Racing Roundtable: An early look at Louisiana Derby, Dubai World Cup cards
Following a quiet weekend of racing on the domestic front, TwinSpires.com editors James Scully, Kellie Reilly, and Vance Hanson react to events at Oaklawn Park and look ahead to this week's Louisiana Derby (G2) and Dubai World Cup (G1).
Any thoughts on what transpired in the Essex H. (G3) and/or Whitmore (G3) at Oaklawn?
James Scully: Rated R Superstar is still getting it done at age nine, a veteran gelding in the midst of a career resurgence. His best races appeared behind him when dropping in for a $50,000 tag 14 months ago, but he's come full circle since being claimed by Danny Caldwell and Federico Villafranco. Winner of the Fifth Season S. in mid-January, Rated R Superstar rallied to a 2 1/4-length decision in Saturday's Essex H. (G3). That marked his first graded win since the 2018 Ben Ali (G3) at Keeneland, which was also the last time Rated R Superstar netted a triple-digit Brisnet Speed rating prior to the Fifth Season (101) and Essex (100) this year. He will bring his finishing kick to the Oaklawn H. (G2) on April 16.
Kellie Reilly: If the highlight of Whitmore Day at Oaklawn Park was seeing the retired champ parading, the next-best was having a deep closer win the race newly renamed in his honor. I underestimated Bob's Edge badly, making him the ill-advised fade in last weekend's TwinSpires.com Jury. In hindsight, his King Cotton S. victory was not an outlier, but the signal for a still bigger move forward in the Whitmore (G3). Despite being run off his feet in last early, the Larry Jones trainee overwhelmed them in deep stretch to post career-best Brisnet Speed (102) and Late Pace (103) ratings. As a four-year-old gelding, Bob's Edge has the potential to become a mainstay in the sprint division. And he's bred by the same family farm that brought us Epicenter, Bettersworth Westwind.
Vance Hanson: I doubt either race will have much of a long-term impact beyond the Oaklawn meet itself. Whitmore winner Bob's Edge loves the track and figures as a legitimate threat in the Count Fleet Sprint H. (G3) next month, but beyond that it's a wait-and-see thing. Essex hero Rated R Superstar is a nine-year-old who's won three stakes in his last six starts, so he's doing some amazing things at a ripe age. I will say the way the track was playing Saturday was much more favorable to horses with his closing style, at least compared to Feb. 12, when the top two in the Razorback H. (G3) ran one-two all the way around. Plainsman and Thomas Shelby tried to replicate that in the Essex, but couldn't.
Any early thoughts on the Louisiana Derby and/or its undercard?
JS: After dictating terms in the Risen Star (G2), Epicenter appears to be the controlling speed in the Louisiana Derby. Expecting another strong performance by the classy three-year-old. Unraced nearly five months, champion two-year-old filly Echo Zulu will be an odds-on favorite in the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2), and with bigger targets on the immediate horizon, it's fair to question whether the unbeaten speedster will be vulnerable following the lengthy layoff. Excited to see if Olympiad, who earned his first graded triumph in the Feb. 19 Mineshaft (G3), can carry his surging form to 1 1/8 miles in the New Orleans Classic (G2).
KR: On paper, Epicenter is liable to get the same kind of taxing trip that left him vulnerable in the closing stages of the Lecomte (G3), over a furlong longer in the Louisiana Derby. Will he insist on free-wheeling ways and succumb, or will he conserve his speed more tactically? His chances in the Kentucky Derby (G1) could depend on his answer at Fair Grounds. The third possibility is that Epicenter somehow gets no pressure, and we're none the wiser for the first Saturday in May. Champion stablemate Echo Zulu doesn't face the same kind of question in the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2). But the transition from two to three isn't a given, even though sire Gun Runner offers plenty of encouragement, and I'll be relieved to get her comeback out of the way.
VH: His price will be short again, but I do like Santin's chances a lot more Saturday in the Muniz Memorial (G2) than I did in last month's Fair Grounds (G3). Only a three-race veteran entering the Fair Grounds, Santin was heavily bet down to 2.7-1 favoritism following his narrow loss in the Hollywood Derby (G1). That was much too short for my tastes on a horse with his limited amount of experience, but the Godolphin homebred displayed his quality by almost winning the thing anyway despite receiving a disadvantageous pace setup. He figures to be more formidable Saturday with that extra learning experience behind him.
Any early thoughts on the Dubai World Cup and/or its undercard?
JS: As demonstrated in the Pegasus World Cup (G1), Life Is Good has the class and cruising speed to dominate major races when unopposed on the front end, and it's easy to envision a similar scenario in the Dubai World Cup (G1). It will be fascinating to see whether two-time Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) winner Colonial Liam can make an impact in the Dubai Turf (G1) for Todd Pletcher. And I look forward to watching Breeders' Cup Turf (G1) victor Yibir open his four-year-old season in the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1).
KR: I'm scribbling Dubai trends and storylines of interest elsewhere on the Edge, but my one big hope for the World Cup is that Life Is Good puts on a show. Before his injury around this time last year, I wasn't on his Kentucky Derby bandwagon. After seeing how the major three-year-old races played out in his absence, and how he handled the second half of the season, I now have all the enthusiasm of a convert. The World Cup will give him the stamina test he never got in the Triple Crown, yet Life Is Good could just be too good.
VH: Besides the usual suspects already mentioned, the title defense of Lord North in the Dubai Turf (G1) will be interesting to watch. A Group 1 winner at Royal Ascot in 2020, he had an excuse-filled back half of that campaign. Lord North put on a show winning the Dubai Turf a year ago by three lengths, but it proved his only outing of the season. Although he got in a useful prep over the Lingfield all-weather last month, Lord North is trading at around 7-1 for Saturday's race, an enticing price given he was the 11-8 choice 12 months ago. He might still have some big races ahead of him.