stretch of the Risen Star, but his own antics were his undoing in the final furlong. After making an eye-catching move into contention off the far turn, he started lugging in badly through the lane while unable to sustain his momentum. It’s apparent that this colt possesses ability, but it’s somewhat troublesome that he’s still so uncooperative in his fourth career start. While he did not get left at the gate as badly as in his January maiden score, he yet again broke slowly in the Risen Star. A similarly tardy break in this race could leave him at the back of the pack in the early going. The Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace, but I do not believe this race will feature the sort of pace collapse that we witnessed in the Risen Star. I had been a fan of this horse coming into his last race and I will not be surprised if he steps forward and turns the tables on the favorite this time. Yet I have trouble giving him my endorsement considering the uncertainty around his trip, and concerns about his mental preparedness for this test. Still has something to prove.
#9, BANKIT (20-1): After putting in a strong late run in the Springboard Mile, he’s been unable to muster a rally in subsequent two-turn tests. As far as I can tell, this New York-bred needs to be turning back in distance rather than attempting to negotiate an even longer trip. Bankit actually does have a bright future in statebred stakes like the Mike Lee over the summer, but it’s high time that his connections abandon their Derby dreams. Pass.
#10, SPINOFF (8-1): Those taking an optimistic view will note that he was always highly regarded as a 2-year-old and reportedly trained very well ahead of his third-place finish in the Saratoga Special last summer. He won his two-turn debut in his first start back off the layoff with exceptional ease while earning a speed figure that makes him competitive against some of the top contenders in this field. That victory was similar in nature to the facile winter scores by eventual Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming before that colt made a winning stakes debut in a final round Derby prep race.
Unfortunately, I’m not quite that hopeful about his prospects. Todd Pletcher has been experiencing an uncharacteristic drought with this current crop of 3-year-olds. The only horse in this group to have achieved graded stakes success on the dirt was Sombeyay the Sanford Stakes, contested in July of last year. Generally speaking, plenty of horses with similar past performance lines to Spinoff have not gone on to graded stakes success in recent months. For every Always Dreaming, there are many more failures who are never able to make the transition into stakes winners. Spinoff figures to work out a good trip stalking just outside War of Will, and it’s a good sign that John Velazquez is in to ride. Yet I get the sense that this colt will be bet down off his 8-1 morning line, and I find it unlikely he will offer sufficient value to entice me. A fringe player.
#11, HOG CREEK HUSTLE (12-1): In some ways, his trip in the Risen Star was just as difficult as Limonite’s, since Florent Geroux sacrificed a huge amount of lost ground while steering Hog Creek Hustle wide of the entire field. This horse was at least five wide around most of the far turn and it’s very difficult to give away that many lengths against elite company and still achieve a positive outcome. All things considered, he probably ran just as well as he did when finishing second in the Lecomte in his prior start. The issue I have with him today is the stretch-out in distance. I still believe this colt will ultimately prove best going a one-turn mile, so the 1 1/8 miles could be too far beyond his ideal range. Furthermore, he’s another deep closer in a race that may not suit horses with that style. Using underneath.
I believe that War of Will (#6) is likely to win this race, but I cannot endorse him from a wagering perspective as a probable odds-on choice. The horse that should offer the best value as an alternative win candidate is SUENO (#4), so I will focus my wagers around him. I also want to use Limonite (#3) underneath. He’s not quite as likely to win as the aforementioned two, but he could add some value to the exotics.
Exacta Key Box: 4 with 3,6,8
Trifecta: 4,6 with 4,6 with 1,3,5,8,10,11
Trifecta: 4,6 with 3,8 with 4,6