by Brian Nadeau of Horseplayer Now and Capital OTB TV.
Fair Grounds: The GII, $1 million Louisiana Derby at 1 1/8 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points: 100-40-20-10)
#1 Gun Runner (3-1): Heavy-hitter sat a dream trip in winning the local prep, the GII Risen Star last month, as he settled off the hot pace to the inside, tipped out off the far turn and got first run on the closers in a breakthrough effort that helped make amends for a modest fourth in the slop in Churchill Downs’ GII Kentucky Jockey Club when last seen in November. Son of Candy Ride (ARG) is bred to love this trip and has Asmussen thinking roses, as his tactical speed and stamina allow Geroux to place him anywhere, and this ground-saving post won’t hurt, either. If there’s a worry, it’s that he had things go perfectly last time, while today’s ML favorite Mo Tom endured a rough trip, not to mention there’s a salty new shooter next door, though with a projected soft pace expected, it looks like he’s getting all the best of it once again; call right back.
#2 Greenpointcrusader (7-2): Aforementioned new shooter heads out of South Florida to get away from the daunting shadow that is Mohaymen, after he was made to look quite ordinary by that undefeated Kentucky Derby favorite when second in his comeback in Gulfstream Park’s GII Holy Bull in January. Son of Bernardini is bred top and bottom (damsire is true two-turn sire Cryptoclearance) for this trip and you would think he can improve off that return run, but you’re also allowed to wonder if he’s a real two-turn horse himself, as he didn’t fire in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in October at Keeneland and won Belmont’s GI one-turn Champagne prior to that. And don’t overlook the fact that, aside from the top two, the Holy Bull wasn’t much of a race, so his run had the “someone had to be second” feel to it, which means taking 7-2 on a colt on a schedule that Schettino likely didn’t map out this way in late fall seems like a major risk; trying to beat on top.
#3 Battery (10-1): Rare price player from Pletcher drew clear late in an optional claimer at Gulfstream last month and brings his jockey Castellano with him, so if nothing else, that’s a good sign on a horse that needs to improve more than a few lengths to play with these. Son of Bernardini has a nice stalking gear that should ensure a good trip off the speed, and the early pace looks slow, which could give him a tactical edge as well. It’s never wise to dismiss these connections in a 3-year-old graded stakes race, and we’ve seen this barn upset the apple cart before (think Danza in the Arkansas Derby two years ago), but at this point in this colt’s development, a win seems a bit out of reach; underneath, if at all.
#4 Conquest Windycity (15-1): Stretch-running Tiznow colt returned with a bang in an Oaklawn Park allowance last month, which was his first start since October, and he sure looked like a more polished version of the colt that was rumored to be a good thing at 2 and was actually favored as a maiden in Churchill’s GIII Iroquois. The waters get a lot deeper today, but it seems like a smart move by Casse to ship out of Oaklawn and away from their speedy surface, and to New Orleans and the long FG stretch, which should play right into his style. The pace could hurt him, though, as he may need some hitting up front to deliver his best effort, but if there’s a barn that is overdue for some success on the Triple Crown trail this winter, it’s this one; may outrun his odds.
#5 Candy My Boy (15-1): Potential loose leader may get overlooked here, but he held quite well in an underrated effort when fourth in the Risen Star, as he set a wicked pace, held the lead to deep stretch, and only relented late, though he was beaten only 2 1/2 lengths. And guess what, he should free-wheeling again today, as there’s no real pace to oppose him and those who beat him last time are probably expecting a pop-and-stop going 1 1/8 miles, so he probably doesn’t have to go as fast early, either. Son of Candy Ride (ARG) is actually bred to get better going longer, and you know he likes this surface, not to mention that Brueggemann is having a dynamite meet, so if Lone Fs are for you, then you’re getting one heck of a price on one right here; very playable right back.
#6 Mo Tom (5-2): ML favorite had a troubled trip in the Risen Star, as he dropped out the back then checked badly in midstretch while making his patented late rally, yet he still came running for third and galloped out best. The concern here is obvious, though, as when you have to pass the entire field every time you meet the starter, you’re not only at the mercy of the pace, but you better hope every seam and hole opens for you, or you’re simply not getting there. Son of Uncle Mo has done nothing wrong for Amoss and he showed what he can do when winning the local GIII Lecomte in January, but with a soft pace expected, he’s once again up against it in terms of race flow. On the face of it, especially going 1 1/8 miles, he’s a huge threat, but the gut says he needs 1 1/4 miles and a hot pace in Kentucky to show his best; using underneath today.
#7 Tom’s Ready (15-1): Tricky read was a fine second to ‘Tom in the Lecomte, then didn’t fire when seventh in the Risen Star, after enduring a wide trip while racing much too close (and unexpectedly) to the hot pace. It’s nice to see Stewart regroup and press on, and if you judge this son of More Than Ready off the Lecomte, then he’s a player here, but it’s probably more prudent to judge him off the Risen Star, when he couldn’t handle the new shooters and got exposed for being a bit outgunned. If you’re a believer, then you’ll get the right price to string along, but other than that he’s tough to tout; passing.
#8 Uncle Walter (20-1): Son of Uncle Mo was a wise guy in the Risen Star but didn’t lift a leg while finishing some 41 1/2 lengths back, when last of 11, so it’s highly surprising that Maker forges on today. If you’re forgiving, then maybe you can draw a line through that effort and say it just wasn’t his day, and then focus on the fine third in the Lecomte, which is why he was sent off at 8-1 last time. But things are a bit more clouded than that, as the blinkers go on today, which screams of not only desperation but of a trainer who has no idea what went wrong last time, and either way, that’s not a recipe for success in the biggest race of your career off a complete no-show; no thanks.
#9 Dazzling Gem (12-1): The wildcard has won both career starts in fine fashion at Oaklawn for Cox and now gets the acid test to see where he stands in the 3-year-old ranks for a barn that is one big horse away from becoming known on the national scene. Son of Misremembered has plenty of tactical speed, which should help negate this wide draw, and don’t overlook the fact that both career wins have come at two turns, and that’s no easy task, especially when one came in your career debut. There’s no doubt that this is a sizable step up in class, but they all need to face the fire sometime, and he’s beaten more than a few that have come back to win, so if you’re looking to upset the apple cart, you’re probably landing here; price players have their hero.
#10 Zapperini (20-1): Big longshot passed a few late in the Risen Star when a non-threatening fifth, and when you factor in the race flow that day, the fact he was still beaten 9 3/4 lengths with his closing style doesn’t really flatter that run. On the plus side, he’s run just three times and has plenty of upside for a sharp Foley barn, and it’s not like he was embarrassed, either, in what was his stakes debut, not to mention first start against winners, so maybe he can bridge the gap today. But still, not only is this son of Ghostzapper looking up at the four who beat him last month, but more than a few sharp new shooters too; passing.
#11 Forevamo (10-1): Rapidly improving runner is the third son of Uncle Mo entered here and he came to national prominence when he almost ran down Gun Runner while finishing a fast-closing second in the Lecomte, which was undoubtedly a breakthrough effort for Stall. Experienced colt has started six times, so it’s a bit odd that he finally broke through last time, but there’s no doubt that the pace had a lot to do with it, as it flattered his stretch-running style. Well, things aren’t nearly as hot and bothered up front today, and this wide draw means he’s probably going to lose more ground early, as he’s likely to pull back and get over to the rail and try to save some ground, like he did the entire way around last time. And all of that is before we mention that the 46-1 you may have passed on last month is now about 8-1 this time around, which means you’re taking all the worst of it on a horse who has “bounce” written all over him; making him prove it.
#1 Gun Runner
#6 Mo Tom
#5 Candy My Boy