With great pleasure, I welcome handicapper Brian Nadeau back to Brooklyn Backstretch. As he has since 2009, he’ll guide us along the road to the Kentucky Derby, offering insights and selections for the major Derby preps. You can read more from Brian at Horseplayer Now.
And with that…we’re off!
Fair Grounds: The GIII Lecomte at 1 mile and 70 yards
#1 Malibu High: Undefeated colt gets the acid test as he meets stakes foes and tries two turns for the first time for an underrated trainer in Borel. Son of Malibu Moon has done little wrong in his two starts, and it’s nice to see him with a local win over the track as well, though the fact he’s yet to go past 6F’s is an issue. Versatile sort drew a nice ground-saving post and is in expert hands, so you could do worse in a wide-open field; exotics potential, if not more.
#2 Heitai: The second-most experienced member of the cast steps out from the La.-bred ranks for the first time and figures to try and use his sprint speed to take them as far as he can. Talented colt is by a Derby winner in Fusaichi Pegasus, so you know the trip is within his scope and he’s been two turns before, but this is asking a lot; pop and stop seems likely.
#3 Fear The Kitten: Son of turf star Kitten’s Joy makes his first start in Maker’s barn and does own a one-turn mile win over the dirt at Churchill Downs last fall, so he merits respect here. Stretch runner hasn’t been seen since running a solid fifth at CD in the GII Jockey Club to close out his 2yo campaign in November, so there’s a chance he needs this off the shelf, though it’s worth noting he did win his debut. The pace doesn’t figure to aid his late running style, but he’s hardly out of his element against this modest crew; stretch danger.
#4 Oxbow: Lukas charge quietly ran a big fourth while racing extremely wide the whole way in the GI CashCall at Hollywood Park to close out his juvenile season in December, so he’s an intriguing presence today. Speedster is bred to run all day, and though the CashCall was on the Cushion track, he did break his maiden sprinting on the main at CD, so you know he’ll handle the real stuff. Expecting this son of Awesome Again to sit right off the speed to his inside and try and win this off the far turn, which isn’t hard to envision him doing at all; call to post the mild surprise.
#5 Hawaakom: Shadwell homebred shocked them all with a track and distance win at 36-1 in his second career start and first at two turns last month, so he’s quite a wildcard as he steps up again. Son of Belmont winner Jazil figures to only get better with age and experience, so there’s a big upside, but this looks like it’s too much too soon; tabbing for down the road.
#6 Avie’s Quality: Somewhat surprising ML favorite is 2-for-2 since adding blinkers, including a Woodbine stakes score in his last start in December, but he has never been on conventional dirt, so he’s an unknown today. Exciting sort is bred for it, as sire Elusive Quality was freaky fast, but at false odds over an unknown track while facing the best field of his career,you have to try and beat him today; keying underneath.
#7 Golden Soul: Lightly raced colt laughed at a local MSW field in his second career start here going two turns last month and now gets thrown into the deep end in an effort to see where he stands. Homebred has improved with each start and looks like a real comer in the division, but this is a big step up for a horse with just two career starts under his belt; going to make him prove it before backing.
#8 Circle Unbroken: Hotshot early season 2yo makes his long-awaited return after failing at odds-on in a pricey Mountaineer stakes in August. Son of two-turn specialist Broken Vow was precocious enough to win the GIII Bashford Manor at CD in June, 13 days after winning his debut, but he’s biting off a lot here after going unseen for well over five months. Judging by that last gate bullet in a blazing 59 2/5 over the track, he’s ready to roll in his 3yo bow, but off the layoff with bigger goals down the road, it’s worth taking a shot against him–today; exotics potential.
#9 I’ve Struck A Nerve: Longshot broke his maiden here sprinting two-back, then impressed running second in the 6F Sugar Bowl over the track, and it is worth noting that he got in a few two-turn tilts at Santa Anita and Delta Downs last fall. On paper he’s not fast enough to win this and the post is no bargain either, so it’s best to wait until he reappears in a softer and shorter spot; not including.
#6 Avie’s Quality
#8 Circle Unbroken