The big time derby prep races get underway this weekend. The Fair Grounds in New Orleans will be putting up a $1,000,000 purse and the folks in Kentucky will be putting up 100 Kentucky Derby points to the winner of Saturday’s Louisiana Derby. The 100 derby points will be more than enough to get to the starting gate on the first Saturday in May. The race will be contested at 1-1/8 miles around the two turn dirt course.
In a race that has been run since 1894, I was a little surprised to find only 2 Kentucky Derby winning graduates, Black Gold in 1924 and Grindstone in 1996.
The Louisiana Derby is the crown jewel of the winter/spring meet at the Fair Grounds, and this year 9 hopefuls will take their shot, including Risen Star winner and 8-5 morning line favorite Girvin. Also coming out of the Risen Star will be Local Hero, the 7-2 morning line second choice. For what it’s worth, I will be tossing both of these horses and looking for a better price. Girvin got a dream trip against an extremely soft field in the Risen Star. He broke from the #1 post and saved every inch of ground around both turns. Then, inexplicably, my selection, Untrapped, moved off of the rail on the turn for home and left a clear path for Girvin. This week Girvin will break from post #8 and I can’t imagine he will enjoy the same racing luck.
Local Hero, a Steve Asmussen trainee, was equally as unimpressive in defeat. Local hero set a soft pace and still had a 6 length lead coming out of the first turn. Then he slowed it down even more and proceeded to fade in the stretch. The Risen Star field was fairly weak on the front end and Local Hero could barely muster holding on by a neck to finish in the money. This is the sign of a horse that is on the down side of a form cycle and I can’t imagine he will relish the extra distance. Wish I woulda recognized this scenario in last week’s Spiral Stakes when I went against my better judgement and picked En Hanse, who showed the exact same running line.
There are not many 1-1/8 mile dirt races at the Fair Grounds, but the inside/early speed bias and the inside post preference in the 1m 70yd and 1-1/16 mile races will be muted due to the longer run into the first turn. Good jockeys should have plenty of time to gain position and save ground.
On or near the pace of this race will be Patch, breaking from post #1. In his first try at a route in February, this two time starter broke his maiden while being up close to some serious fractions at Gulfstream Park, eventually wearing down the leader for the win. It looks like this colt is being schooled to not need the lead, but his early foot in a route is undeniable. My biggest concern is that he was ridden in that race by Hall of Famer John Velazquez, who will not be riding him today. This speed ball will be ridden by Tyler Gaffalione who is only an 8% winner in route races. I don’t trust Gaffalione as much to be able to harness this horse’s speed which will compromise not only Patch’s chances, but also the chances of fellow front runner Local Hero who has not shown any ability to rate from off the pace. That fast pace and big final speed figure in that maiden race are enough to consider Patch, but not enough for a full endorsement.
To further enhance the early pace, Girvin Trainer Joe Sharp has entered the long shot “rabbit” Hotfoot, and Todd Pletcher brings the front running entrant Monaco. There is way too much speed here for me.
Then there is 4-1 morning line Guest Suite. Guest Suite, with Robby Albarado up, was too far back in the Risen Star while traveling 2-3 wide around both turns. Being 13 lengths back to soft fractions at the first call, he did well to barely miss overtaking the back pedalling Local Hero for 3rd. I think that Guest Suite will enjoy the added distance and be better suited to this pace scenario. Guest Suite also has a graded stakes win over the Fair Grounds course in the LeComte Stakes back in January.
This week’s pick is going to be a 2-horse exacta box, with Patch and Guest Suite. In these springtime preps I like horses who are on the improve and horses that look to want more distance. That is what we have here. Patch put up big numbers as a maiden and looks to be getting better while Guest Suite wants to run further. Play it both ways and hope for a $35+ exacta payout.