In our racing, Louisiana works well

In our racing, Louisiana works well

March 20, 2018 3:00 AM


We are 6-1/2 weeks away from the 144th Kentucky Derby, which means all nine remaining Derby prep stakes will help determine the probable Derby favorite along with most of the 20 horses who will be in the Churchill Downs starting gate on Saturday, May 5.

While the Sunland Derby this coming Sunday in New Mexico is one of the remaining Derby preps and the ultra-rich 1-3/16 mile UAE Derby in the Middle East on March 31 could send horses to the Run for the Roses, the remaining seven preps figure to be most relevant. Six will be run at 1-1/8 miles.

The first will be the 105th running of the $1 million Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans this Saturday. Next will be the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, March 31, followed by three more on April 7: the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and the Santa Anita Derby. Finally, on April 14 the Arkansas Derby will be run at Oaklawn Park, as will the 1-1/16 mile Lexington Stakes at Keeneland.

As per the current Derby qualifying system, any horse who finishes first or second in one of the remaining Derby preps will be virtually assured a starting slot in the 1-1/4 mile Kentucky Derby.

Getting back to Saturday’s Louisiana Derby, a terrific field of 10 is expected to run, providing the weather cooperates. The most logical contenders include the 5-2 morning line favorite My Boy Jack, an easy winner of the Grade III Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park, Feb. 19. Because My Boy Jack seemed to be a turf specialist, his trainer Keith Desormeaux now sees this versatile colt as a “genuine threat against any 3-year-old in the country.” He will be ridden by the trainer’s Hall of Fame brother Kent Desormeaux.

Three horses in the field already have run well over the Fair Grounds track: Bravazo, winner of the G-2 Risen Star stakes Feb. 17, second place finisher Snapper Sinclair and third place finisher Noble Indy, a horse whose name I botched up when I suggested he would deserve a close look in his next start (this race), after he seemed to learn a lot from that 3rd place effort.

When we look at the complete field, there are plenty of Hall of Famers involved. For example, Bravazo is trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas and will be ridden by Hall of Famer Gary Stevens. In addition to Snapper Sinclair, Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen also has entered Retirement Fund who has won two races at the Fair Grounds his season.

Noble Indy, one of two horses entered by the ever present Todd Pletcher, is to be ridden by Hall of Famer John Velazquez. The other Pletcher trainee in the field is the lightly raced Hyndford. By the way, both Pletcher and Asmussen have won this stakes three times in the past dozen years.

The others in the field hoping to move up in the Derby rankings are all longshots – Dark Templar, Lone Sailor, Givemeaminit, Marmello.

Additional Notes: Last Saturday definitely featured several top performances. For instance, undefeated Magnum Moon was able to enter the Derby picture with a solid win in the 1-1/16 mile, $900K Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn. Magnum Moon’s 97 Beyer should convince Pletcher he has another potential contender for the world’s most famous race.

Earlier on that same Oaklawn card, the 4-year-old colt Hedge Fund earned a 101 Beyer while scoring his first career stakes victory in the 1-1/16 mile Essex Stakes. Yet, if we judge horses by their Speed Figures, none of the above good performances can match the one turned in by Chad Brown’s lightly campaigned 4-year-old Backyard Heaven, who earned a sensational 107 Beyer winning a 1-mile allowance race at Aqueduct as if he is headed for Grade 1 competition during the summer.

On the same afternoon at Santa Anita, the 4-year-old filly Fault won the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Handicap with a 101 Figure to suggest she will give trainer Phil D’Amato a serious contender for top level filly and mare stakes throughout the season.

As for leading colts in the 3-year-old division, Justify’s two races to date have been impressive, but we will find out if this late developing Bob Baffert trainee actually will be a serious Derby horse in his next start, probably the Santa Anita Derby in two weeks. Here’s my current top 10.

1. Good Magic, a high quality colt;

2. Bolt d’Oro, came back with a solid performance;

3. McKinzie, has some good efforts.

4. Justify, so fast, so promising;

5. Bravazo, well managed, runs in La. Derby;

6. Magnum Moon, on the upgrade at the right time;

7. Snapper Sinclair, close to Bravazo & also in La. Derby;

8. My Boy Jack, has good form & also is in La. Derby;

9. Noble Indy, find out for sure in La. Derby;

10. Kanthaka, ran well last month, must see more.