Fair Grounds: The Grade II, $750,000 Louisiana Derby at 1 1/8 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points 100-50-20-10)
#1 Stanford (5-1): Pletcher invader has the look of a wise guy horse in a race that seemingly is begging for the fresh new face to come take charge and will likely remind more than a few of Danza, who blitzed the Arkansas Derby via Gulfstream Park with a similar resume last year. Malibu Moon colt had a “someone had to be second” feel to stablemate Materiality in the minor Islamorada last time at GP, and that run will come into focus a lot more after the winner tackles heavyweight Upstart in the Florida Derby there (unfortunately) about 24 minutes later this afternoon. Up-and-comer drew perfectly, is seemingly tactical enough to be on or just off the lead, and, with all due respect to the hometown team, it’s not like they are breaking any stopwatches in the preps here this winter, so if he gets away on the board, then by all means close your eyes and swing for the fences; expecting him to make a big dent.
#2 Mr. Z (4-1): Rerouted Lukas war horse of old skipped Oaklawn Park’s GII Rebel a few weeks back when the Zayat-owned American Pharoah made his 3-year-old debut, which is a story in and of itself because this son of Malibu Moon has missed nary a dance since winning his debut in June. Of course, that’s one of the problems, too, as he hasn’t gotten his picture taken since, so breaking through in a tough GII over a track he’s never been over is a tall ask. Exits an absolutely monster run in the GIII Southwest at OP when he broke widest of all, was used to get to the lead, and only relented in the final strides to a perfect-trip winner; with blinkers coming off today, he shouldn’t have to expend as much energy early on. You’ll finally get a fair price, too, so with a nice draw, plenty of tactical speed, and a modest cast signed on, you have to think he lets them know he’s in here; won’t fault anyone looking this way.
#3 Defondo (12-1): Longshot could only muster a second-place finish in slow time in a local optional claimer last month in what was his two-turn debut and really needs to step up and then some for Stewart and West Point. El Corredor gelding should sit a nice trip from close range, if nothing else, and does have a ton of upside, but yikes, this is a giant rise in class for a horse who probably wouldn’t even be favored in the N1X he’s eligible for. Lightly raced runner appears to have some talent and it’s easy to root for his connections, but at this point, this is just too much too soon; tabbing for down the road.
#4 Fusaichi Flame (20-1): The likely longest shot on the board exits a sharp win in the slop in a local optional claimer 16 days ago but was allotted a loose lead that day and certainly won’t see the same circumstances here. Plus, he’s 0-for-2 on dry land, so he’s rooting for a rain dance to have any hope, and even then it’s improbable he can factor. Son of Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus goes for a Geiner barn that has had a rough meet, and it’s tough to think the percentages improve in this tough spot; pop and stop time.
#5 A Day in Paradise (12-1): Pace player comes in off a solid Sam Houston stakes win over meek competition but goes for a Jones barn that annually wins about 25% of the time, so don’t immediately overlook him. There are some issues, though: first and foremost, as a son of Yes It’s True, he’s not exactly bred to run this far (especially against top competition), plus he’s never run remotely fast enough to threaten a crew like this, so you better demand every bit of this ML if you’re coming along for the ride. Expect him to be up close and pressing the early pace, which may be contested but doesn’t look all that fast, but when the real running begins, you have to think he’s going to be hard-pressed to keep on keeping on; making him prove it.
#6 War Story (4-1): Heavy hitter has a ton of try in him and hasn’t been all that lucky, either, as he’s chased today’s favorite International Star to local second-place finishes in both the GIII Lecomte and GII Risen Star. And while the winner scooted up the rail quite matter of factly, this Northern Afleet gelding was forced to go wide, so the margin would have certainly been closer. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that either of those last two would be good enough again, as the waters are deeper here and ‘Z and Stanford aren’t going to be too impressed with any of the winning speed figures it took to win (or run second in) the local preps, which means that if this Amoss charge wants to keep moving forward, he better run a whole lot faster than his past two; mixed signals here.
#7 Keen Ice (5-1): Stretch-runner made some friends when he rallied from last of nine to be third in the Risen Star and figures to get a very contested pace today (if not a fast one), which will only help his late run that much more. Beautifully bred son of Curlin is out of an Awesome Again mare, which means the longer the better, and don’t overlook the fact that only he and Stanford have run this far, which is a big deal this time of year. Romans and Donegal have teamed up to have some nice springs together with Paddy O’Prado and Dullahan, and this long-striding colt gives every indication that he’s coming into his own and finally getting them to play a game he’s wanted to play all along; call to mow them down in the lane.
#8 St. Joe Bay (10-1): Miller speedball dueled on the lead in the Risen Star and quietly held very nicely when he was fourth, beaten just 2 3/4 lengths, and while we’ve mentioned that the pace could be contested, it’s also not overly fast, so if he’s on a send mission, he’s clearing for sure. But you also have to wonder at what cost, because gunning from the outside and getting loose won’t be easy and would possibly leave this son of Saint Anddan wanting in the lane. And that’s if he clears at all, which is no guarantee, so with a muddled pace scenario and little else to fall back on, let’s make him prove that he can win something other than a maiden-claimer, which is all he brings to the table to date; siding against.
#9 International Star (3-1): Stretch-running son of Fusaichi Pegasus must have helped a lot of old ladies across the street in another life because he’s had the sea part for him in both local prep wins when he scooted up the rail while his main rivals were forced to go wide and lose key ground. But, to be fair, he won by 2 1/2 and a length, respectively, so it’s anyone’s guess if War Story gets to him, but the gap seems to be closing on that rival, and we’ve already mentioned the new shooters have some depth, too, so he can hardly rest on his laurels and expect to win this for Maker. And that’s before we even mention the short price, in addition to the improbability that he gets a dream rail run again, so in a race where he’s barely, if at all, faster than three or four others, it’s just not worth the risk/reward to see if it’s hat trick time; trying to beat.
#7 Keen Ice
#2 Mr. Z
#9 International Star