Five things to know for Louisiana Derby

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

March 31st, 2017

Saturday’s $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) concludes the Fair Grounds road to the Kentucky Derby (G1), and rates as the first U.S. prep to reward 100 Derby points to the winner. The Louisiana Derby’s scheduled post time of 6:21 p.m. ET beats Gulfstream Park’s Florida Derby (G1) by about 20 minutes. Hopefully the back-to-back preps will begin to provide some clarity to what’s been a wild Derby picture.

Here are my five things to know for the historic New Orleans test:

1. Girvin stood up as the top local sophomore with a sharp score, and a score for trainer Joe Sharp, in the February 25 Risen Star (G2). His athletic rally along the inside resulted in a gaudy 112 BRIS Late Pace figure, and the final time of 1:43.08 was solid for 1 1/16 miles at this track. Likely to receive a similarly robust pace scenario here – well-named stablemate Hotfoot presumably on hand to ensure the tempo – Girvin warrants 8-5 morning-line favoritism.

As other observers have noted, though, Girvin worked out the best possible trip for himself in the Risen Star, something that can’t be said of a couple of his rivals. Still, the Tale of Ekati colt deserves the lion’s share of the credit for being handy enough, and blessed with the nifty acceleration, to make it count. Girvin saved ground from his rail post that day, but draws toward the outside in post 8 here.

But an additional critique comes from the formline. Risen Star runner-up Untrapped was only an OK third in the Rebel (G2), appearing to have winner Malagacy dead to rights before hanging and losing second in a photo with the maiden Sonneteer. If not necessarily a knock on the Risen Star, neither was it much of a boost. The Rebel result prompts the question of how deep the Risen Star was, despite the good time.

2. Lecomte (G3) winner Guest Suite likewise stands to benefit from a fast pace. The Neil Howard trainee splashed to victory over Untrapped in a muddy Lecomte, the first Derby points race at Fair Grounds in January. But in the Risen Star, he left himself far too much to do and wound up a belated fourth.

The added ground of the 1 1/8-mile Louisiana Derby should help Guest Suite, especially if he doesn’t put himself a dozen lengths behind early. Although a closer, he’d previously secured better position within reasonable hailing distance.

The well-bred son of Quality Road has some useful juvenile formlines too. Third to McCraken in last fall’s Street Sense at Churchill Downs, Guest Suite also defeated eventual Sunland Derby (G3) hero Hence in his Keeneland maiden.

3. Local Hero, third after being loose on the lead in the Risen Star, figures to have company up front. There are two ways to read Local Hero. One theory is that the speedy colt will improve from his Risen Star experience, and loom a wire threat as the speed-of-the-speed. The opposing argument is that if he tired when dictating terms in the Risen Star, he will find his task harder over an extra sixteenth, with Girvin’s pacesetter Hotfoot looking to make things lively.

If Hotfoot is intent on sprinting to the fore, jockey Florent Geroux may try to persuade Local Hero to let the rabbit do the dirty work. A stalk-and-pounce routine would save some energy early while getting the jump on the closers. But it remains to be seen if Local Hero has that degree of flexibility, or indeed if Hotfoot will rather wait for Local Hero to play his cards first before pressing.

4. Fellow locals Hollywood Handsome and Senior Investment are making their stakes debuts, but each has an angle to consider.

Hollywood Handsome has the karma factor for trainer Dallas Stewart, who lost his top prospect, homebred Saint’s Fan, to a fatal workout injury. Stewart knows how to spring massive upsets, or conjure up placings from big longshots.

Senior Investment has actually crossed the wire first in his past three, but was disqualified from an entry-level allowance win here in January. The promoted winner of that race, stablemate It’s Your Nickel from the Ken McPeek barn, came right back to crush the John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway.

5. Todd Pletcher’s shippers Patch and Monaco are both taking a class hike straight off maiden wins.

Patch is a homebred for Calumet Farm, which has hit a purple patch of late with its three-year-olds. The aforementioned Hence and Sonneteer have jumped up recently, while Wild Shot has been steadily depositing points since last year.

But Patch has a better credential than simply his on-fire owner. He’s a mouthwatering pedigree play, being from the first crop of Union Rags, a half-brother to Grade 2 winner Tiz Windy, and from the immediate family of champion Banshee Breeze. A fast-finishing second in his sprint debut at Gulfstream, Patch shaped for all the world like a two-turn horse when grinding clear around the one-turn mile there. In the process, he recorded a 101 BRIS Speed rating, best in the Louisiana Derby field. And to top it off, Patch reportedly was Tapwrit’s workmate last Saturday, hanging tough with the record-setting Tampa Bay Derby (G2) winner as they finished a half in :49.20. Granted, Tapwrit appeared ready to go by if allowed, but the very pairing might be significant.

Monaco, a $1.3 million purchase at OBS last March, took three tries to break his maiden. Owned by the Coolmore principals and Repole Stable, the Uncle Mo colt just trounced an overmatched field at Tampa Bay Downs. He’s headed in the right direction, and having already shown good early speed, Monaco now adds first-time blinkers. Will that backfire if he gets too on the muscle, or will it help him take that next step forward?

For your handicapping enjoyment, is offering free Louisiana Derby PPs. Good luck!

Girvin photo courtesy Vance Hanson