Run at 1 1/8 miles, the $1 million Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby is a Grade 2 race at Fair Grounds worth 100-40-20-10 on the road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.
Nine of the last 11 Louisiana Derby winners prepped in the Risen Star Stakes and five of those horses captured both races, including last year’s winner Girvin.
This year, four of the 10 Louisiana Derby entrants exit the Risen Star, including the top three finishers — Bravazo, Snapper Sinclair, and Noble Indy. Givemeaminit was eighth.
Todd Pletcher (Noble Indy and Hyndford) has won three of the last 11 renewals of the Louisiana Derby (Revolutionary, 2013; Mission Impazible, 2010; and Circular Quay, 2007) and Steve Asmussen (Snapper Sinclair and Retirement Fund) has taken two of the last 10 (Gun Runner, 2016; Pyro, 2008).
The last Louisiana Derby winner to capture the Kentucky Derby was Grindstone in 1996 and he ran second in the Arkansas Derby in between those two starts. 2003 Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide was second in the Louisiana Derby behind Peace Rules.
Here are five questions that must be answered ...
1. Will the Louisiana Derby finally produce another Kentucky Derby winner?
In 104 previous editions, the Louisiana Derby has produced just three Kentucky Derby winners – Funny Cide (2nd in 2003), Grindstone (1996 winner) and Black Gold (1924 winner).
Joe’s answer: Six weeks from the Kentucky Derby with a million-dollar purse and a 1 1/8-mile distance with a long stretch on a kind racetrack, the Louisiana Derby seems like the perfect prep. The timing also offers the flexibility of potentially sneaking in another race before Derby. Four of the 10 horses entered in this year’s Louisiana Derby are on my list of top 20 Kentucky Derby contenders, but the highest of those is My Boy Jack at No. 10.
So will this be the year?
2. Can Noble Indy or Snapper Sinclair turn the tables on Bravazo and win the Louisiana Derby?
Off a super-fast allowance win at Oaklawn Park
, Bravazo was a huge overlay when he won the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford
at 21-1. His price was inflated by the presence of impressive Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes
winner Instilled Regard
and the highly regarded Principe Guilherme
, neither of whom brought his “A” game.
With Snapper Sinclair on the inside and Bravazo to his flank, the Risen Star was basically a gate-to-wire match race and with a nose separating the pair at the finish line. Noble Indy chased the top pair from the pocket and ran on late without real impact to be third, beaten by two lengths.
The post shift for Bravazo and Snapper Sinclair is worth noting. With a good amount of speed signed on, Bravazo and Gary Stevens will most likely be forced to take back from the rail draw and race from the pocket, while Jose Ortiz aboard Snapper Sinclair can survey the early proceedings after leaving from post-position seven.
Reunited with Johnny Velazquez, Noble Indy adds blinkers for the Louisiana Derby. Velazquez stated after the Risen Star that outside of a win, they got exactly what they wanted for Noble Indy, which was a lesson-learning experience. The equipment change signals a lack of focus to me, and there is a good chance it will move him up a couple of lengths.
The next obvious question is, who benefits most from the added distance?
The answer is, I don’t know.
The pedigree on the dam’s side of all three runners tilts toward sprint, although Bravazo and Noble Indy do have route sires in Awesome Again and Take Charge Indy. By City Zip, Snapper Sinclair was actually cut out to be a turf miler, and perhaps he eventually will be.
Joe’s answer: Back to the original question. Yes, Snapper Sinclair and/or Noble Indy could turn the tables on Bravazo. In fact, I think you could put a blanket over the three of them. Blinkers on for Noble Indy is the wild card, and I’m thinking it might help him take another step forward, while the other two might be maxed out.
3. My Boy Jack is a turf horse who won the Southwest Stakes because it was a muddy track, right?
Following a seemingly inconsequential dirt sprint in his debut, My Boy Jack would run in five consecutive turf routes, including the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, a race in which he was beaten by only three lengths.
According to his trainer, Keith Desormeaux, running on turf at the beginning of My Boy Jack’s career was merely a product of the type of two-turn races being offered at the time, and once he had some success on the surface, the plan to switch back to dirt was pushed back. By Creative Cause, he’s out of the unraced Mineshaft mare Gold N Shaft, who is a half-sister (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to a trio of $200,000+ earners.
My Boy Jack’s first route opportunity on dirt came in the Grade 3 Southwest, and he passed with flying colors, rolling from off the pace to score a decisive victory in the mud.
Based on Saturday’s gorgeous forecast, My Boy Jack will have an opportunity to prove that he’s not a turfer/mudder.
Joe’s answer: If you watched his workouts on fast dirt, chances are you wouldn’t question his ability to handle it.
“His work on March 10 was a ‘wow’ move,” trainer Keith Desormeaux told me days after the workout. When Kent [Keith’s brother Kent Desormeaux, a Hall of Fame jockey] asked him for just a little bit, he exploded for a sixteenth of a mile, and then he wrapped up on him. When Kent does that, he’s telling me that the horse is doing enough and that he’s on point.”
At 1 1/8 miles, with an honest pace expected to set the table in front of him and a long stretch to work with, I like his chances.
4. Outside of the “big four,” who else has a shot to win the Louisiana Derby?
Based on his runner-up performance behind eventual Grade 2 Rebel Stakes winner and stablemate Magnum Moon in a Tampa Bay Downs allowance race, there may be a temptation to gravitate toward Hyndford.
Retirement Fund won his first two starts and he didn’t really get a fair crack in the Southwest.
Lone Sailor is a deep closer and he’ll benefit most from an expected fast pace.
A win from Marmello (who is also entered in a maiden race earlier in the day), the Louisiana-bred Givemeaminit, or the poorly drawn Dark Templar would be borderline shocking.
Joe’s answer: I’d say there’s a 95 percent chance that the winner will come from the quartet of My Boy Jack, Bravazo, Snapper Sinclair, and Noble Indy.
5. Who wins the Louisiana Derby and why?
Joe’s answer: I think My Boy Jack is the best horse in the race, and the expected honest pace, the 1 1/8-mile distance, and the long Fair Grounds’ stretch all work in his favor.
Joe’s Louisiana Derby picks: 1. My Boy Jack 2. Noble Indy 3. Bravazo 4. Snapper Sinclair