Fair Grounds: The Grade II, $1 million Louisiana Derby at 1 1/8 miles, by Horseplayer Now’s Brian Nadeau
#1 Intense Holiday: The first of two from Pletcher figures to go favored based on his win in the local prep, the GII Risen Star, last month, and with the potential for a hot pace, his closing style is going to be even more lethal at this longer distance. Son of Harlan’s Holiday was mired behind slow paces and speed-favoring tracks before his local run, so it was no surprise that the long stretch in Cajun Country suited him. How good was the Risen Star, you ask? Well, distant four-place finisher Hoppertunity came back to win the GII Rebel at Oaklawn Park two weeks ago, so that only flatters this colt that much more. The draw is perfect and we’ve already mentioned the expected hot pace, so even though you won’t get 5-1 this time around, there’s little doubt this is the guy they all have to beat; figures a real handful in the lane.
#2 King Cyrus: Pletcher’s second runner will be one of the longer shots in the field as he owns just a Saratoga MSW win to his credit and will try to improve on his second-place finish in his seasonal debut in Calder’s Smooth Air 27 days ago. If you’re trying to think outside the box, then it is worth noting this son of Bellamy Road did best all of his 2yo speed figures in his comeback, though he will have to run about 15 lengths faster today to threaten. Pletcher fans get their guy at a price, but this is one tall ask for a runner that looks outgunned on paper; not seeing it.
#3 Louies Flower: Deserved longshot bombed when a distant 12th behind a few heavyweights in Oaklawn’s GIII Southwest in his last and certainly won’t find the waters any kinder in this salty GII. Speedy sort figures to be a pace presence from this inside draw for Calhoun, and being by Travers winner Flower Alley, he’s bred to go this long, but up to this point his claim to fame is his Springboard Mile win at Remington, a race that hasn’t really turned out to be very key this winter. Useful colt will make some money this year, but up to this point there’s nothing in his PP’s that hints he can play with these; pop and stop time.
#4 Flat Gone: Local charge figures to be one of the biggest prices on the board after finishing a well-beaten eighth to Intense Holiday at 102-1 in the Risen Star, and with some sharp new shooters entered today, you have to think he’ll be a huge price again. Sire Flatter has made a name for himself in recent years (think Flat Out and Apart), and trainer Desormeaux did upset the Risen Star last year with 135-1 shot Ive Struck A Nerve, so if you like to play bombers, you have something to work with here. Stretchrunner might also be flattered by the pace and he did close smartly to win over the track two-back, so while a win seems far out of reach, he could spice up the bottom of your exotics; may outrun his odds.
#5 Gold Hawk: Severely overrated runner forges on for Asmussen after failing to threaten in both the GIII Lecomte and Risen Star over the track, so you’re allowed to question the placement today. Son of Empire Maker made waves during a 2-for-2 juvenile campaign, especially after his local two-turn optional claiming win in December, but it’s pretty obvious that he hasn’t bridged the gap at 3. Stalker figures to trip out nicely, but he appears to be a cut below on talent, not to mention a mile behind on karma; no thanks.
#6 Vicar’s in Trouble: Tricky read looked good blasting his foes in the Lecomte by 6 3/4 lengths two-back, then didn’t make a dent when a distant third as the favorite in the Risen Star, so where you stand with him is all in the eyes of the beholder today. Tactical son of Into Mischief seemingly can make his own trip, which will come in handy today as he should be stalking the speed, which will likely get him first run off the turn on ‘Holiday and the other closers. On the face of it, it looks like this Maker charge simply bounced in the Risen Star after such a big run in the Lecomte, which means if you’re still a believer, you’ll get a much better price than the 5-2 you got last time, all on a colt who has shown he can run fast and doesn’t need the lead to win; price players have their hero.
#7 Commanding Curve: Stretchrunner couldn’t make the leap from the MSW ranks to the GII ranks when he was a well-beaten sixth in the Risen Star, though that was his first start against winners and first start since November, so you’re allowed to be a tad forgiving. West Point runner has a nice pedigree for Stewart, as he’s by two-turn lover Master Command, so at least you know the trip won’t be a worry, and he has every reason to improve off that return last month as well. Of course, he’s going to have to as these are some solid sophomores he meets and as of yet, he just doesn’t stack up with them; minor award appears his ceiling.
#8 Rise Up: Hotshot 2-year-old chased and faded badly in the Risen Star, his 3-year-old debut, and it’s the ole “put up or shut up time today.” Speedy son of Rockport Harbor adds blinkers for this and his claim to fame was a wire-to-wire romp in Delta Downs’ GIII Jackpot to end his juvenile campaign, which is probably why Amoss is on record as saying he’s heading to the front today. We all know speed kills and the lead is seemingly there for the taking, as those inside of him aren’t as fast early, but off his return, when he settled off the tepid splits of rival Albano and gave way so readily, it’s tough to envision a turnaround coming; willing to make him prove it.
#9 In Trouble: The wildcard could not have been more impressive when running a game third to major GI Wood Memorial contenders Samraat and Uncle Sigh in Aqueduct’s GIII Gotham in his 3-year-old debut, which also marked his first start around two turns and past 6 furlongs too. Tony D. runner somewhat surprisingly heads to the Crescent City, but you won’t find a better, more patient conditioner, so the fact that this son of Tiz Wonderful is here is a confident sign. Tactical sort was a GII winner as 2-year-old but was forced to use his sprint speed in the Gotham, when he got stuck dueling on the inside of Uncle Sigh and Samraat, yet refused to yield in the lane and was beaten only a half-length. Lightly raced runner drew perfectly, doesn’t need the lead to win and gives every indication he’s going to run out of his skin today; look out.
#10 Albano: Game runner-up to ‘Holiday in the Risen Star did all the dirty work on the lead that day and certainly deserved a better fate, though it’s not like he lost anything in defeat in his nose loss. Son of Istan is a half-brother to Mark Valeski, who was second in this race for these connections a few years back, so it’s obvious he’s cut out to be a good one. Improving runner has shown he doesn’t need the lead to win, but this wide draw could force him into an unenviable trip, as he probably has to follow ‘Trouble next door, who is going to follow Rise Up, meaning a 3-wide journey could be in the offing. It’s tough to discount the chances of a runner who was just beaten a nose in a good GII over the track, but he was the inside speed through a :48 half that day and still couldn’t get his nose down first, all under a scenario that won’t be anything like he’ll face today, so with that in mind, let’s make him the odd man out; siding against.
#9 In Trouble
#1 Intense Holiday
#6 Vicar’s In Trouble