Last month, Noble Indy used his time at Fair Grounds to show what a baby he still was, tantrums and all.
WinStar Farm President Elliott Walden called him “a real brat” in the paddock prior to the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford on Feb. 17, and when it came time for the son of Take Charge Indy to go through a hole after having been on the lead in his first two starts, he got a bit intimidated as others went on to take the accolades.
He ended up with a solid third-place finish in that first graded outing but, most important, he received an education. When he returned to the New Orleans track March 24 and had his mettle tested in the stretch of the Grade 2, $1 million Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby, the bay colt showed how quickly he had learned his lessons and how much room for growth there still is over the next six weeks.
Noble Indy put the lengthy Fair Grounds stretch to good use Saturday when he battled back on the rail in the final furlong after being passed by Lone Sailor in the lane to edge that one by a neck and put 100 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on his young resume.
It takes some kind of guts to snatch a victory out of what looked to be some strong jaws of defeat, especially considering Noble Indy raced right on top of a pace that favored his late-running challengers. That he got keen with Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez while rating in second through quarter-mile fractions of :22.97 and :46.64, lost his lead after turning into the stretch, and still was able to find more gears when Lone Sailor got a full length on him says a mouthful about how far he has come for trainer Todd Pletcher in a short period.
“Todd has done a great job with him. He won his first two starts and came here and got a real education ... but he grew up today,” said Walden of the colt WinStar Farm owns in partnership with Mike Repole. “He’s still only run four times. He’s bred for [the Kentucky Derby] and, as we saw today, distance is not a problem."
What may be a happy problem for the WinStar team is keeping themselves from getting whiplash while tracking all of their hopefuls on the Kentucky Derby trail. In addition to Noble Indy, Kenny Troutt’s operation has partial ownership of Holy Bull Stakes winner Audible, Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby victor Quip, and budding phenom Justify, with New York Central set to start in the Grade 3 Sunland Derby on March 25.
“It’s been a great day,” grinned Walden, who watched Good Samaritan — also owned by WinStar in partnership — win the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap earlier on the Fair Grounds card.
Despite the presence of Bravazo and Snapper Sinclair — the 1-2 finishers in the Risen Star — and Grade 3 Southwest Stakes winner My Boy Jack in the 10-horse field, Noble Indy had the faith of the betting public who made him the 5-2 favorite. Though he bumped the gate at the break, he got himself forwardly placed going into the first turn as 141-1 longshot Marmello set the early pace.
With Bravazo to his outside in third, Noble Indy stalked in the two path and kept begging Velazquez to let him do more, something his rider yielded to when he let the colt range up and take the lead at the half-mile pole, opening up two lengths on the field as reached three-quarters in 1:11.47.
“He had to fight the whole way,” Velazquez said of his mount, who was also racing with blinkers for the first time. “Going into the first turn, I had to use him to get position, then I grabbed him back in the middle of the turn. He got keen on the backstretch and ... at the half-mile pole I put my hands down and tried to give him a nice break. I decided not to fight him anymore and let him run down the lane.”
Velazquez said Noble Indy never saw Lone Sailor coming with his three-wide bid in the stretch and, for a handful of strides, it looked like a storybook ending was on tap. Lone Sailor is campaigned by G M B Racing, the nom de course of the late New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson and his wife, Gayle. Tom Benson passed away on March 15 and he was laid to rest in New Orleans on March 23.
Though Noble Indy fought back to cover the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:50.28 on a fast track, Lone Sailor picked up 40 qualifying points, most likely locking himself into the Kentucky Derby starting gate for trainer Tom Amoss.
My Boy Jack came with a sustained run down the middle of the track but leveled out and ended up third. Givemeaminit was fourth with Snapper Sinclair fifth. Bravazo came home eighth.
Bred in Kentucky by WinStar Farm, Noble Indy is out of the multiple stakes-winning Storm Boot mare Noble Maz. He debuted last Dec. 3, winning by 8 3/4 lengths going seven furlongs at Gulfstream Park, and took an allowance/optional claiming test going 1 1/16 miles on the same track in his seasonal bow on Jan. 11.
“He’s still green,” Velazquez said of Noble Indy. “But when saw that other horse, he came back and fought.”