Fair Grounds: The GII, $1 million Louisiana Derby at 1 1/8 miles
#1 Hip Four Sixtynine: Recent MSW winner going six furlongs over the track looked like a new horse with blinkers removed, but steps way up and seems completely overmatched in this deep GII. Stretch runner was a well-beaten fifth in his lone route try last fall and will need shorter and softer to threaten; easy toss.
#2 Palace Malice: The first of two from Pletcher is one of five that ran in last month’s local prep, the GII Risen Star, and this son of Curlin didn’t run poorly at all to be third in what was his route debut. That effort may have been a bit better than it looked, too, as he was taken much farther back than he was in his sprint runs and weaved through traffic while showing a new closing dimension. Of course, the race was won by 135-1 longshot Ive Struck A Nerve, who is not entered, and the top eight were separated by little more than three lengths, which is usually not the sign of a strong race. But still, he flexed a few new muscles that day, still has plenty of upside at a fair price and, like all the rest in here, needs to run first or (at least) second to get enough points to make the Derby, so you know he’s cranked; rating him the highest of the Risen Star runners.
#3 Revolutionary: Pletcher’s second is the wildcard here as he exits a win in Aqueduct’s GIII Withers last month, where he beat absolutely nothing but had a nightmarish trip from hell and still got up for the win. Son of War Pass has been freshened since and gets the acid test today, as this field is open lengths better than the one he beat in New York, but he’s also undefeated in a pair of two-turn starts and has the right stalking style to be very scary; no major knocks, other than a prospective underlaid price.
#4 Golden Soul: Fipke homebred was a close sixth in the Risen Star, though he basically ran in place around the track while never posing any kind of threat for the win, so he’ll need to step up to factor here. If you’re a fan of speed figures, he did improve off his distant second to the immensely talented Oxbow in the GIII Lecomte here in January, so that helps his cause, though anything other than a minor award would be a surprise; siding against.
#5 Whiskey Brown: Longshot was a modest fourth to the undefeated Departing, who he meets again here, in the Texas Heritage at Sam Houston and will be hard-pressed to better that effort against this group of toughies. If the Racing Gods are paying attention, they might throw several lengths of improvement his way, as he’s trained by Desormeaux, who also conditioned the injured Ive Struck A Nerve, but that seems a stretch; midpack finish seems his ceiling.
#6 Sunbean: The first of two from Stall has made a nice little career picking up some good pots in the Louisiana-bred ranks and is 3-for-4 over the track on the eve of his first tilt against open company. Versatile runner is two-for-two going two turns and closed stoutly last time, but it’s pretty clear that he’s not even the best in the barn, let alone the rest of the field; using underneath, if at all.
#7 Departing: The second of the uncoupled Stall runners has the look of a real comer as he puts his three-for-three record on the line in his graded stakes debut. If you didn’t see his win in the Heritage, do yourself a favor and watch it, as he was ultra-impressive while breaking little more than a sweat. Son of War Front is bred to be any kind and is in expert hands, and with the Risen Star runners coming under question, he looks like he’s ready to announce his presence on the national scene; heads to the Derby undefeated after winning his fourth straight.
#8 Code West: Baffert runner was a game and determined second in the Risen Star after battling back late to just miss in a photo, though he had a relatively easy trip when compared with the others finishing around him. Tactical son of Lemon Drop Kid drew the perfect attack post today and should be able to build off his graded stakes debut, but at short odds while exiting a suspect race, it might be the right time to take a stand against; trying to beat.
#9 Proud Strike: Asmussen charge was eighth in the Risen Star, though just beaten 3 ½ lengths in his first start against winners, let alone stakes foes, so at least you would think he can improve off that run. Son of Smart Strike was forced to go early from the rail that day, so he should like this outside draw, as it will allow him to set up shop in midpack and try and launch a run off the far turn. On paper he’s not among the top few, but there’s upside here and he could be the right bomb in the exotics; not impossible for part.
#10 Titletown Five: Talented stretch-out sprinter returned from a layoff and injury to be second in the six-furlong Gazebo at Oaklawn Park earlier this month and rates a speedy presence for Lukas, who is having a major revival with his 3-year-olds this spring. Son of Tiznow tries two turns for the first time but is bred top and bottom for the trip (dad was two-time BC Classic winner Tiznow and mom won a GII going nine furlongs at Gulfstream Park in her day), and he very well could find himself on a loose and lonely lead based on his sprint form and fractions. His comeback suggested he’s still got the talent he showed at 2, and if they let him go early, there’s a chance they don’t see him late; expecting a huge run.
#11 Mylute: Son of sprint champion Midnight Lute made quite a buzz when he ran off to a 10 ¾-length win in a two-turn optional claimer here in December, then couldn’t bridge the gap when he raced close early and tired late to be seventh in the Risen Star. Amoss takes the blinkers off today in an effort to get him to settle early, and there’s a chance he can move forward off his last, which came off a two-month break, but he’ll need to hurry; others rate higher.
#12 Brazilian Court: Well-traveled colt heads to FG off a closing second in a restricted stakes over the synthetic at Ocala 19 days ago and will look to win his first two-turn start. Son of Harlan’s Holiday has done little wrong in two starts since being claimed by Maker, but this is a monumental step up in class for a colt who is still eligible for an N2L and would be no lock in one of those; looks overmatched.
#13 Ground Transport: Improving son of Derby winner Big Brown tests the big boys today after breaking his maiden and winning an optional claimer over the track since being stretched to two turns. Trainer Stidham likes to take the patient approach with his young horses, so the fact he even enters speaks volumes of what he thinks of this colt, though this is still asking a lot of a horse who has yet to try stakes company; worth remembering for down the road.
#14 Nina’s Dragon: Golden Gate shipper tries conventional dirt for the first time since running third going five furlongs in his debut back in June, and he comes in off a closing second in the GIII El Camino Real Derby. Versatile son of Tizbud might be a little outclassed, as that wasn’t a top-notch stakes he exits, and this post is no bargain either; taking a wait and see approach.
#10 Titletown Five
#2 Palace Malice