Early thoughts on La. Derby Preview Day and coupled entries

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

February 16th, 2016

The major racing this weekend will be held at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, which hosts Louisiana Derby Preview Day. Six open stakes will be run, four of them graded, including leading preps for the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Kentucky Oaks (G1). Here are some initial thoughts on some of the stakes, which were drawn last Friday.

Risen Star (G2): I've been a Mo Tom fan since his fine, rallying third in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) in November, and his cozy, 2 1/4-length score in last month's Lecomte (G3) suggests he simply might be the best classic prospect coming out of Louisiana this winter. Friesan Fire (2009) and International Star (2015) both swept Fair Grounds' three major Derby preps, and it would be no surprise to see Mo Tom replicate that feat.

If there's a roadblock in Mo Tom's way in the Risen Star I don't think it'll necessarily be Airoforce, the Kentucky Jockey Club winner who has not yet run on a fast track (the weather forecast looks clear for Saturday). The bigger threat might be Gun Runner, a solid fourth in the Kentucky Jockey Club who won twice previously, including a Keeneland allowance over Rafting, a fine second last weekend in the Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs.

The sky seems to be the limit for Gun Runner, whose Grade 2-winning dam is a half-sister to Horse of the Year Saint Liam. He's posted several strong breezes in advance of his return, including a pair of six-furlong moves in 1:12 and change. Rachel Alexandra (G3): I felt Stageplay's victory in last month's $150,000 Silverbulletday leaned slightly toward workmanlike that "wowing," but then again she was 3-5 and wasn't expected to be fully cranked for such an early-season race. She's hard to oppose in this spot as well, but Lemon Drop Belle could take a step forward off a photo-finish loss in a local allowance and enhance that straight exacta.

Fair Grounds H. (G3): How much longer can Chocolate Ride dominate the local turf colony? His last-out win in the Colonel E.R. Bradley H. (G3) was narrower than expected, but unless a rival really takes it to him early the result is more than likely to end up the same. Bradley runner-up Roman Approval is an interesting alternative, though, and proved capable against some nice horses last year including The Pizza Man and Da Big Hoss.

Mineshaft H. (G3): This marks the fourth meeting between International Star and Eagle, with a fifth likely upcoming in next month's New Orleans H. (G2). International Star has had the upper hand in their Fair Grounds encounters, but a turn of the tables by Eagle would be no surprise. This one will be of more interest to watch than to bet on.

Duncan F. Kenner: Shotgun Kowboy spent much of his abbreviated three-year-old campaign running in routes. Successful as far a nine furlongs in the Oklahoma Derby (G3), he was simply overmatched at the same distance in the Clark H. (G1) last out. He's won four of five sprint attempts, generally against lesser, but the feeling is a return to one-turn races will be the true calling for this son of sprint champ Kodiak Kowboy. He has a legitimate chance to pull off a minor upset here.


Finally, some thoughts on the outcome of Monday's Southwest (G3) at Oaklawn. From a betting perspective, it was certainly no fun to see my longshot selection of Cutacorner virtually eliminated rounding the first turn due to the antics of rival Z Royal. Nobody likes to sit on a dead ticket, virtual or otherwise, when there's still more than a minute of action remaining.

On the flip side, I have to sympathize a bit with those who preferred Suddenbreakingnews in the Southwest but had to settle for a miserly 4-1 price as he was coupled with the more-fancied Synchrony due to sharing the same trainer (those who supported Grindstone in the 1996 Kentucky Derby can also relate). I noted in my blog that I also liked and respected both halves of that entry, but my ultimate selection and wager was certainly influenced by the fact that 4-1, or whatever the final odds would be, would not truly represent the real market support of each horse.

While many racing jurisdictions have gotten away from having rules forcing horses to be coupled due to having a common trainer (at least in graded and non-graded stakes) or common ownership (in major events like the Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup), it is apparent there are still places where the prevailing rules perhaps need to be modified and updated to reflect a more modern way of thinking.

(Mo Tom photo: Lou Hodges Jr./Hodges Photography)