Despite the fact that only two horses in history have completed the Louisiana Derby (GII)-Kentucky Derby (GI) double, the main event for the Fair Grounds meet is still an important stop along the Triple Crown trail. Before points determined who would make the gate for the Run for the Roses, graded purse money was the most prominent determining factor and even before the New Orleans-based track boosted the purse to $1 million, the 1 1/8-mile race has featured some good horses trying to make the gate under the Twin Spires in Louisville.
Though Black Gold (1924) and Grindstone (1996) are the lone Louisiana/Kentucky Derby winners, that’s not to say some good horses haven’t run in the Pelican State’s main Derby prep. Risen Star won in 1988 before taking the Preakness Stakes (GI) and Belmont Stakes (GI); and recent Dubai World Cup (GI) runner-up Gun Runner won a year ago. Other recognizable names to win Louisiana Derby throughout the years include Friesan Fire, Circular Quay, Peace Rules, Master Derby and many more.
This year a field of nine will head postward and the feature has been carded as the day’s 11th with a post time of 5:21 CT. Saturday’s weather is expected to be dry after a week of rain and thunderstorms, with humidity rising and highs in the lower 80s.
This race shapes up with an abundance of early speed, so looking for a runner with some tactical ability to go with talent makes sense here. LeComte Stakes (GIII) winner Guest Suite, who finished a troubled fourth in the Risen Star Stakes (GII) last out, returns looking for more Derby points and all he may need is a better trip to get that here. In his three career wins, Guest Suite proved to be a mid-pack runner with a productive trip only moderately pace-dependent. The well-bred son of Quality Road fell back to nearly last in the Risen Star and still managed to close strongly after racing mostly wide throughout, but just could not get to the wire in time. Getting a better position early from the break is essential, but regular jockey Robby Albarado knows the Fair Grounds track well, as does trainer Neil Howard, and the colt has been training lights-out over the surface for the past month. Overall Guest Suite’s numbers are consistent, if not improving with each start, so he may just need a trouble-free trip to claim top honors.
Upset Risen Star winner Girvin is back to defend that win and if the Joe Sharp-trained son of Tale of Ekati puts up a performance anything like his last he figures strongly for another win. Though the classic distance is a question considering his pedigree, he showed no signs of slowing down or getting caught at 1 1/16 miles last out. The question mark on this colt, though, is if his last was a fluke as it was his first stakes attempt and the numbers he earned were so much higher than anything he’d posted before, one has to wonder if a bounce is possible. He’s had some good works over the track and will have his regular jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. aboard and a repeat of his last makes him a legit favorite.
Local Hero was third last out in the Risen Star in his graded stakes debut for trainer Steve Asmussen and leading jockey Florent Geroux. The stone-cold frontrunner opened up an enormous lead and set all the pace that day in moderate early splits, but was still unable to hold off the late charge from Girvin and and runner-up Untrapped, who came back to finish third last out in the Rebel Stakes (GII) at Oaklawn Park two weeks ago. The pace can’t be blamed for him giving up the lead in the stretch in the Risen Star, so maybe it was a bit of an operator error scenario, but it’s a good guess his connections won’t get caught looking the other way in here. It’s nice to see his speed figures have improved with each start, as he’ll need to improve again to win here and it’s a good bet he’ll be on the lead from the break, with Geroux no doubt doing his best to avoid an early duel.
Patch will lead the field to post in his first start against winners after breaking his maiden by 1 ½ length in a Fair Grounds allowance six weeks ago. The Todd Pletcher-trained son of Union Rags is a stalker who will like the predicted quick early pace and his figures, including the giant 101 BRISnet speed figure last out, make him a dangerous competitor who may be arriving on the Triple Crown scene at the right time. Tyler Gaffalione rides the Calumet Farm homebred.
Senior Investment is riding a three-race win skein, which includes his maiden score and two allowance races. Ken McPeek trains the son of Discreetly Mine for Fern Circle Stables and Channing Hill will ride. He’s a later runner who will like the pace, but, overall, his numbers show he’s probably a cut below the top in here.
Monaco, another from Todd Pletcher’s barn, also faces winners for the first time after breaking his maiden by 12 at Tampa seven weeks ago. The Smith, Tabor, Magnier and Repole-owned son of Uncle Mo will be part of the early pace, but he will need whatever talent he has to make up for his general lack of experience. Rajiv Maragh will be in town to ride.
Former claimer Sorry Erik was no factor in the Risen Star last out, but is back to give it another go in here. Hard to think he’ll have much of an impact, but Keith Desormaux saddled a longhsot maiden winner to finish second in the Rebel, so anything is possible.
It’s hard to have a lot of confidence in a horse like Hollywood Handsome whose best race was his debut and who seems to have regressed, numbers-wise, in his five starts since. He seems in way over his head.
Hotfoot is another former claimer who seems in too tough to be a factor.