War of Will aims to win his third consecutive graded stakes and Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve prep race at Fair Grounds in Saturday’s $1 million, Grade 2 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby. He enters off of back-to-back wins in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes and, most recently, the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford, both of those wins coming after he broke his maiden in his fifth career start – and his first on dirt – last fall at Churchill Downs. Ten horses line up to face the likely betting favorite, including Risen Star runner-up Country House. Roiland, who finished third in the Risen Star at 69.30-1 odds, is back for more, as are fourth-place finisher Hog Creek Hustle, troubled fifth-place finisher Limonite, and seventh-place finisher Mr. Money. Of that group, aside from Country House and Roiland, Limonite has decent credentials as he is making his second start as a 3-year-old and finished third in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last fall before a layoff. Hog Creek Hustle also ran well prior to the Risen Star as he finished second in the Lecomte Stakes in January behind War of Will. Another horse with a decent shot to post the mild upset is Sueno, who rallied from eighth to second, beaten less than a length, in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes last month at Oaklawn Park. The third-place finisher in that race, Long Range Toddy, returned to win the first division of the Rebel Stakes last weekend. Bankit lost by a head to Long Range Toddy in the Springboard Mile Stakes last December but has run poorly in two races since then. By My Standards and Lemniscate both earned the first wins of their career in their most recent races and are stepping into stakes competition for the first time. Last but not least, Spinoff ships in from Florida for the barn of Todd Pletcher off a visually impressive win by more than 11 lengths, and appears ready to face stakes company.
Sueno is my top pick in the Louisiana Derby, but he is one of five have strong chances to win in my opinion. Sueno earned a 98 Equibase Speed Figure when rallying from eighth with a quarter-mile to go in the Southwest, traveling four paths wide on the turn, to lose by three-quarters of a length. Considering the horse Sueno beat for second in the Southwest, Long Range Toddy, improved to a 109 figure in the Rebel, Sueno should improve as well. Additionally, watching the replay of the Southwest (free via the Equibase Racing Yearbook), I noted that Sueno galloped out in front of the winner Super Steed, suggesting the added distance of the Louisiana Derby should benefit him very much.
Limonite may go to post as a longshot in the Louisiana Derby, and I feel that discounting his chances entirely would be something I’ll regret. When stretched out to two turns for the first time last fall, Limonite ran well, beaten a neck by Roiland in an allowance race at Churchill Downs after leading in the stretch. Limonite turned the tables on Roiland when they met next as he rallied from last of 14 to finish third in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, with Roiland checking in fifth. Rested three months and allowed to mature physically and mentally, Limonite ran better than it looked in the Risen Star Stakes, finishing fifth. He was steadied in traffic as he rallied from 11th on the far turn, losing all momentum before passing a few horses late. Jockey Jose Ortiz, second only to his brother Irad Ortiz, Jr. in North American jockey earnings for 2018, gets on Limonite for the first time. Although the 89 Equibase Speed Figure Limonite earned in his best effort (his third in the Kentucky Jockey Club) would likely not threaten the main contenders in the Louisiana Derby, I believe he could have finished in a higher position if not for traffic trouble in his first start at 3, the Risen Star. Therefore, I’m expecting Limonite to run a lot better than his high odds suggest.
Country House finished well to get second in the Risen Star after being as far back as 12th in the early stages. His three efforts at a mile or more on dirt have yielded Equibase Speed Figures of 94, 92 and 93, and except for the 107 figure War of Will earned in the Lecomte Stakes, those numbers stack up very well in this field. After breaking slowly in the Risen Star, jockey Luis Saez didn’t rush Country House one bit, but when he did ask for run, the colt moved from ninth to be second with an eighth of a mile to go. Although he could not make any further progress on War of Will in the stretch, I expect Country House to improve at this mile and one-eighth distance and that could help him turn the tables on War of Will in the Louisiana Derby.
War of Will drew the highly disadvantageous 13 post for the Risen Star and overcame what could have been an obstacle with a great ride from Tyler Gaffalione, who moved the colt up to second in the field before the turn to save ground. From there on out, War of Will always looked good, drawing clear at the top of the stretch to score an easy win. With a much better post for the Louisiana Derby, War of Will could win his third straight graded stakes – but there are a couple of things which may work against him as well. Based on a STATS Race Lens query I ran, sons and daughters of War of Will’s sire War Front are 0-for-20 over the last five years at distances of a mile and an eighth to a mile and a quarter on dirt. Secondly, although War of Will won the Risen Star easily, his 97 Equibase Speed Figure was a regression from the 107 he earned one month earlier in the Lecomte Stakes, and I have concerns when a horse on the Derby trail has a regression like that from one race to the next.
Spinoff rounds out the quintet that I believe can win the Louisiana Derby, as he’s improved in each of two starts since his maiden-breaking debut last June. Spinoff earned career-best and field-high last-race Equibase Speed Figure of 101 in his most recent start, a win in an allowance race at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 22. Spinoff was very impressive in drawing off to an 11 ¾-length win in what was his first two-turn race, and also his first start following six months off. He should be more physically fit in his second start off the layoff. This colt appears to have good tactical speed that’s similar to what War of Will showed in the Risen Star, and there’s a good chance jockey John Velazquez gets Spinoff out of the gate fast breaking from post 10 and moves him near the inside before the turn to save ground. As a colt by Hard Spun out of the multiple stakes-winning mare Zaftig, Spinoff can win just by logically improving off his last effort – so he must be considered a win contender in a very deep renewal of the Louisiana Derby.
The rest of the field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures, is: Bankit (98), By My Standards (91), Hog Creek Hustle (100), Lemniscate (95), Mr. Money (92) and Roiland (91).
War of Will