Fair Grounds: The Grade II, $1 Million Louisiana Derby at 1 1/8 miles
#1 Nacho Business (10-1 ML): Solid second in his first route attempt and first start versus winners in a decent Gulfstream Park N1X, but while he does have room for improvement, that run isn’t scaring anyone in here. Drew well and has the tactical zip to be close early, but this is a major class rise; not seeing it.
#1a Pants On fire (10-1): ‘Nacho’s partner was second in the local GIII LeComte but got beat up pretty badly last time in the GII Risen Star over the track. Didn’t take his customary position on the lead that day (although the splits were pedestrian), so you’ve got to believe that he’ll be sent today, possibly to set things up for his stablemate, though regardless of where he sets up shop this appears too tough a spot to rebound; siding against.
#2 Nehro (30-1): Zayat runner closed from a month back to break his maiden impressively last out at Oaklawn Park and now gets thrown right into the deep end of the pool in this salty GII. Bred to be a runner and seems to be on the improve, but these are not suspect special-weight runners he tackles today; longshot.
#3 Mavericking (20-1): Turf/synthetic runner tries the main track for the first time, and being by Belmont winner Empire Maker, you’d think he could handle the strip. Still, he’s done nothing more than win a MSW on the turf, so even if he moves way up today on the dirt, it’s unlikely that he can threaten; in way too deep.
#4 Mucho Macho Man (9-5): After a modest fourth in the GIII Holy Bull at GP in his 3yo debut, he got back to two turns and got back to the winner’s circle in the Risen Star last time and gave every indication that the longer they go, the better. The blinkers came off in the Risen Star, resulting in a more patient trip just off the early speed that left plenty in reserve for the stretch drive. Son of Macho Uno just keeps grinding you into the ground early, and it’s going to take a big run to beat him today; formidable.
#5 Liondrive (50-1): Back for more after getting drubbed badly in the Risen Star and rates nothing more than a pace nuisance for the more accomplished rivals; here’s hoping he gets home safely.
#6 Machen (7-2): Came into the Risen Star as the “now” horse, and while he didn’t run poorly, he also didn’t kick it in through the stretch like many (including this handicapper) thought he would. Still, running a close fourth with a hint of trouble on the far turn in your graded stakes debut isn’t all that bad, either, and with just three races under his belt, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Howard sees fit to go on and that alone is a confident move, so if you’re still a believer, the price figures right today; expecting much, much better.
#7 Majestic Harbor (12-1): Enters off a wire-to-wire win in a MSW over the track, and that should stamp him as a pace player today and the splits do look pretty soft early. That win was his first start at 3 and first start at two turns after a pair of solid sprint runs last fall, but geesh, could they have maybe found an easier spot? Thinking there’s a ton of talent here but also thinking it won’t be on display today; way too much too soon.
#8 Le Mans (20-1): Who knew that two fourth-place finishes in a pair of Santa Anita maiden races could lead one to the prestigious GII Louisiana Derby? That’s the path this colt took to New Orleans and in this deep and competitive field, he’s being completely thrown to the wolves; pace player and nothing more.
#9 Wilkinson (8-1): LeComte winner passed on the Risen Star to await this spot and he brings a nice blend of speed and stamina to the party. Nice to see a 2-for-3 record over the track and he certainly enters on the upswing, but the LeComte was an extremely weak five-horse field and today he meets a deeper group filled with some top prospects, so needless to say he’ll need to improve once again; playing against this handy colt.
#10 Left (10-1): Versatile gelding is 2-for-2 to start his career, winning going two turns on both the turf and the local dirt, so you know there’s some talent in this corner. Steps way up today but does have the tactical speed to negate this poor draw for Stall, who has done little wrong in the past 15 months. Son of the long-striding Arch takes a big step up in class but offers value and a running style that will have him in a good spot on the far turn; not at the top of the list but might add value to the exotics.
#11 Elite Alex (6-1): Passed on last week’s GII Rebel at OP to run here and it seems like a prudent move as his big late kick should fit right in through FG’s long stretch. He’s been a wiseguy horse since late last year, and while showing plenty of promise, he’s yet to fulfill all the expectations so today is a very important stop. Very little early speed signed on, but it’s not like he needs to drop back 12 lengths and make a run, so expecting him to be midpack, launch his move off the far turn and reel them all in through the lane; call to finally live up to the hype.
#12 Populist Politics (30-1): State-bred drew the parking lot and is also cross entered on Friday’s card, so you might not see him line up here. If he does, he’s going to need to run the race of his life to compete, and while it’s not out of the question that he could rally for a minor share, a win seems far out of reach; not today.
#11 Elite Alex
#4 Mucho Macho Man