That's a wrap: Impressions of Louisiana Derby Day and New Orleans

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

April 2nd, 2017

NEW ORLEANS -- Lady Luck doesn't always bless me at the mutuel windows, but Mother Nature has tended to be my guardian angel when I go off on assignment. Trips to cover the Preakness, Little Brown Jug, Hong Kong International Races, and now Saturday's Louisiana Derby, have been made that much more enjoyable with pristine weather present (on the big race days anyway). It helped make it a great experience this week in my Big Easy debut.

While there were some signs of a possible inside speed bias early on Saturday's card, speed crumbled, ultimately, in the three graded route races -- the New Orleans H. (G2), Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) and Louisiana Derby (G2) -- and all were basically run true to form.

The gap between the final 1 1/8-mile times of the New Orleans (1:48.35) and Louisiana Derby (1:49.77) was rather significant, even when taking into account the natural difference between mature older males and young three-year-olds. Keeping in mind we're not exactly dealing with the crème de la crème of the older horse set (though it was a pretty fast race), we might not see the speed rating for the Louisiana Derby come back very high. If that proves the case, Girvin would presumably have to step up his game a bit to be a leading contender at Churchill Downs. He's definitely a nice horse who isn't far off from being undefeated, and has proven capable regardless of surface and distance.

Despite suggestions this week by connections she would try and win wire-to-wire again, odds-on favorite Farrell ran a length or two off the early pace in the Fair Grounds Oaks and won as she pleased against a suspect field. With Unique Bella's defection from the Kentucky Oaks (G1), Farrell is perhaps as good as any contender for that race out there. On the other hand, she seemingly wasn't tested that much during her stay in New Orleans this winter and spring, and that might work against her in Louisville. With a few more Oaks preps in the next couple weeks, I'm taking a similar wait-and-see approach with the fillies before latching on to someone.

Overall, my three full days in the city have been Grade A. The food and drink, music, and hospitality, at Fair Grounds and elsewhere, have been top notch. As usual, it's always fun interacting with media faces you've known of or about for ages, but either haven't met personally or rarely have gotten the chance to. The repartee of racetrack press boxes makes good listening entertainment for retiring types and, for me, is one of the joys of covering events like this.

Thanks to all who helped out this week and the rest of you. Hope to do it again.