2022 Louisiana Derby Cheat Sheet: Get to Know the Horses

Fans peer over the paddock at Fair Grounds on Louisiana Derby Day 2019. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The winter/spring meet at Fair Grounds wraps up this coming weekend with the track’s signature race, the $1 million, Grade 2 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby set for Saturday, March 26. The 1 3/16-mile race is a key prep event on the road to the 2022 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve May 7 at Churchill Downs.

The Louisiana Derby is the first domestic prep race offering top-tier qualifying points to the Kentucky Derby, distributing them on a 100-40-20-10 basis to the first four finishers. It’s the final of four qualifying points races for Derby 148 held during the Fair Grounds meet, and has a heavy morning-line favorite in Epicenter, who won two of the prior races in the series, finished a close second in the other one, and currently sits second on the Kentucky Derby points leaderboard.

Four horses have exited the Louisiana Derby and gone on to win the run for the roses at Churchill Downs: Black Gold in 1924; Grindstone in 1996; Funny Cide in 2003; and Country House in 2019. Black Gold and Grindstone (who died on March 22 at age 29) both won the Louisiana Derby prior to taking the first leg of the Triple Crown. Read about some of the best Louisiana Derby winners in this article.

The 109th Louisiana Derby will be televised on TVG and has a scheduled post time of 6:44 p.m. ET. Read on for information about all nine starters.

1. Silent Power (50-1 morning-line odds)

Jockey: Gerard Melancon

Trainer: Scott Gelner

Owner: Norman Stables

Career record: 8 starts – 1 win – 1 second – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $44,242

Earnings per start: $5,530

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 88

Kentucky Derby points: 0

Pedigree: Strong Mandate – Rutledge Ballado, by Saint Ballado

Color: Bay

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Silent Power comes into the Louisiana Derby as a huge longshot and will be hard pressed to make an impression in the race based on his past performances. He posted a career-best 88 Equibase Speed Figure in his most recent start, the seven-furlong Big Drama Stakes at Delta Downs on Feb. 26. But he finished a closing fourth at 41.90-1 odds in that race, which was restricted to horses that started at Delta Downs over the past 4 ½ months. This colt has not visited the winner’s circle since taking his debut at Prairie Meadows back in June 2021. In his two starts at Churchill Downs last fall facing the toughest competition of his career, he was defeated by a combined 25 ½ lengths. If Silent Power wins the Louisiana Derby, it will be an upset on the level of Hero of Order’s 108.40-1 shocker in 2012. That outcome is doubtful, to put it mildly.

Coady Photography

2. Zozos (8-1)

Jockey: Florent Geroux

Trainer: Brad Cox

Owners: Barry and Joni Butzow

Career record: 2 starts – 2 wins – 0 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $91,200

Earnings per start: $45,600

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 90

Kentucky Derby points: 0

Pedigree: Munnings – Papa’s Forest, by Forestry

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This Munnings colt trained by reigning two-time Eclipse Award winner Brad Cox is the wild card in Saturday’s Louisiana Derby, as he takes a big class jump on the back of two solid wins earlier this year. He scored by a half-length Jan. 23 at Fair Grounds in a six-furlong sprint with a late rally from a stalking position. Zozos then changed running tactics in his second start when stretching out at Oaklawn Park on Feb. 11 and pressing the early pace before taking over and romping by 10 ¼ lengths in a 1 1/16-mile allowance-optional claiming race. Zozos has a pedigree more suited to sprinting, but Cox told reporters after the colt’s win in Hot Springs that he would take “one big swing” in a Kentucky Derby prep and the Louisiana Derby is it. Look for him to race close to the early pace expected to be set by favorite Epicenter; he’ll need to run faster to topple that foe, but he’s been training well at Fair Grounds and, if he takes the next step in what so far has been a solid forward progression, he could make some noise Saturday. Cox and Geroux teamed up to win the 2020 Louisiana Derby with Wells Bayou, and Geroux also won the 2016 renewal aboard eventual 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner.

Lou Hodges, Jr. /Hodges Photography

3. Call Me Midnight (6-1)

Jockey: James Graham

Trainer: Keith Desormeaux

Owners: Peter Cantrell and Benjamin Gase

Career record: 7 starts – 2 wins – 1 second – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $221,806

Earnings per start: $31,687

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 98

Kentucky Derby points: 10

Pedigree: Midnight Lute – Overseen, by First Defence

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Call Me Midnight joined the Kentucky Derby trail with a 28.50-1 upset win in the Jan. 22 Lecomte Stakes, in which he rallied through the middle of the Fair Grounds stretch to edge 8-5 second betting choice and pacesetter Epicenter by a head. He showed promise late in his 2021 juvenile season with a sharp 3 ¼-length win in a mile race at Churchill Downs and then closed out his campaign with a seventh-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes after traveling wide throughout. The son of Midnight Lute came back for his 3-year-old debut to post a 98 Equibase Speed Figure in the Lecomte and has been training well at Fair Grounds over the past couple of months as Keith Desormeaux decided to skip the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford. He won’t be dismissed by bettors again, but this son of champion sprinter Midnight Lute will need a fast early pace to set up his closing kick and he might not get that Saturday. Despite his pedigree, Call Me Midnight should be able to handle the added distance of the Louisiana Derby. He’s a must-use for trifectas and superfectas but an outsider as a win candidate.

Coady Photography

4. Curly Tail (30-1)

Jockey: Colby Hernandez

Trainer: Dallas Stewart

Owner: Willis Horton Racing

Career record: 6 starts – 1 win – 0 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $63,916

Earnings per start: $10,653

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 92

Kentucky Derby points: 0

Pedigree: Curlin – Take Charge Tressa, by War Front

Color: Bay

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Curly Tail’s connections are taking a shot at the big time after this colt broke his maiden in his sixth career start last month at Oaklawn Park. He rallied from off the pace to win a 1 1/16-mile maiden event by a half-length on Feb. 26, earning a career-best 92 Equibase Speed Figure and finally putting everything together after he made little impression in his first five starts, which were held at four different tracks against fairly tough competition. He’s an intriguing, late-developing longshot who will be hard-pressed to win the Louisiana Derby but could spice up exotic tickets if he can improve off of his last effort. Curly Tail has arguably the best distance pedigree in Saturday’s race. He’s a son of two-time Horse of the Year and Hall of Famer Curlin, and his dam (mother) is a full-sister (same sire [father] and dam [mother]) to top-class Omaha Beach, who won the 2019 Arkansas Derby and was the favorite to win that year’s Kentucky Derby before he was withdrawn from the race due to a breathing issue. Curly Tail’s extended female family is populated with horses who reaped big bankrolls in route races, highlighted by Travers Stakes winner Will Take Charge, Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy, and $2.4 million earner Take Charge Lady. Jockey Colby Hernandez, who leads the Fair Grounds colony in earnings through March 20 and is second in wins, takes the mount for the first time Saturday, a plus. Trainer Dallas Stewart, who won the 1999 Louisiana Derby with Kimberlite Pipe, is not afraid to run high-odds contenders in marquee races, and he’s had success doing so. Curly Tail is a worthy addition to his roster.

5. Kupuna (8-1)

Jockey: Reylu Gutierrez

Trainer: Bret Calhoun

Owners: Wayne Sanders and Larry Hirsch

Career record: 4 starts – 1 win – 2 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $97,400

Earnings per start: $24,350

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 95

Kentucky Derby points: 0

Pedigree: Hard Spun – Hanalei Hailey, by Malibu Moon

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Here’s another improving colt who has a shot at joining the Kentucky Derby trail with a win Saturday. Kupuna enters off of a runner-up finish by three lengths in a 1 1/6-mile allowance-optional claiming race Feb. 19 at Fair Grounds, where he saved ground through both turns before angling out and finished with interest. The winner of that race, Cyberknife, is getting some buzz as an under-the-radar Kentucky Derby contender and will start in the Arkansas Derby on April 2. Kupuna broke his maiden by a widening five lengths two races back in a two-turn, one-mile race at Oaklawn Park, and like several other Louisiana Derby contenders, he’s been training solidly at Fair Grounds over the past month. He’s posted an Equibase Speed Figure of 95 twice, which is competitive in this field, and overall has not run a bad race yet through four starts. Kupuna’s pedigree is also solid for stretching out, and overall he profiles as a worthy upset candidate in the Louisiana Derby if Epicenter fails to fire. Trainer Bret Calhoun won the 2019 Louisiana Derby with By My Standards, and he and young jockey Reylu Gutierrez teamed up over the past year to win an impressive 28% of their starts.

Lou Hodges, Jr. /Hodges Photography

6. Epicenter (7-5)

Jockey: Joel Rosario

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Owner: Winchell Thoroughbreds

Career record: 5 starts – 3 wins – 1 second – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $410,639

Earnings per start: $82,128

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 97

Kentucky Derby points: 64

Pedigree: Not This Time – Silent Candy, by Candy Ride

Color: Bay

Running style: Pacesetter/press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Epicenter is a deserving favorite for Saturday’s Louisiana Derby based on his success over the past months at Fair Grounds. He’s a head shy of stringing together a 3-for-3 record in the New Orleans track’s series of Kentucky Derby preps, as he rolled by 6 ½ lengths in the first edition of the 1 1/16-mile Gun Runner Stakes Dec. 26 and then set the pace before yielding at the finish to Call Me Midnight in the Lecomte Stakes at the same distance on Jan. 22. The son of hot, young sire Not This Time rebounded from that Lecomte defeat in the 1 1/8-mile Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford on Feb. 19, setting the pace once again and winning by a geared-down 2 ¾ lengths. He handled added distance with aplomb in the Risen Star, and put away pace-pressing Pioneer of Medina in early stretch. Epicenter will face Pioneer of Medina again in the Louisiana Derby, and that colt should provide early pressure again, with Zozos and Galt possibly joining the fray. All of the other contenders prefer to race well off the early lead, so there’s a good chance that Epicenter should have things his way once again, giving expert pace rider Joel Rosario the opportunity to dole out sensible fractions and keep enough stamina in reserve for Fair Grounds’ long homestretch. Unless something unexpected happens, this consistent colt should finish no worse than third Saturday, and he’s already got a Derby starting-gate spot practically wrapped up. If Epicenter wins the Louisiana Derby, he’ll solidify his status as one of the best 3-year-olds to compete at Fair Grounds this century on the road to the Kentucky Derby, joining the likes of multiple-prep winners Repent, Pyro, Friesan Fire, Gun Runner, Vicar’s in Trouble, International Star, and Girvin. Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen has won the Louisiana Derby three times: with Fifty Stars in 2001, the aforementioned Pyro in 2008, and Gun Runner in 2014. Winchell Thoroughbreds owned both Pyro and Gun Runner. Current Eclipse Award winner Joel Rosario rode Hot Rod Charlie to victory in last year’s Louisiana Derby, defeating Winchell Thoroughbreds’ and Asmussen’s Midnight Bourbon.

7. Pioneer of Medina (5-1)

Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: Sumaya U. S. Stables

Career record: 5 starts – 2 wins – 1 second – 1 third

Career earnings: $81,350

Earnings per start: $16,270

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 96

Kentucky Derby points: 5

Pedigree: Pioneerof the Nile – Lights of Medina, by Eskendereya

Color: Bay

Running style: Press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Pioneer of Medina ran well as a 33.80-2 longshot in the Feb. 19 Risen Star Stakes, pressing Epicenter’s pace before leveling out in the stretch and ending up fourth, losing third to Zandon near the finish line. He returns for another try at the favorite in the Louisiana Derby and projects as the main challenger to Epicenter early on. Pioneer of Medina won two races in a row prior to the Risen Star, breaking his maiden at Tampa Bay Downs on Dec. 22 in a one mile and 40-yard race and then leading gate to wire in a Jan. 22 allowance-optional claiming race at Fair Grounds and scoring by 1 ¾ lengths. He’s posted Equibase Speed Figures in the 90s for four straight races and is a must-use in all vertical bets as Tyler Gaffalione flies in from Gulfstream Park to take the mount for the first time. This talented colt will need to up his game in order to upset Epicenter, but it’s never wise to discount a Todd Pletcher-trained runner in the Louisiana Derby. Pletcher has won this race a record four times: Circular Quay (2007), Mission Impazible (2010), Revolutionary (2013), and Noble Indy (2018).

Bob Coglianese/Gulfstream Park

8. Galt (8-1)

Jockey: Junior Alvarado

Trainer: Bill Mott

Owner: OXO Equine

Career record: 5 starts – 1 win – 0 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $45,475

Earnings per start: $9,095

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 93

Kentucky Derby points: 0

Pedigree: Medaglia d’Oro – Ivanavinalot, by West Acre

Color: Bay

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: It’s do-over time for Galt in a Kentucky Derby prep, as he enters the Louisiana Derby after surviving a near-disastrous incident in the March 5 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Galt was racing near the back of the pack going through the far turn of that 1 1/16-mile race when he jumped over a fallen High Oak (who clipped heels with another rival) and tossed jockey Joel Rosario. Both horse and rider came out of the race fine, and Galt will look to regain the momentum he had heading into the Fountain of Youth. He had finished a decent fourth to White Abarrio in the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull Stakes Feb. 5 at Gulfstream, setting the early pace in that race before weakening, and in his start prior to that he broke his maiden at the same distance and track by rallying from a stalking spot. There’s a chance jockey Junior Alvarado could urge Galt into early contention Saturday to prevent Epicenter from establishing an uncontested lead, but a more likely scenario has this colt sitting somewhere between third and fifth early on, within striking distance, before making a bid for the lead on the far turn. Galt carried odds of 18-1 or higher in both of his prior Kentucky Derby preps. He’ll get more respect on the toteboard Saturday but is still an outsider as a win candidate despite his elite pedigree – he’s a full brother (same sire [father] and dam [mother]) to two-time champion and $4.6 million earner Songbird. Hall of Famer Bill Mott won two Louisiana Derbys early in his legendary career, with Taylor’s Special in 1984 and Richman in 1991.

Eclipse Sportswire

9. Rattle N Roll (6-1)

Jockey: Brian Hernandez Jr.

Trainer: Ken McPeek

Owner: Lucky Seven Stable

Career record: 5 starts – 2 wins – 0 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $383,460

Earnings per start: $76,692

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 100

Kentucky Derby points: 10

Pedigree: Connect – Jazz Tune, by Johannesburg

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Rattle N Roll was one of the most highly regarded Kentucky Derby contenders through the winter based on his eye-catching win last October in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity. After an underwhelming effort in his 3-year-old debut, he arrives in New Orleans with a last chance at regaining that status and securing enough points to punch his ticket to Churchill Downs. The Connect colt powered to a 4 ¼-length score in the Breeders’ Futurity back on Oct. 9 at Keeneland, rallying from well off the pace to win going away, and he earned a 100 Equibase Speed Figure that still ranks highest in the Louisiana Derby field. After that win, however, Rattle N Roll missed the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance with a hoof abscess, and he did not make his 3-year-old debut until the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes on March 5. Rattle N Roll saved ground in the Fountain of Youth but never reached contention and finished sixth, 7 ¼ lengths behind winner Simplification. Trainer Ken McPeek told TVG afterward that his charge “needed a race” to get back to full fitness, and if that was the case, this talented runner should be without excuses in the Louisiana Derby. He enters off of a bullet workout at Gulfstream Park, finishing five furlongs in :58.81, which bodes well for his chances to be a factor Saturday. All in all, Rattle N Roll is one of the main threats to Epicenter but could be compromised by a projected moderate pace. McPeek won the 2002 Louisiana Derby with Repent, and jockey Brian Hernandez won in 2017 on Girvin.

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