Fair Grounds closes with a bang this weekend, offering up a contentious renewal of the Louisiana Derby, which is positioned five weeks out from the Kentucky Derby this year. All told, an overflow field of 13 is scheduled to meet the starter, including a pair of contenders from Todd Pletcher’s powerhouse barn. While they crawled up front in the local prep, the Risen Star, Saturday’s race seems filled with early pace and could see a bevy of closers rolling down the long Fair Grounds stretch. Let’s take a look.
Fair Grounds: The Grade II, $750,000 Louisiana Derby at 1 1/8 miles
1. Hotep: Really disappointed in the Risen Star when he made no impact in the lane and finished 10th of 12 against many he meets again here. He drew the outside post that day, and now goes inside, but much more was expected that day. Beautifully bred colt loses Albarado to Island Soul, but it is nice to see Frostad forge on; still, tough to back with that last one staring right at you.
2. Mission Impazible: The “other” Pletcher runner won’t get a lot of publicity, but all things considered, his two-turn debut in the Southwest was a fine effort. He broke from the far outside in post 10, was wide into the lane, chased favorite and undefeated Conveyance through quick splits, and still held on nicely for fourth, beaten just 4 1/4 lengths by Conveyance and Dublin, who are both legitimate Derby contenders at this point. And now, with this inside draw, he should be able to use his sprint speed to gain position and potentially even set the pace, and we saw how speed-biased the course was on Risen Star day; if the track is a paved highway again, he becomes very interesting at a solid price.
3. Fly Down: Zito runner is quickly gaining attention as a late-developer, á la stablemate and recent Florida Derby winner Ice Box, based on his 3yo debut in a GP allowance last month. He’s defeated First Dude twice, and that runner just finished a non-threatening fifth in the Florida Derby, so you are allowed to wonder if there’s enough class in this corner. The good news is that he’s already won at this trip and should be closing late down the long Fair Grounds stretch; not backing on top today, but admitting he wouldn’t be a surprise either and has every chance to crack the tri.
4. The Program: Baffert runner ships outside So. Cal and tests dirt for the first time as well, and we’ve already seen what that did for stablemate Conveyance. The latter, however, came with some solid credentials while this guy really hasn’t done too much up to this point. That’s not saying he isn’t in with a shot; after all, he was fourth and beaten just 1 1/2 lengths by Derby favorite Lookin At Lucky in the GI CashCall Futurity last fall. Has the tactical speed to be just off the lead and try to move on the far turn, just not sure where that move will take him; passing.
5. A Little Warm: Top notch sprinter looked great in a pair of GP runs this winter, including a fine second to the very accomplished D’Funnybone in the GII Hutcheson last month. Never two-turned, but you can’t blame the owners for giving it a try, especially when this guy’s speed figures lay over the field, though that means little in the grand scheme of things here. Expecting his sprint speed to have him in the mix early, and he does have a pedigree that suggests this game is well within his scope. If he can do the same thing going long as he did going short, he’s probably your winner, but it is asking a lot; watching for now.
6. Ron The Greek: A lot of people are saying that he got exposed in the Risen Star after looking so good in the LeComte, but the reality of it is that those two races couldn’t have been any more different. In his LeComte win, he inhaled the field after extremely ambitious splits, but in the Risen Star the top four finishers basically ran around the track in order the entire way. So for him to close from the clouds to be sixth is a commendable effort indeed. In this spot there figures to be more pace and he gets a little more ground to kick into as well, so while I’m not totally buying his LeComte, I’m not believing his Risen Star either; can make amends and find his way into the exotics.
7. Discreetly Mine: Pletcher’s top runner benefited the most from the dawdling splits in the Risen Star and led the procession the entire way around. To his credit, that was his first two-turn run and he did turn back a challenge in the stretch, but we’ve already established that things will be quite a bit different in here. Does he need the lead? Probably not, and even Pletcher insists he’s just as comfortable rating. Well, that’s fine and dandy, but his two lifetime wins have come on the engine through optimal circumstances, so he might not be as comfortable stalking. Half-brother to Discreet Cat merits a ton of respect, but I’ve got to see him do it again before getting too excited; trying to beat him.
8. Island Soul: Came up short in a local allowance after making a powerful move to the lead in the lane, but at least you know he has a nice turn of foot. With just four lifetime runs and only a maiden win to his credit, he’s kind of being thrown the wolves, but at least you get Robbie and Asmussen in your corner and at a heck of a price to boot; deserving longshot.
9. Stay Put: Finished a flying fifth in the Risen Star after racing far back early and that’s very important, as we know the first four had the race to themselves up front. Continues to advance with each and every start for top under-the-radar trainer Margolis, and being by Broken Vow out of a Dixieland Band mare, he wants every inch of 9 furlongs. Was beaten just 2 3/4 lengths in the 8 ½-furlong Risen Star after being 11 lengths behind a 48 3/5 half-mile, so if he can close like that into those fractions, what’s he going to do at 9 furlongs into what figures to be a very honest pace? You guessed it; look for him to mow them all down in the lane.
10. Wow Wow Wow: Put your mind at ease: he drew the 10-hole again, folks. For the fourth straight time, this Lukas runner draws post 10 or higher (and three straight times the actual 10 post) and it’s a shame, too, as he’s clearly got some talent. Speedy sort has no alternative but to gun from out here and that’s not too exciting a prospect in this field, but at least he does like to hear his feet rattle. Thinking he wins something important this year, but it won’t be today; stop and pop seems likely.
11. Mister Mardi Gras: Lightly raced runner has just three lifetime starts and enters off a maiden win on the turf. Not thinking that’s going to stack up in here, but he did come flying to finish second here on the main track in January, so at least you know he can handle the dirt. Has one heck of a stretch kick, so maybe he can rally into a minor award at a big number, but a win seems clearly out of reach at this point; tri kicker at a bomb?
12. Backtrack: Enters a perfect 2-for-2 in his career, but the positives seem to stop there as he’s yet to run beyond 6 furlongs. Both wins did come over the local strip and he is bred to get this trip, but this is a monumental task, considering that he’s breaking from well outside and could be hung extremely wide into the first turn. No denying he’s talented, but can’t see it being on display today; longshot.
13. Drosselmeyer: How was this guy 2-1 in the Risen Star off nothing more than an allowance win over a suspect field at GP? Sure, he ran OK, but he was fourth for the second half of the race and couldn’t muster a serious rally while getting the dreaded “hung” comment from the folks at the Form. The good news is that he’ll offer more value in this spot; the bad news is that he’ll still be an underlay and he’s breaking from Bourbon Street. Yes, he’s probably got enough talent to win this, and it’s not like he was beaten a pole in his last, but until he shows a little more, there are not a lot of positives in taking on a horse that’s drawn terribly and is no faster than about nine others in the field; not my kind of play.
9. Stay Put
6. Ron The Greek
3. Fly Down