Florida Derby handicapping & selections are at my Pedigree Power blog on Horse Racing Nation.
The last five Louisiana Derbies have been predicative indicators of Kentucky class. Colts who won or placed in the premiere 1 1/8 mile race at the Fairgrounds have placed in the Kentucky Derby in 2013 and 2011. In 2010, Drosselmeyer was third at the Fairgrounds and won the Belmont Stakes.
This year, a full field of ten colts will vie for the enough points to enter the starting gate at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. Four of the ten are graded stakes earners and one is a nose shy from a Grade 2 win. Todd Pletcher’s charges have won three of the last seven editions of the Louisiana Derby while Steve Assmussen and Larry Jones have entered the winners’ circle once. All three trainers are represented this year.
Stablemates Intense Holiday and King Cyrus have drawn the two inside positions in the Louisiana Derby. The Pletcher trainees have traveled very different roads to merge at the Fairgrounds. INTENSE HOLIDAY (Harlan's Holiday - Intensify, by Unbridled's Song) got up in time to win the Risen Star by a nose after a very wide trip. His speed figures and second to last bullet work signal that he should continue improving. The rail post probably isn’t the best for him, but Mike Smith should be able to keep the 2-1 favorite out of trouble and the colt acts like he’ll handle the extra distance.
KING CYRUS (Bellamy Road - Queen of Empire, by Empire Maker) has raced only four times, finishing on the board in three of them. The Louisiana Derby will be his second start off of a layoff. His sire won the Wood Memorial in impressive fashion and has produced two winners at 1 1/8 miles, including Toby’s Corner, who won the Wood in 2011. King Cyrus receives plenty of stamina from his damsire, Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker and second damsire, Super Derby hero Seeking the Gold. Additionally, his third dam Dispute won the Kentucky Oaks, Beldame, Gazelle and Spinster, so there’s some classy genes a few generations back. King Cyrus is taking a huge class and distance jump, but the extra ground should suit him.
LOUIES FLOWER (Flower Alley - Tembisa, by Johannesburg) was a big deal at Remington Park, but needed a guide dog to find the wire at Oaklawn, where he crossed the wire 26 lengths out of it in the Southwest Stakes. Do we draw a line through that performance or should Louie sail his ship back to Remington?
FLAT GONE (Flatter - Me Gotta Go, by Kayrawan) needed seven starts to win his maiden. Tossed into the Risen Star, Flat Gone didn’t lift a hoof and finished 15 lengths behind Intense Holiday. ‘Nuff said.
GOLD HAWK (Empire Maker - Caressing, by Honour and Glory) has one of the best pedigrees in the group. The second son of Empire Maker in the field, Gold Hawk’s dam was a Champion Juvenile filly. Unfortunately, something’s going on with Gold Hawk. He’s either a head case or is having emotional/physical issues that aren’t being addressed. In his last two races, he hasn’t wanted to enter the gate and in his first start he dumped his jockey. Gold Hawk won his first two starts, but has underperformed in both stakes preps for the Louisiana Derby. I think a couch session with Emotional Conformation guru Kerry Thomas would help Gold Hawk sort out his issues.
VICAR'S IN TROUBLE (Into Mischief - Vibrant, by Vicar) has won two of three starts at Fairgrounds. In the Risen Star, he was four wide the entire way. He made a good move in the stretch, but flattened out to finish third, beaten by 5 ½ lengths. Vicar's in Trouble has a borderline pedigree for 1 1/8 miles. His sire’s only stakes winner at the distance is Into Mischief. Vicar’s damsire won the Florida Derby and his second damsire Tanks Prospect wore the Preakness flower. This is a talented colt who may have what it takes to improve.
COMMANDING CURVE (Master Command - Mother, by Lion Hearted) never got into the swing of things in the Risen Star, which was his first start since last November. It was a tough spot for the ridgling, since his last race in 2013 was his maiden win. Maybe he can improve on his last performance, but I don’t see it happening.
RISE UP (Rockport Harbor - Appenzell, by Johannesburg) outclassed competitors in the Delta Downs Jackpot by running them off of their feet. He tried the same tactics in the Risen Star, his first start off of the layoff. Rise Up was rank during the race and faded to seventh. He’s had three strong works since then and trainer Tom Amoss slaps the hood on Rise Up in an effort to relax the colt. I’m not sure Rise Up wants to go 1 1/8 miles. His sire has only one stakes winner at the distance and as a damsire Johannesburg, has no stakes winners past 1 1/16 miles. Rise Up’s dam and second dam were both sprinters.
IN TROUBLE (Tiz Wonderful - Ballpark Butterfly, by Grand Slam) is a lightly raced, speedy, yet talented colt. He finished only ½ length behind the dueling Samraat and Uncle Sigh in the Gotham on a track known for speed. I think he’ll find it totally different at the Fairgrounds. A young stallion, Tiz Wonderful has sired one winner at 1 1/8 miles and his daughter My Happy Face placed at the distance in the CCA Oaks. In Trouble’s pace setting running style indicates that he likely won’t last the trip, especially if he’s stuck on the outside with other speed horses.
ALBANO (Istan - Pocho's Dream Girl, by Fortunate Prospect) is a half-brother to 2012 Louisiana Derby runner-up Mark Valeski. Albano has a miler-oriented pedigree. None of his sire’s offspring have won past 1 1/16 miles over the dirt, although they don’t appear to be limited on turf. Exhibiting the gameness as his half-brother, Albano has won or placed in every start while setting or pressing the lead. Those tactics might not work here, as the colt has drawn the far outside post and is practically guaranteed a wide trip unless he can sit behind the pace setters. Even then, he may not have the lungs to win at 1 1/8 miles.
Track bias: Only two races have been held at 1 1/8 miles this year at the Fairgrounds. Pace pressers and mid-pack runners won both races from the outside. Favorites win 37% of the time at this class/distance and finish in the money 72%. There’s a 40% chance of rain early morning, so the track should be dry and fast by race time.
Intense Holiday really looks like the horse to beat here. He owns the highest late pace speed figure and can likely settle behind all of the outside speed. Albano ran the race of his life in the Risen Star, showing a huge 19 point jump in his Bris speed figure. His last two works were very sharp. He’ll have to gun from the far outside to get a favorable position, which could cost him at the end. I think this talented youngster sticks around for a piece of it. Vicar’s In Trouble showed a new dimension in the Risen Star, breaking from post 13, he was able to pick off rivals before getting tired. I think he got not only a schooling, but a good workout and should be more fit this time around. Experience and losing wagers have taught me to be wary of the other Pletcher horse in stakes races. I doubt Intense Holiday just wanted a friend to tag along on his trip to New Orleans. I’m giving King Cyrus the nod here as my long-shot pick to gumbo up the works.
#1 Intense Holiday - Win
#6 Vicar’s In Trouble - Place
#10 Albano - Show
#2 King Cyrus longshot pick