HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, March 23, 2023 – A field of 12 were entered in the first hundred-point Kentucky Derby qualifier taking placing on Saturday in New Orleans, the million-dollar Grade 2 Louisiana Derby.
Two things stand out about this event: At 1-3/16 miles it is the longest of the Derby preps and contextually should provide the strongest clues relative to mile-and-a-quarter Derby aptitude.
Further, it generally precludes the need for another prep race with six weeks until racing’s biggest dance except for those horses sitting on the qualifying-points fence.
Keeneland’s Lexington would have had equi-distant spacing of three weeks between the three races but this year’s renewal comes in two weeks, MAR 29, meaning a quick turnaround and turn-back in distance. The good news is leaves four weeks to recharge and refresh, not three.
We have left half of the dozen entrants open for win consideration, and of the six three are trained by Brad Cox. Taking them in ascending order:
The quick Jace’s Road was killed by the draw, 11 of 12, leaving Florent Geroux little choice but to quarter-horse away from the barrier. He won the 1-1/16 miles Gun Runner which launched the series on Dec 26 by open lengths in fast time. Obviously, he meets tougher going farther.
The two more fancied are Instant Coffee and Tapit’s Conquest. The former won the G2 Lecomte impressively with a bold, wide turn move, proving much the best. He skipped the Risen Star, opting for more freshness for his next two starts. Luis Saez could have a difficult Derby decision: This guy or Tapit Trice.
His loyalties and that of his agent, Kiaran McLaughlin, very likely will be to Mr . Pletcher, but there’s only one Derby each year. That’s for another day — and another prep race for Tapit Trice in the G1 Blue Grass.
Tapit’s Conquest, meanwhile, needs to secure Derby points and can do so with a win or placing. Drawn in post 9, he will need an alert start to secure reasonable position into the lower first turn.
The chestnut’s very wide run into a hot pace was too much to overcome in the G2 Risen Star. Interesting in that he gets a switch to Manny Franco, aboard for his placing at Saratoga on debut. Experience helps riders, too.
This Cox pair appears to hold a strong edge at this juncture but there are some interesting colts on the come: Risen Star runnerup Sun Thunder, Kingsbarns, looking to give Todd Pletcher even more Derby depth, and a tandem of top allowances exacta horses—Denington and Cagliostro.
Sun Thunder and Tapit’s Conquest exit the G2 Risen Star and both moved on the far turn, Tapit’s Conquest taking the overland route, continuing his wide rally in the lane, which cost him a better placing. But Sun Thunder, while saving ground, still was very good finishing well along the fence.
Kingsbarn had a perfect inside trip winning his last at Tampa Bay Downs but don’t hold that against him. He has tactical speed, is undefeated in two starts, and Todd Pletcher historically has done very well shipping into NOLA. Flavien Prat rides for the first time.
Similarly, Denington and Cagliostro exit a top rated allowances and were exacta finishers, Denington’s neck ahead of his rival’s at the line. Cagliostro has more tactical gas and is better posted for the rematch. Denington had a little easier trip in that event but finishes strongly and is always in with a chance.
FAIR GROUND RACE TRACK
G2 LOUISIANA DERBY Race 12
MOST PROBABLE WINNER: 2-Instant Coffee (2-1)
POTENTIAL VALUE PLAY: 9-Tapit’s Conquest (10-1)
EXOTICA: Exacta Box 2-4-9 (4-Sun Thunder, 6-1). Superfecta Wheel: 2.4.9 // 2.4.9 // 2.4.5,6,9.10.11 // 18.104.22.168.9.10.11 Superfecta Wheel: 2.4.9 //22.214.171.124.9.10.11 // 2.4.9 // 126.96.36.199.9.10.11 (11-Jace’s Road, 12-1)
TOM BENSON MEMORIAL Race 8
The Skinny: Named for the late, prominent race horse and New Orleans Saints owner, this is an excellent betting race with 10 well matched fillies. A turf event, we narrowed the top of the ticket down to three class-on-grass performers:
1-Adventuring (2-1), likely post time favorite dropping out of a series of graded stakes for Brad Cox, has the pole and Luis Saez; 6-Didia (3-1) exiting an August key race and training with purpose for Ignacio Correas who’s capable with lay-ups, and 8-She Can’t Sing (9-2), also dropping from graded company, and fastest on her best go and who loves the course and trip.
Another course lover, 9-New Year’s Eve (5-1), has trained brilliant for Brendan Walsh and attracts Prat, tops the B-list contenders here. 7-Trobarist (12-1) is an interesting price shot who improved recently for Neil Pessin. She’s 2-for-3 at Fair Grounds and 1-for-10 anywhere else.
MOST PROBABLE WINNER: Adventuring
POTENTIAL VALUE PLAY: She Can’t Sing
EXOTICA: Exacta Box 1.6.8. Trifecta Box: 188.8.131.52. Trifecta Wheel: 1.6.8 // 184.108.40.206.9 // 220.127.116.11.9
G2 HAGYARD STAKES Race 9
The Skinny: The top rated American handicap horse in the NTRA poll, 2-Art Collector (8-5), may be dropping in class from his G1 Pegasus World Cup romp but the consolation is the winner’s share of the $500,000 pot should he win the nine furlong event.
And this trip should help ensure a repeat effort as he goes for his ninth win in 11 starts at a mile and an eighth. The six-year-old Bernardini horse needs to avoid a regression as he’s meeting two salty surface-loving runners; 3-West Will Power (2-1) and 8-Pioneer of Medina (9-2).
Co-highweight at 124 pounds, the Bill Mott trainee is coming off a career best but has paired up fast top efforts in the past. With a speed horse breaking next to him on the pole, Junior Alvarado can ensure a perfect trip by following Treasury and Corey Lanerie around the first turn.
West Will Power, another Bernardini six-year-old came to hand for Brad Cox late last year and replicated his best run when second to recent streaking repeater Last Samurai in Oaklawn’s G3 Razorback. He loves the trip but also lacks local experience. But he’s worked very well here in preparation.
Pioneer of Medina finally broke through as a four-year-old winning the G3 Mineshaft prep for this, his second victory over the course, and rates an upset chance should the favorites bring less than their ‘A’ game to the fray. He gets a coupled of pounds from each and Luis Saez on a return call.
MOST PROBABLE WINNER: Art Collector
POTENTIAL VALUE PLAY Pioneer of Medina
EXOTICA: Exacta Box 2.3.8. Trifecta Box: 2.3.8. Superfecta Wheel 2.3.8 // 2.3.8 // 18.104.22.168.8 // 22.214.171.124.8. Superfecta Wheel 2.3.8 // 126.96.36.199.8 // 2.3.8 // 188.8.131.52.8. [5-Rattle N Roll (10-1)] [6-Happy American (10-1)]
G2 MUNIZ MEMORIAL Race 10
The Skinny: Always a challenging betting race, this year’s renewal is no exception. We left four of the 10-horse field open:
When last seen, highweight 1-Atone (5-2) was buried on the fence throughout the G1 Pegasus Turf Classic–which turned out to be the good news once Irad miraculously, tipped wide with a split and roared home late to win by a neck—going away. With Irad at Turfway today, Saez gets the call on the now horse that most often never fails to fire.
Any time 6-Two Emmys (3-1) is in a turf race at this time of year, rivals have him to beat. He set a soft pace, rebroke at headstretch and drew off for James Graham, his glove-fitting partner. He’s versatile enough to stalk if needed and knowing that Hugh Robertson is 25% in LAY-3 scenarios adds to the appeal.
Eight-year-old 5-Spooky Channel (9-2) has beaten just about all comers in his career and was third in the G3 Connelly marathon last out but has won twice at this trip and is 1-for-2 locally. He worked crisply for this shorter test and Joel Rosario gets the call. Think he’ll be running late?
And 3-Gentle Soul (5-1) is lightly raced and has come into his own the last two years. He beat Two Emmys two starts back and is 3-for-5 on this course. When Two Emmys evened the score in the G3 Fair Grounds Handicap, he was given him four pounds and raced extremely wide throughout.
MOST PROBABLE WINNER: Two Emmys
POTENTIAL VALUE PLAY: Spooky Channel
EXOTICA: Exacta Box 184.108.40.206 Superfecta Wheel: 1.5.6 // 1.5.6 // 220.127.116.11.7 //18.104.22.168.7. Superfecta Wheel: 1.5.6 //22.214.171.124.7 // 1.5.6 // 126.96.36.199.7
G2 FAIR GROUNDS OAKS Race 11
The Skinny: The big question here is did 5-Hoosier Philly (2-1) need her three-year-old debut or did she not make the transition that goes with added maturity. To be honest, we’re not sure, so she’s a parimutuel ‘use’ and ‘lose’. The big negative is that she has nor run particularly fast.
The ‘now’ filly here, and who indeed appears to be a legitimate Kentucky Oaks contender, is 3-Pretty Mischievous (8-5). Her G2 Rachel Alexandra score was first rate, both visually and against the clock. But handicappers always have to be aware of big forward moves, especially with females.
4-The Alys Look (2-1) also made a big forward move to win her three -year-old debut but left more room for improvement. Her pace figures got quicker, too, and she underscored her affinity for the dynamics, moving her record to (3) 2-1-0 on the surface and (4) 2-1-0 at the trip. Brad Cox trains.
MOST PROBABLE WINNER: Pretty Mischievous
POTENTIAL VALUE PLAY: The Alys Look
EXOTICA: Exacta Box 3.4.5. Trifecta Wheel 3.4.5 // 188.8.131.52 // 184.108.40.206 [1-Southlawn, 8-1]
Twelve horses going nine furlongs at Turfway Park with inclement weather; what could go wrong? We narrowed the Jeff Ruby Steaks down to five and will watch the tote and the surface looking for an exotics key among:
1-Major Dude (5-2), 3-Event Detail (15-1), 8-Congruent (5-1), 10-Two Phils (7-2) and 11-Wadsworth (8-1). The lean overnight is Congruent, given his impressive recent prep here, his synth debut.
The UAE Derby is even tougher. Looking at the Thoro-Graph figures, 9 of the 13 entrants are within two points of each other and a 10th is faster than them all. Again, narrowing the field, seeking a key for the multiple pools:
1-Es Uneco (20-1), 3-Cairo (5-2), 5-Derma Sotogake (10-1), 7-Go Soldier Go (15-1) and 11-Perriere (15-1). Overnight lean here is Derma Sotogake; Cairo is a deserving favorite.
Per usual: Suggested exotic wagers are at minimums available, straight wagers in $2 units
this is a live column that will be updated throughout the week—All-Stakes Pick 5, Jeff Ruby and UAE Derby to follow
Since the implementation of the points system, the Louisiana Derby has seen seven graduates grab a top three spot in Louisville.
I’m not being late to the party, but I wrote from the day made its debut the points system that replaced graded earning was more suited to getting the top 20 3YOs into the Louisville starting gate. In the same manner, the Louisiana Derby, from the six weeks-spacing from CD to the added sixteenth, has enjoyed success. Sometimes, good ideas prevail. Thanks for weighing in, Nick…
Great cards Saturday in FG and TP; no reason to give the Dubai card any of my money, and I won’t.
Instant Coffee is my choice. 3 for 4 lifetime. Not saying this is good or bad, but he beat more horses in the race he lost (10) than in any of the races he won (5,8,8).
Fairgrounds, race 12
1. Tapit’s Conquest
2. Sun Thunder
3. Instant Coffee
Note: Order of Australia is running in Dubai today. He’s on my horses to watch list off his 6th in the Breeders cup where he was very wide both turns.
Good luck and as always, lets go get dem bad guys, vin