Racing Roundtable: 2023 Louisiana Derby Preview Day

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TwinSpires Staff

February 21st, 2023

James Scully, Kellie Reilly, and Vance Hanson are back to provide takeaways from the Louisiana Derby Preview Day card at Fair Grounds in this week's Racing Roundtable.

Are you buying anybody coming out of the Risen Star (G2)?

James Scully: Angel of Empire and Sun Thunder. The late runners took advantage of fortuitous circumstances in the Risen Star, which featured a hot pace that collapsed, but it was a strong showing nonetheless for a pair of up-and-coming colts in their respective second stakes attempts. Angel of Empire moved forward off a second in the Smarty Jones S. in his stakes debut, and Sun Thunder stepped up after a fourth in the Southwest (G3). The top two netted respectable Brisnet Speed ratings after being separated by a length on the wire, and they look capable of further progression.

Kellie Reilly: The Risen Star looked wide open before, especially given the adverse race dynamics for Victory Formation as a speed horse in post 13 against other speed. So the result only reinforced the idea that these were a bunch of nice three-year-olds just a notch below the top tier of Derby contenders. Indeed, even though Angel of Empire stepped up to capitalize on the pace meltdown, accomplished stablemate Instant Coffee would probably have won at least as well in those circumstances. Instant Coffee remains the captain of Brad Cox's Louisiana Derby (G2) team. The one who intrigues me going forward on the trail is another Cox pupil, Risen Star fourth Tapit's Conquest, who loomed on the outside before stalling. Cox said something similar to the Fair Grounds notes team: "I thought he was a winner at the eighth pole; he just kind of leveled off a little bit late. I think he got a good bit out of it." Tapit's Conquest is in the Louisiana Derby mix as well, and another move forward is likely.

Vance Hanson: I'm not a fan of this edition of the Risen Star in general, but if I had to pick one horse from it I'd take the winning Angel of Empire. He's done little wrong in any of his appearances on the main track, and trainer Brad Cox has been adamant that this horse will continue to thrive as the distances increase. I can't say any of the others that finished behind him in the Risen Star had any serious excuses, so I have doubts about their long-term Derby prospects, given the modesty of the race overall.

What do you make of Hoosier Philly's loss in the Rachel Alexandra (G2)?

JS: Adversity got the better of Hoosier Philly, who came up empty in the stretch of the Rachel Alexandra after stumbling at the break and being stifled in traffic, and the setback crushed the Kentucky Derby (G1) hopes of the 11-1 second individual choice in Pool 4 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager. But considering she exited the race no worse for wear according to reports, Hoosier Philly remains eligible to certify herself as a top Kentucky Oaks (G1) contender by rebounding in her next outing.

KR: Given how awkwardly Hoosier Philly left the gate, my first thought was that she must have tweaked a muscle or something — not terrible, but enough to compromise her trying to run a competitive race. Thankfully, the post-race comments by Tom Amoss sound as though she came out OK. Still, Hoosier Philly ran like a horse who never recovered from the initial incident, whether physically or psychologically (as if reflexively going into self-protective mode). Her tactical position wasn't great, but it alone can't explain the magnitude of her loss. The field was bunched up enough, through a modest pace, that the Hoosier Philly of last fall could have overcome it. That said, Pretty Mischievous has improved since Hoosier Philly dismissed her in the Nov. 26 Golden Rod (G2), and it stood to reason that the Rachel Alexandra rematch might not be so one-sided. But the fact that Hoosier Philly actually lost ground down the lane is the key. You'd have expected a strong finish, even in defeat, and that's why I think her bad break just took her totally out of her game.

VH: Hoosier Philly ran the worst race of her career in the Rachel Alexandra, and is certainly capable of better wherever she shows up next. However, this race ended any Kentucky Derby aspirations her connections might have quietly had, plus disappointed a lot of bettors that backed her hard in the recent fourth pool of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager. The effort also suggests that, despite the visually impressive manner in which she won two stakes as a juvenile, she wasn't and isn't a Kentucky Oaks standout. She's still a legitimate contender for that race, but not the superstar many thought she was already.

Any other thoughts from Louisiana Derby Preview Day at Fair Grounds?

JS: The fifth race, a six-furlong maiden for three-year-olds, featured a promising debut winner in Bishops Bay. Bet down to 1-2 off a fast series of works, the Brad Cox-trained Uncle Mo colt quickly recovered after breaking a half-step slow, pressing the pace before taking a short lead in upper stretch, and he dug in determinedly when challenged by First Mission, reasserting control late to win by nearly a length. Bishops Bay's pedigree is built for two-turn distances, and it will be interesting to see where he turns up next. First Mission, a Godolphin homebred son of Street Sense for Cox, is also one to watch for off the fine runner-up effort.

Denington rebounded nicely from a non-threatening fourth in the Lecomte (G3), closing fast to win the eighth race, a salty entry-level allowance at 1 1/16 miles. The Kenny McPeek-conditioned Gun Runner colt easily registered a career-best Brisnet Speed rating for the neck decision, and runner-up Cagliostro and third Tapit Shoes also ran well in a race that may prove productive.

KR: Although First Defender tired to fourth in that loaded three-year-old allowance, I remain bullish on his future. This was not only his first route race, but just his second career start after demolishing a sprint maiden on Lecomte Day. On Saturday, First Defender matched strides with a hopeless longshot early, traveling like the winner much of the way before hitting the proverbial wall. He was beaten a grand total of two lengths by the stakes-hardened Denington, with fellow promising youngsters Cagliostro and Tapit Shoes nearby in second and third. The top three all had the benefit of route races under their belt, while First Defender was the least experienced runner in the field. Steve Asmussen had raved about his raw talent beforehand, and this race should bring him on a lot. By Quality Road and out of the multiple Grade 1-winning A.P. Indy mare Love and Pride (a three-quarter sister to champion Bernardini), First Defender is one to watch for the long term.

VH: Two horses well beaten on the undercard, Banishing (1-1) in the allowance won by Denington and Happy American (4-1) in the Mineshaft (G3), both reportedly suffered setbacks and/or training interruptions since their previous starts. While such things can sometimes prove minor in nature, their losses are more evidence that bettors should generally take a jaundiced view of such horses, especially, in the case of Banishing, when there is no value to be had. Keeping tabs on the news is essential and, as these two instances show, can help identify horses to fade.