Saturday’s $1 million, Grade 2 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds features the Lecomte Stakes and Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford winner and horse to beat, War of Will for trainer Mark Casse. On a quest to make it a three-stakes race sweep and maintain his status as a leading contender for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, War of Will will face off against some familiar rivals and new challengers in what looks to be a competitive horse race. Fair Grounds is very player- and fan-friendly in the sense that the track draws its races early, and that allows for several days to handicap and discuss the races. It also gives me plenty of time to search through social media for some Louisiana Derby questions. Next week, we will be back at Gulfstream Park for the Xpressbet.com Florida Derby. As always, these questions can be submitted through Twitter @EmilyOptixEQ – but first, let’s take a look at the 1 1/8-mile Louisiana Derby.
As mentioned above, this colt will be a heavy favorite, and deservingly so based on his résumé and recent local wins. While the class displayed in winning those recent stakes makes him a legit contender, there has been some debate with regards to his speed figures. I use OptixFIG for speed figures, and like the other popular figures indicate, War of Will seems to lack that real big flashy number you’d like to see with horses in his position. That said, he does have a progressive pattern that has improved with each start, and that is something you like to see with these developing 3-year-old runners. He will need to continue to improve those figures looking towards the first Saturday in May, but will also need to do so for Saturday’s Louisiana Derby. While War of Will has been impressive in his last three starts, it must be noted that those performances were to some degree aided by “perfect” trips and favorable race shapes. Going into the Risen Star, I noted in my “Five Questions” article that War of Will’s seemingly unfavorable #14 post position was actually a benefit to him and his running style given the projected race shape for the Risen Star. It indeed turned out to be ideal, and he was able to work a clear outside tracking trip. By contrast, while his #6 post in the Louisiana Derby looks on first glance to be a more favorable than his outside one in the Risen Star, it actually could be problematic. War of Will seems to prefer racing outside of horses, and he’ll be challenged to get that positioning given the speed drawn to his inside with Lemniscate and Sueno, combined with Mr. Money and Spinoff drawn to his outside. Mark Casse mentioned in an interview prior to the Risen Star that he preferred War of Will’s outside draw to one on the inside, and I tended to agree as that kept him from taking kickback and racing behind horses. Just understand that his regular rider Tyler Gaffalione will be looking to secure an outside position in the Louisiana Derby, and that ideal spot will not be as easy to get as it was last out.
Spinoff is one of the more interesting horses in the Louisiana Derby, and looks to have a big say on the outcome based on the pace scenario. He also could have a big impact on favorite War of Will’s win chances. These two horses share a level of class and quality as well as a similar running style. John Velazquez has been aboard this colt in both the Saratoga Special Stakes Presented by Miller Lite last summer and his impressive allowance win at Tampa Bay Downs in his most recent start. This is worth noting as Velazquez has helped develop Spinoff and understands the type of trip he needs. Velazquez had to have learned from the trip and ride in the Saratoga Special – it was less than ideal due to some traffic, and Spinoff was unable to show his best that day but visually looked capable of improvement. Improve he did, coming back from the layoff last month in Florida. Velazquez rode more assertively this time, and Spinoff responded professionally, tracking outside of horses close to the pace before drawing off late with ears pricked. He has tactical speed, and it seems likely Pletcher and Velazquez will be looking to construct a trip for him in the Louisiana Derby that is similar to the one he enjoyed at Tampa. He has the ability to press War of Will should that one take the lead, and he also has enough speed to take the lead and force War of Will to run with him early. In either scenario, Spinoff presents a challenge to War of Will unlike any he has seen in his recent races. On his own merits, this colt deserves consideration. Pletcher has had success in this race in the past and seems to have Spinoff sitting on a top race. He will be tested on class in the Louisiana Derby, as he competes against graded stakes-caliber horses in a route race for the first time. One of the other concerns with this horse, based on his physicality, is whether he can get the 1 1/8-mile distance. He appears capable, but I believe that his ideal distance might be a touch shorter.
Looking over social media comments about the Louisiana Derby, there is a lot of interest in Sueno following his second-place finish in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park last month. That finish is not a stand-alone effort. He has shown ability since his debut, and has continued to run well throughout his young career, including a second-place finish in the Sham Stakes January at Santa Anita Park. A lot of discussion about Sueno concerns his trip in the Southwest Stakes. In my opinion, any mention of “trouble” regarding his trip is a bit overrated. Throughout the race, he secured a good tactical position, covered up and tracking the pace. He did lack room on the far turn, whereas longshot Super Steed was able to maintain outside momentum en route to the upset win. While it can be argued that a lack of room cost Sueno a victory in the Southwest, the question that must be asked is: would an effort and trip similar to that in Southwest be good enough to get Sueno to the winner’s circle on Saturday? To answer that question, many may look back at of Southwest Stakes third-place finisher and subsequent winner of the first division of the Rebel Stakes, Long Range Toddy. While there was discussion about the trip of Sueno in the Southwest, not much was mentioned about the trip of Long Range Toddy. Like Sueno, Long Range Toddy also lacked room in the Southwest, and his effort was also “better than it looked” that afternoon. Long Range Toddy had some foundation and faster races prior to the Southwest, and he was capable of moving forward from them in that race and then in the Rebel. Sueno, on the other hand, ran his career best OptixFIG last month in the Southwest. Those factors certainly do not leave him out of Louisiana Derby mix; however, he could be a much shorter price on Saturday than he was in the Southwest and therefore lack value. One horse that is sure to be a price in the Louisiana Derby is Bankit, who also comes out of the Southwest and had a sneaky-good trip that afternoon. His overall effort was not much behind Sueno’s, and he looks to have upside off of his trip at Oaklawn. He still looks like an outsider as Louisiana Derby win candidate, but can offer value underneath in exotic tickets.
This question from Duke is probably more pointed toward the Kentucky Derby than the Louisiana Derby; however, Country House does seem to have less “hype” surrounding him heading into Saturday’s race than he did when entering the Risen Star off of a maiden win at Gulfstream Park. His second-place finish in the Risen Star behind War of Will is still very likely to get attention, and he should take plenty of action as the second choice on the morning-line odds. Similar to War of Will, this one has shown a steady speed figure progression that is improving with each start. His lack of seasoning suggests there is more upside potential, and he’ll need to show another move forward in the Louisiana Derby if his connections plan on shipping him to Churchill Downs in May. Even though he finished a good second in the Risen Star, his visual appearance – and what could be termed “greenness” – was obvious to anyone watching the race. Certainly, the experience he gained in the Risen Star and the return to this track can help, and I believe the additional sixteenth of a mile he’ll get in the Louisiana Derby is a positive. His running style is also a favorable one for the projected race shape in the Louisiana Derby. He has had some issues getting out of the gate on more than one occasion, which must be noted, but otherwise he has tracking ability and a good late kick that can be beneficial, especially if there is some early bunching among other horses. A clean break is not guaranteed, but if he gets one, that will only help his trip.
5. “Who can upset War of Will in the Louisiana Derby?” – @TRacingLifeMore (Reinier M.)
Limonite was my upset selection for the Risen Star, and off his effort, there is no reason to back away from that selection when analyzing Saturday’s Louisiana Derby. He was a “value”’-type play heading into the Risen Star based on his previous form and a sneaky-good closing effort in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last fall at Churchill Downs. In the Risen Star, the late trouble he encountered was quite clear when watching the replay. He raced inside, perhaps not the most ideal place on the track, and then lacked room late while racing in traffic. His trip seemed to cost him a better placing that day, but one thing that might have been missed when watching the replay was his early move in the opening half-mile. It was a subtle move, but it suggests he has a bit more tactical speed than he’s used before. He will make his second start of the year – another positive – and will pick up Jose Ortiz this afternoon, allowing brother Irad to pick up the mount on stablemate Bankit. The value looks to be there once again for Limonite, and if he’s even close to the 17.50-1 odds he went off in the Risen Star, he’ll offer great value. Overall, I expect improvement from him, and he showed enough in the Risen Star for me to pick him again over the other horses coming out of that race. Roiland, the closing third-place finisher in the Risen Star, moved forward off of a “better than it looked” race in the Lecomte Stakes, and while he had some things work in his favor in the Risen Star, he looks capable to get another share in the Louisiana Derby. Another one returning from the Risen Star, Mr. Money will make his second start off the layoff on Saturday, and perhaps his prior race was needed from a fitness standpoint. He looks to get a similar trip in the Louisiana Derby, and if he’s able to benefit from that fitness he could move forward. That’s a big “if,” though, and I’ll need to see more before endorsing him with confidence. Hog Creek Hustle was able to fill out the superfecta in the Risen Star by making a big outside move, but I think that his ability to move forward with some added ground is in question. In addition, racing on the outside appeared to be beneficial at Fair Grounds on Feb. 16, and it might have also helped By My Standards, who won nicely to break his maiden on the undercard.
There will be an extended horse-by-horse analysis of this race, and also a handicapping preview of Sunday's Sunland Park Derby, complimentary on OptixEQ.com. Thanks for reading, and as always good luck, horseplayers!