Six of the eight runners in this Grade 2, $1 million Louisiana Derby exit the Risen Star, including the top three finishers from that race. While Mandaloun seems like a deserving favorite on the heels of his decisive victory in that local prep, at least one notable invader makes this a more intriguing race. Furthermore, all must handle the stretch-out in distance to 1 3/16 miles, the most demanding test of stamina on the Kentucky Derby trail.
The Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace, but the early complexion of this race should look very similar to what transpired last time in the Risen Star. No. 2 Rightandjust has the early speed to make the lead over #7 Midnight Bourbon, and the other major players figure to line up in behind stalking. I don’t expect them to be flying along up front, especially as all try this demanding distance for the first time.
#6 Mandaloun is the horse to beat as he attempts to solidify his position as the top Louisiana-based contender for the Kentucky Derby. He has improved steadily with each start, most recently turning the tables on both rivals who defeated him two back in the Lecomte. While some might be skeptical of a son of Into Mischief stretching out further, this particular horse has a nice foundation of European turf route breeding on the dam’s side. He should work out a similar trip to last time, and as long as he continues progressing he should be tough to beat again.
However, his two main rivals from the Risen Star also have a right to improve with added distance. The one who seems a bit more convincing as an upset candidate is #4 Proxy. Like the favorite, he’s continued to move forward with each start, bettering his Lecomte performance in the Risen Star despite against settling for second. He’s a grinder who gives the impressive that he should stay the added ground. However, they are changing up his equipment and adding blinkers for this race, which is not a strong move for trainer Mike Stidham.
Midnight Bourbon has a pedigree that says distance should be no issue, but he did tire a bit at the end of the Risen Star, even after working out a favorable trip stalking a moderate pace. He beat both of his aforementioned rivals in the Lecomte, but that race very much played out in his favor, as some speed scratched out, allowing him to control affairs on the front end.
The others exiting the Risen Star are hard for me to endorse. No. 8 O Besos appears to want less distance after flattening out in the late stages of his first two-turn test last time. And #1 Starrinmydreams did encounter significant trouble in the early stages of the Risen Star after breaking slowly, but even his prior form does not put him in the same league as the favorites here.
I instead want to go in a different direction with California shipper #5 Hot Rod Charlie. This horse has put forth game efforts in each start since stretching on dirt last fall. He was thrown directly into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile following his maiden victory, and he tackled that ambitious placing with vigor, giving eventual champion Essential Quality all that he could handle in midstretch. Hot Rod Charlie returned from the layoff last time in the Robert B. Lewis, and produced another gritty performance, battling on gamely for third between rivals in a tight finish. That 112 TimeformUS Speed Figure puts him on terms with the favorites here, and that race has subsequently been flattered by the performances of Medina Spirit (second in the San Felipe with a 120) and Spielberg (second in the Southwest with a 114). Furthermore, Hot Rod Charlie seems like a candidate to move forward off that effort, as he’s been very impressive in his workouts leading up to this race.
Exacta key box: 5 with 4, 6, 7
Trifecta: 5 with 4, 6 with 4, 6, 7