Five things to know for 2018 Louisiana Derby
The first 2018 Kentucky Derby (G1) scoring race worth the maximum total of points – 170 – including a 100-point windfall to the winner, Saturday’s $1 million TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) offers an outstanding opportunity to secure Derby berths for the enterprising sophomore(s) ready to seize it.
And enterprising may be the operative word. The historic New Orleans Fair Grounds feature has attracted a solid bunch without an overwhelming favorite, suggesting that trips and race dynamics may be decisive. Yet this is the time of year when the real contenders step forward, and a few in here are capable of a breakout performance.
Here are my five things to know for the Louisiana Derby:
1. The top three from the Risen Star (G2) are likely to get different trips in the rematch. Last time Snapper Sinclair set up shop as the speed on the inside. Bravazo prompted on the outside and prevailed narrowly after a sustained drive. Noble Indy, who might have been expected to maintain a forward position from post 2, eased back on the clubhouse turn and never made up ground in third.
Although Noble Indy has landed in the same post in the Louisiana Derby, trainer Todd Pletcher has prescribed the equipment change to blinkers. Chances are that will make the 7-2 chance a bit sharper early. Since Noble Indy had shown more tactical foot in his two prior victories, that’s arguably the prerequisite for a form reversal.
The D. Wayne Lukas-trained Bravazo has now drawn the rail, ensuring a ground-saving passage. Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens, who didn’t make the trip from Oaklawn for the Risen Star, regains the mount from the sidelined Miguel Mena. Will Stevens aggressively use his early speed, reminiscent of his front-running master class on the similarly-bred Oxbow for the same connections in the 2013 Preakness (G1)? And speaking of common connections, how poignant would it be for Lukas and Stevens to strike on the Derby trail just after the passing of their 1995 champion Thunder Gulch? If you invoke that angle, though, Thunder Gulch ran flat in his last prep before rebounding at Churchill Downs…
Snapper Sinclair may employ different tactics from post 7. The Steve Asmussen pupil could revert to stalking, since if he hustles early to angle over, he’s liable to work too hard to get there as others show speed. If you think that he had the tougher trip as the hunted in the Risen Star and just missed, perhaps the role of hunter could put him in a better light. Still, I’m tempted to think that if the City Zip colt couldn’t fend off Bravazo late in the 1 1/16-mile Risen Star, the 1 1/8-mile Louisiana Derby may be a shade beyond his optimal distance.
2. Muddy Southwest (G3) romper My Boy Jack will get his first proper test on a fast track. While well beaten in his two past attempts on a fast track, the Keith Desormeaux pupil had excuses in both. His debut sprinting five furlongs at Santa Anita was just an educational run, and he immediately stretched out to two turns on turf with a series of fine results. The turf option started out more as a matter of his distance requirements than surface preference.
As a son of Creative Cause, he was entitled to act on dirt, and he accordingly shaped as a fascinating prospect when returning to the main track for the Sham (G3). Unfortunately, My Boy Jack didn’t have his usual finishing kick after racing much closer to the pace, leaving him a distant third behind McKinzie. In the Southwest, he enjoyed dropping back and making one lethal run – only the muddy track, and his riding the golden rail, made it worth wondering if the 4 1/2-length margin could be taken literally. Nevertheless, when Southwest runner-up Combatant came back to finish third to unbeaten Magnum Moon in the Rebel (G2), beaten 3 1/2 lengths, the collateral form looked pretty decent on its face for My Boy Jack.
Now My Boy Jack will try to duplicate that effort in a different environment, without a mud-fueled pace collapse, and presumably versus a couple of better foes than he met at Oaklawn. There’s no compelling reason to think he can’t, but it will be a lingering question until he does it, and that makes him a possibly vulnerable morning-line favorite.
3. Lone Sailor has much more than sentimental appeal at 20-1. Campaigned by the G M B Racing Stable of Mrs. Gayle Benson, he competes just one day after the funeral for Gayle’s husband, New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson. The Tom Amoss trainee brings some useful form in his bid to become a hometown hero, having traded decisions with Bravazo in stakes as a juvenile. Lone Sailor was a troubled third in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1), finished ahead of Bravazo when a near-miss second in the Street Sense, and finished fifth in the productive Kentucky Jockey Club (G2), in which Bravazo was a dull 10th. A blinkers experiment backfired in the Lecomte (G3), but Lone Sailor turned the page with a hard-charging second to Dark Templar off a slow pace in an allowance. That was good for a field-best 103 BRIS Late Pace rating. Now the Majestic Warrior colt gets a genuine tempo to set him up, over the added ground he’ll favor, and it won’t be a surprise to see him outperform his odds.
On a related note, it should be mentioned that Givemeaminit has also been highly tried, finishing third in the Hopeful (G1), fifth in the Breeders’ Futurity, fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), eighth in the key Kentucky Jockey Club, and eighth in a Risen Star where no one appreciably improved position. Granted that Givemeaminit has been more effective around one turn so far, trainer Dallas Stewart can’t be easily dismissed with such outsiders.
4. Dark Templar has pedigree and potential, but can’t afford an awkward start in this stakes debut. A $475,000 Keeneland September yearling by Tapit and descended from Personal Ensign, Dark Templar was a promising debut winner at Churchill Downs. But then the Brendan Walsh pupil had various kinds of trouble lines at the break, which cost him in his next two. Although Dark Templar wasn’t quick into stride last time either, he recovered well to grab the early lead and stole the race with new rider Florent Geroux. Such an armchair scenario isn’t in the cards here, but Walsh believes his colt is improving, and there could be more to come if he can just break alertly.
5. Retirement Fund and Hyndford rate as the lesser chances from their high-profile barns for a reason. Asmussen’s Retirement Fund wired his first two career starts at Fair Grounds, but threw in the towel after not making the lead in the Southwest. To be fair, the mud may have played more of a role than (or even influenced) his early positioning, and the Eskendereya colt can do himself justice back over a track he likes. Yet he has to prove himself in a major race with other speed on tap. Pletcher’s Hyndford is bound to catch the eye if you spot that he was second at Tampa last out to Magnum Moon. On the other hand, you’ve got to wonder why a $200,000 son of Street Cry was available in a $50,000 maiden claimer in his prior start, and no one took him. More germane, however, is Daily Racing Form’s Marcus Hersh reporting that Pletcher really wanted him in Sunday’s Sunland Derby (G3). Hyndford wasn’t going to make the cut for Sunland, so the Louisiana Derby was his fallback position.