Friday, March 27, 2015

Handicapping the 2015 Louisiana Derby

Derby Trail The Louisiana Derby is one of the final prep races for the Kentucky Derby. The last horse to contest the Fairgrounds feature and win in Kentucky was Funny Cide, in 2003. He finished second in the Louisiana Derby that year to Peace Rules, but turned the tables in Kentucky, where Peace Rules finished third. Since 2003, the 1 1/8 mile Grade 2 event has been a good place to find contenders to hit the board at long odds in Kentucky. In the last two years, Revolutionary, Commanding Curve and Golden Soul all finished second or third in the Kentucky Derby. In 2011, Nehro and Mucho Macho Man finished second and third, respectively, in the Louisiana Derby and repeated that placing five weeks later. The winner of the Louisiana Derby earns 50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points and a spot in the starting gate the first Saturday in May.



The Stars

This year’s Louisiana Derby big horse is INTERNATIONAL STAR (Fusaichi Pegasus - Parlez, by French Deputy). He’s poised to become the first colt since Friesan Fire in 2010 and Pyro in 2009 to sweep the race series of the LeComte, Risen Star and Louisiana Derby. International Star has dominated the LeComte and Risen Star by a combined 3 ½ lengths. Not ultra-impressive, but the colt’s stalking style and strong late kick earns him the highest late pace speed figure in the field. Of more concern is his ability, pedigree wise, to handle 1 1/8 miles. His sire has produced winners at 1 1/8 miles and beyond, however, damsire French Deputy was a top weighted miler and his daughter’s offspring lean more towards sprinter/miler speed. International Star’s half sister Fools in Love won and placed in stakes races up to 1 1/16 miles. Her full brother D C Dancer won the Maryland Million Sprint Handicap. Their dam was an allowance class winner at 1 1/16 miles. International Star’s running style and class may overcome his miler-type pedigree.

MR. Z earns the reward as the most experienced, hard knocking, tough luck colt in this crop of three year olds. He’s taken on the best runners from New York to California and everywhere in between. He hasn’t ducked anyone and always gives a top performance. In his last three starts, Mr. Z was out finished by the California monster Dortmund by a neck and was third, to Far Right in the Smarty Jones and Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn. Mr. Z has raced ten times without a break since his debut last June. He may tangle with St. Joe Bay on the front end and still be in the thick of things at the wire. In 2010, Mission Impazible was third in the Southwest Stakes before winning the Louisiana Derby.

WAR STORY (Northern Afleet - Belle Watling, by Pulpit) is in the supporting actor role here. He’s finished second behind International Star in both Louisiana Preps. War Story is by the sire of Champion Three Year Old Afleet Alex, who won the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Northern Afleet also sired the Champion sprinter Amazombie. War Story’s dam is a half sister to a stakes winning miler who bore two stakes winning milers, Whisky Romeo and Shared Property. This is the distaff family of Champion Juvenile Filly Epitome. War Story could handle the stretch out here, and his stalker style could propel him to the winner’s circle.

Also Featuring

STANFORD (Malibu Moon - Rosy Humor, by Distorted Humor) ships to Louisiana in search of easier company after a 5 ½ length defeat at the hooves of his stablemate Materiality in the 1 1/8 mile Islamorada Handicap. Stanford veered out in the stretch of the race and was DQ’d to sixth place. Meanwhile, Materiality is expected to contest the Florida Derby. Stanford descends from a noteworthy Claiborne Farm distaff family. Although this immediate branch has yet to bear blacktype winners, Stanford’s second dam Show Me The Roses is a half sister to Champion Johannesburg. So far, Stanford isn’t living up to his illustrious breeding or his hefty $550K price tag. He’s conquered maidens and optional claimers, but hasn’t fared well in two stakes attempts. Perhaps he can rebound here. Never count out a Pletcher horse.

KEEN ICE (Curlin - Medomak, by Awesome Again) shipped in to the Fairgrounds for the Risen Star after a poor placing over the speed favoring Gulfstream Park surface in the Holy Bull. The Dale Romans trainee rewarded his connections with a third place finish in that race. Keen Ice is by a Breeders’ Cup Classic hero out of a mare by a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, so 1 ¼ miles should certainly be within his scope. As for quality, Keen Ice’s dam is a half sister to the G-3 winning miler Coal Play. This is the distaff family of Grade 1 winners Serra Lake, Somali Lemonade, Verrazano, plus multiple graded winners Hungry Island and Al Khali. The 1 1/8 miles and long Fairgrounds stretch should play to Keen Ice’s strengths. However, is he this year’s version of Commanding Curve (who was last year’s version of Golden Soul) or is there something else here?

Supporting Roles

FUSAICHI FLAME (Fusaichi Pegasus - Merry Mary, by Leestown) has the pedigree of a sprinter/miler. He romped to a 5 ¼ length victory last time out against optional claimers going a mile over the muddy track and has been out of the money only once in his career. He can run from anywhere in the pack. So what’s the problem? His speed figures aren’t that great and he’s taking on tougher company. He could be worth a play for the exotics at long odds and could hit the board with a lifetime best if the top contenders falter.

ST. JOE BAY (Saint Anddan - Dream Ride, by Honor Glide) loves to mix it up early and does his best to stick around at the end of the race to pick up a check. In his first start around two turns, St. Joe Bay was beaten a head for third place by the surging Keen Ice. The million dollar question is – Can St. Joe Bay tussle with the speedy Mr. Z and last at 1 1/8 miles. Perhaps, but I’m not betting on it.

DEFONDO (El Corredor - Blue Hills, by Cure the Blues) isn’t a bad colt, but he was bested by a colt named Bubba Roan in an allowance race last time out at 1 mile 70 yards after being forwardly placed. He’d have to improve quite a bit to have a say here.

A DAY IN PARADISE (Yes It's True - Tiz Paula, by Tiznow) has a speed over stamina pedigree. He was bested 2 ¾ lengths last year at the Fairgrounds by War Story in an optional claimer. In his three year old debut, the Larry Jones trainee easily beat stakes runners in Texas. Nice colt, but his speed figures and pedigree indicate this is a tough spot.


Track bias: Four of the last five winners of the Louisiana Derby have been pace pressers and favorites win only 37%.

There’s plenty of early speed in this race. Mr. Z and St. Joes Bay figure to battle it out early and could ensure a fast early pace. War Story and Stanford should get a good position behind the leaders while International Star and Keen Ice bide their time at the back of the pack. War Story could get the jump on International Star, but the breeding on both colts is iffy for the 1 1/8 mile distance. It could be that International Star will overcome his breeding and we know he loves the Fairgrounds. Only two favorites in the last six years have won this race. I’m chickening out and going with International Star. He reminds me too much of Friesan Fire and Pyro.


#2 MR. Z