College basketball will dominate the sports landscape for the next three weeks but horse racing has been involved in its own March Madness.
Santa Anita stopped racing until March 28 due to perplexing track conditions leading to 22 equine deaths since December 26. Management took the unprecedented step of banning race day medication starting in 2020.
For the rest of the country, the Kentucky Derby prep season is in full swing. Fair Grounds hosts the Louisiana Derby on Saturday. The Sunland Derby is Sunday at Sunland Park in New Mexico. The Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park and the UAE Derby earlier in the day in Dubai are the March 30 three-year-old marquee races.
The Louisiana Derby is the first million dollar prep race of the season. It has been a while since a runner who prepped in Louisiana has won the Kentucky Derby. You have to go back to 1996 when Grindstone parlayed the Louisiana Derby (and Arkansas Derby) into a Kentucky Derby win for D Wayne Lukas.
Here’s a look at the field from inside out:
Roiland: Tom Amoss-trained colt is a huge closer who has been slow into stride in most of his starts. In typical Amoss fashion (think Mo Tom and Lone Sailor) he has a deep closer who is traffic-prone on the Derby trail. With only a maiden and allowance win, and a tough inside post, he is going to be a longshot in this race.
Lemniscate: Speedy gray colt ships in from Gulfstream where he last wired a maiden field on the grass. The pace was slow enough that he was able to hold them off. He set fast fractions sprinting on the dirt in his prior race before finishing second to a comeback allowance winner for Todd Pletcher. Has upside but faces other speed and a classier bunch.
Limonite: Steve Asmussen runner comes from the clouds. He ran a strong third in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill to end his two-year-old season. He was fifth to War of Will in the G2 Risen Star last out but had serious traffic trouble in that race. He gets Jose Ortiz up for the first time. He is eligible to improve second off the shelf and has been working well. Pedigree leans to the grass.
Sueno: Keith Desormeaux trains this modestly bred colt. He was a sharp runner-up in the G3 Southwest at Oaklawn Park at 8-1 last time out. That race already produced a winner of one of the divisions of the G2 Rebel, Long Range Toddy, who was third behind this one in the Southwest. It seems every year Desormeaux takes a cheap one and gets a big Derby run out of him. Improving sort.
By My Standards: He’s had four starts, all maiden races, and finally broke through last time out with a sharp win. He broke from the outside 12 post and was very wide on both turns in that 4-1 victory. He’s trained strongly for this (two bullet drills within a week of each other). Will sit in a perfect mid-pack spot early but needs to improve to win this.
War of Will: His first four starts were on the grass (all as a two-year old). He ran well enough but was winless. He was fifth of 14 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at 16-1. Trainer Mark Casse moved him to the dirt and he’s been spectacular. He traveled wide in the LeComte and Risen Star but was in hand late winning both for fun. He gets an easier pressing in here. He would need to regress to lose this.
Mr. Money: Took a bit of action in the Risen Star after he was a 41-1 fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He made an early move before fading when the real running began. Trainer Calhoun has two in here (other is By My Standards) and rider Saez had his choice. He gets off this one and stays with By My Standards.
Country House: Bill Mott colt was second to War of Will in the Risen Star at 7-1 odds following an impressive win in a maiden race at Gulfstream Park. Mott has had a strong season and looks live with a few Derby hopefuls. Bred to love the distance. He’s never been out of the exacta in three dirt starts. He is a major win candidate.
Bankit: Another of the never-ending string of top level three-year olds for Steve Asmussen. This one sold for $260k despite just a $7,500 sire fee. Breeding leans to shorter races and has been excellent going up to one mile. Went longer in last and was fifth of 11 in the G3 Southwest while getting a six-wide trip. Gets Irad Ortiz back.
Spinoff: Todd Pletcher is tough to fade this time of the year with a viable three-year old. He won this race last year with a similar looking colt (Noble Indy, same rider up). Won by nearly 12 in the comeback at Tampa last out but beat just four and none were any good. Dam was a G1 winner but she never ran over one mile. This is a tough call given the connections but taking a stand against based on pedigree.
Hog Creek Hustle: Interesting long shot consideration. Sold for $150k (10x the sire fee). Has run only one bad race and that came in a G3 in his second start. Ran second to War of Will in the LeComte and then had a difficult trip in the Risen Star (checked and very wide) but still got up for fourth.
Selections: War Of Will, Hog Creek Hustle, Limonite
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