Louisiana Derby Preview, by Steve Munday
The premiere Kentucky Derby preps will occur over the next three weekends. Which means if you want to cash in big on Derby day you owe it to yourself to pay close attention to what happens in these races. Which leads us to Saturday’s Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds. It is the 11th race in a beefy 14 race card and contested at 1 and 1/8 miles with nine entrants. Here’s a brief review of the field:
#1 STANFORD (5-1) Making his second start going two turns and with the previous outing a second place finish in a minor stake race at Gulfstream Park three weeks back. STANFOR is one of many in the Pletcher’s impressive stable, but not considered, up until now at least, one of his top Derby prospects. Yet all of Pletcher's starters seem dangerous and STANFORD comes in after a sharp workout and draws a nice starting spot. Deserves respect.
#2 MR. Z (4-1) With ten races under his belt, eight of which in graded stakes races, he's got to be fit; or have plenty of "bottom" as some might say. D Wayne Lukas is rarely accused of spreading out starts or spotting his horses; he prefers to race them into shape. MR. Z has faced a who's who of Derby contenders and has not disgraced himself despite that lone maiden victory. D. Wayne takes off the blinkers so maybe will help MR. Z locate the winner’s circle for the first time since last June. Must consider a contender to win.
#3 DEFONDO (12-1) Is another making his 2nd start around two turns. Dallas Stewart and West Point Thoroughbreds brought Commanding Curve to the Louisiana Derby and then on to a somewhat surprising 2nd place finish in the Kentucky Derby. Can they do it again? If so, it will require a big step up in his game.
#4 FUSAICHI FLAME (20-1) Coming in off a win is always good, but Fusaichi Flames comes in off a wire-to-wire win the slop in an optional claiming race against only three challengers. A huge long shot at best.
#5 A DAY IN PARADISE (12-1) Winner in his last race of a minor stakes race at Houston and the only entrant not Triple Crown nominated. Perhaps attempting to make the Kentucky Derby field is an afterthought, but trainer Larry Jones takes a shot here nonetheless and might, just might, catch some bettors sleeping. Best of the long shots so don't completely ignore the tote.
#6 WAR STORY (4-1) Will complete the full Fair Grounds Derby prep schedule of LeComte, Risen Star and Louisiana Derby; and if it weren’t for INTERNATIONAL STAR, he’d have two wins under his belt the morning line favorite. It’s also noteworthy that trainer Tom Amoss as changed jockeys each time. So with Joe Talamo in the irons this time, will the third try be the charm?
#7 KEEN ICE (5-1) is a dead closer from way back, but left too much ground to make up last time in the Risen Star. Will the extra 16th of a mile race distance on Saturday help? Probably, but perhaps not quite enough – he might need an extra 3/16ths. Can’t leave out of the exacta though.
#8 ST. JOE BAY (10-1) led most of the way in the Risen Star before giving way and getting out-finished by three fellow contenders. Sure he can build off that experience, but can’t see how the extra distance and wide post draw will help his chances.
#9 INTERNATIONAL STAR (3-1) showed the outside post wasn’t concern in the Risen Star. Has the look of a grinder that keeps fighting and keeps running no matter what. And a hard knocking fighter with tactical speed, plenty of stamina, and no stranger to adversity is exactly the kind of horse I want my money on Derby day, whether that Derby is in Louisiana or Kentucky. Ignore at your peril.
Taking the long view I wouldn’t mind if INTERNATIONAL STAR didn’t cruise to a win on Saturday, because he may get overlooked in favor of higher profile Derby contenders coming out of the Grade 1 Derby preps in California, New York, Florida, and Arkansas. The reality is that very few Kentucky Derby winners come out of the Fair Grounds preps, but this year could be different. As far as betting the Louisiana Derby, I’ll key in on MR Z. Has a good post and his running style should have him well-positioned early and he’s proven he can compete at this level despite that lonely maiden win. I’ll be using with INTERNATIONAL STAR in the exacta with KEEN ICE underneath and go deeper with WAR STORY and long shot A DAY IN PARADISE in the bottom of the trifecta.
#2 MR. Z (4-1)
#9 INTERNATIONAL STAR (3-1)
#7 KEEN ICE (5-1)
#5 A DAY IN PARADISE (12-1)