Picks & Ponderings this week racks up the figurative frequent flyer miles for a trip to Meydan for Nicolle Neulist’s dissection of the UAE Derby and other marquee races from Dubai World Cup Day. Another figurative trip is in this piece, which heads to New Orleans and to Fair Grounds Race Course.
Despite the plethora of stakes on the Fair Grounds program, this piece centers only on the three-year-olds. But six weeks from now are the biggest races for three-year-olds, the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks. And the Louisiana Derby and Fair Grounds Oaks are the final preps from New Orleans. The Louisiana Derby serves as the culmination of the meet and the Saturday program at the New Orleans oval.
Fair Grounds — Race 9 — G2 Fair Grounds Oaks — One and one-sixteenth miles on dirt — post time 4:27 pm CT
Created in 1966 and given a grade in 1982, the Fair Grounds Oaks has been run every spring – aside from 2006 when Fair Grounds was recovering from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A Grade Two with a $400,000 purse, it’s a Kentucky Oaks prep that offers a 100-40-20-10 dispersal of points to the top four finishers. Given that the fifty point races act as de facto qualifiers, this race offers such perks to the top finishers. Before 2010, the race was in early March and two preps away, but in that year was moved to five weeks out and a final prep to the big races in Kentucky in early May. The Fair Grounds Oaks in recent years has been a stellar pipeline of Kentucky Oaks success, with Untapable (2014) turning the Fair Grounds Oaks-Kentucky Oaks double. Before her in the last decade came Believe You Can (2010), Rachel Alexandra (2009), Proud Spell (2008), Summerly (2005), Ashado (2004), Silverbulletday (1999), Blushing K. D. (1997) and Tiffany Lass (1986) as sophomore fillies that have parlayed a Fair Grounds Oaks win into a win on the First Friday in May.
Rachel Alexandra posts a facile victory in the 2009 Kentucky Oaks.
“If you didn’t go to the wedding, don’t go the funeral.” It appears in the book of 1001 Horseplayer Cliches and summates how this space approaches VENUS VALENTINE, winner of this race’s local prep, the G2 Rachel Alexandra. She rallied up the rail on a day when the rail was golden and blew up the toteboard at 75-1. Her price will be measly compared to then, and she’s someone to toss given that everything went right last time. Another to toss is LAND OVER SEA, who has been cashing checks and earning silver medals in California’s Kentucky Oaks preps. A case of secondiitis doesn’t look so bad when you’ve been chasing around Songbird, but this space has a better option from the left coast. The fact she’s been chasing Songbird makes another whose tote quote will not be as much as her chances dictate. It may be contradictory to eliminate two potential underlays, but STAGEPLAY is lined as the 5/2 morning line favorite and the Picks & Ponderings top choice. Florent Geroux is named to ride for Steve Asmussen – and this is the same team that had success last month with Gun Runner in the G2 Risen Star (he goes later in the Louisiana Derby). STAGEPLAY was rallying in the center of the course in the G2 Rachel Alexandria – which was not the place to be that day. Perhaps Geroux took his rail knowledge to heart on Gun Runner, but STAGEPLAY does have a win two back going a mile and seventy over the Gentilly dirt. She’ll make the third start off the layoff in the Fair Grounds Oaks and might settle into a cozy pressing trip behind MIDNIGHT ON OCONEE, who also exits the Rachel Alexandra. In a prep last out where perhaps word of an inside bias took hold and had everyone trying for the lead, she was one of the few to survive the pace fire going on directly in front of her. The pace doesn’t project as swift this time around and maybe she can be around longer. As a Larry Jones-trained three-year-old filly she merits a hard look in this spot based on past success. This space is selling LAND OVER SEA from the west coast based on the steam she brings chasing around Songbird. It buys into a G1 winner in STREET FANCY, who is quoted at more than triple the price. Unlike LAND OVER SEA who shown her best to be second best to Songbird, STREET FANCY had a wide trip going a mile last time in the G1 Las Virgenes at a two-turn mile. Two back was a win at the mile and a sixteenth FG Oaks distance in the G1 Starlet. Perhaps STREET FANCY is better than her last, and we”ll give her a chance to get back on the beam.
#5 STAGEPLAY (5/2)
#2 MIDNIGHT ON OCONEE (9/2)
#6 STREET FANCY (10/1)
Longshot: It’s a three-year old, it’s owned by Charles Fipke, it’s trained by Dallas Stewart, and its odds are potentially ginormous. The same thread that produced Golden Soul and Tale of Verve brings out rail-drawn #1 NORTHWEST TALE (20/1). Coincidentally, this is Tale of Verve’s half-brother. NORTHWEST TALE has that clunk-up style that we’ve seen in prior productions, and had an icky trip in the Silverbulletday going wide on the turns. A more inside trip was the key to helping her clear the a-other-than allowance condition last out. While she will need some pace fireworks on the front, this wouldn’t be the first party that Fipke/Stewart have crashed with a horse perceived as not ready for prime time. A rider switch to Javier Castellano also aids the cause.
Fair Grounds — Race 10 — G2 Louisiana Derby — One and one-eighth miles on dirt — post time 5:12 pm CT
Created in 1894 and given a grade in 1973, the Louisiana Derby has been and is a March fixture. A Grade Two with a $1,000,000 purse, it’s a Kentucky Derby prep that offers a 100-40-20-10 dispersal of points to the top four finishers. Given that the fifty point races act as de facto qualifiers, this race offers such perks to the top finishers. Before 2010, the race was in early March and two preps away, but in that year was moved to five weeks out and a final prep to the big races in Kentucky in early May. Only two horses, Black Gold (1924) and Grindstone (1996) have turned the Louisiana Derby-Kentucky Derby double. However, the roll call of winners includes Risen Star (1988), namesake of this race’s February prep and the winner of the 1988 Preakness and Belmont. In its years as a final prep, the best showing in the Derby comes from Revolutionary (2013), who won this race and was third in the Kentucky Derby.
Profile from Blood-Horse on Grindstone, the last horse to win both the Louisiana Derby and Kentucky Derby.
The top five from the Risen Star return and are greeted by new faces – many from Florida as they flee from the impending Nyquist-Mohaymen match race to be contested in a steel cage at Gulfstream in early April. However, the dodgy nature of Gulfstream form (what happens at Gulfstream stays at Gulfstream), extra distance, and a projected slower pace (slower than the sub :23 opening quarter of the the Risen Star) . What also makes this race confusing is that the local prep, the G2 Risen Star, was contested on a carousel oval. GUN RUNNER was – in a heads-up move by Florent Geroux – placed on the rail and made the inside-outside move necessary to overtake CANDY MY BOY in the stretch. He’s a defensive use in this spot. A more offensive use is DAZZLING GEM – who hails from the flammable Brad Cox stable and will likely take play off his 12/1 morning line quote. Shaun Bridgmohan has the call on this third-time starter. While post nine isn’t peachy, he’s stalked off honest paces in both his races at Oaklawn. The connections are making a fairly public Derby push as well, as intent is also in favor. As the figures were relatively solid in the first two starts, perhaps a duplication or small step forward is enough. The nine furlong distance will be a new thing, but the Misremembered-Candy Ride sire line softens the issue. One of the Florida refugees is GREENPOINTCRUSADER. Dismissed as a slop-track machine after whistling in the G1 Champagne three back but doing much less in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He answered the dry track question when being forward on a slow pace last out in the G3 Holy Bull, collecting a second-to-Mohaymen badge. (They’re all the rage.) Unseen since last January (and as such, skipping the Fountain of Youth), his figure in the Holy Bull matched the BC Juvenile, and a step forward makes him a legitimate contender. He’s also shown experience being forward in a slower paced event when he was in the first flight of the Holy Bull pace – that could be useful in a race that doesn’t project to have a fast pace. Risen Star winner GUN RUNNER did scrape the paint last time, and this space is thinking that taking him to win is a trap move. But it’s hard to ignore that he does have a favorable pedigree for nine furlongs, he draws the cozy rail position, and this is the same Geroux/Asmussen/Winchell team that made the trip to Oaklawn last week with Untappable. GUN RUNNER might get a repeat trip with a softer pace this time around, but he’s hard to endorse knowing you won’t get the 5/1 that was on the tote in the Risen Star.
#9 DAZZLING GEM (12/1)
#2 GREENPOINTCRUSADER (7/2)
#1 GUN RUNNER (3/1)
Longshot: DAZZLING GEM at a double digit morning line quote isn’t too likely, but at least the price should be better than that of GUN RUNNER today or GUN RUNNER a month ago. While DAZZLING GEM will be odds, CANDY BOY will be big odds. As such, this space goes to #5 CANDY MY BOY (15/1) one more time with feeling. Sent off at 34-1 last time he hustled from post thirteen to clear the field – which he did – and then set the pace before wilting at the head of the lane. While CANDY MY BOY may have lasted longer than expected due to a positive rail bias, he this time won’t have to gun it from the outside and can settle into a more relaxed cadence up front. As the potential speed of the speed, he may be able to lull the field on slow fractions and he’s only one who’s shown a propensity at this point for wanting the lead. He could be the speed of the speed, and that’s why this space goes to the Roger Brueggemann trainee again. While his two wins have been wire-to-wire, they’ve been when the pace is slower than what he set in the Risen Star. Cisco Torres, who was aboard when he won two back in a first level allowance at 10-1, has the mount.
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