2018 Louisiana Derby and Fair Grounds Oaks Preview

Saturday at Fair Grounds features the first of the 100-point Derby and Oaks preps, down in the Big Easy: the Louisiana Derby (G2) for open company, and the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) for fillies. Both races drew solid, competitive fields: ten horses in the Louisiana Derby, and nine in the Fair Grounds Oaks.  This piece delves into both of those races in detail.

In addition, the Derby trail and Oaks trails also meander to Sunland Park.  Those prep races go on Sunday, and we preview them in a separate piece.

Edited Saturday, March 24 to account for the scratches of TESTING ONE TWO and PATRONA MARGARITA from the Fair Grounds Oaks.

Saturday, March 24: Fair Grounds Race Course

Race 10: Twinspires.com Fair Grounds Oaks (G2), three-year-old fillies, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 4:41pm CDT

This year marks the 51st running of the Fair Grounds Oaks.  Inaugurated in 1966, the race has been run every year since then except for 2006, when Fair Grounds was closed after Hurricane Katrina.  The race first got a grade in 1982, and was promoted to its current Grade 2 status in 2001.  For most of its history it was for three-year-olds — but in 1978 it was run for three-year-old and four-year-old fillies.  It has been contested at its current distance for its entire history except for 1977 and 1978, when it covered a mile and an eighth.  Though it took until Tiffany Lass (1986) for the Fair Grounds Oaks to produce a Kentucky Oaks winner, the race has been a rich source of fillies decked in lilies since then.  After her, eight more completed that double: Blushing K. D. (1997), Silverbulletday (1999), Ashado (2004), Summerly (2005), Proud Spell (2008), Rachel Alexandra (2009), Believe You Can (2010), and Untapable (2014).

Untapable dances home an easy winner of the 2014 Fair Grounds Oaks (G2).

Once again, this year, the Fair Grounds Oaks offers a purse of $400,000, and offers 100-40-20-10 Road to the Kentucky Oaks points to its top four finishers.

This race has a lot of chances.  WONDER GADOT may well go off the favourite, but she keeps taking tons of money and finishing underneath.  Do you need to use her underneath?  Sure.  Can you argue to use her on top in a spread ticket?  Sure — she has the class, and her speeds fit.  But, you better hope you hit a price in another leg, because she is chalk, and uninspiring chalk at last.  (Speaking of prices, we originally tabbed TESTING ONE TWO on top, but she scratched on race day to face Louisiana-breds in the Crescent City Oaks instead.)

CLASSY ACT drew the rail, and has proven over and over again that she runs well from inside posts.  She should be the speed of the speed, likely faster than AMERICA’S TALE to her outside, and has shown some ability to fight in case that one or perhaps even WONDER GADOT tries to make things interesting up front.  The Bret Calhoun trainee was a perfectly credible second last out in her stakes debut — clear of WONDER GADOT, and behind only Monomoy Girl (who does not return here) — and she keeps Javier Castellano in the irons.  CLASSY ACT will be the one they have to catch late, and it’s possible she gives them the slip.

This is the Fair Grounds, and it’s hard to discuss a race here without discussing rider Florent Geroux.  He has the call on ESKIMO KISSES.  The question is pace; since CLASSY ACT could possibly clear, ESKIMO KISSES’s closing style may be up against it from a pace perspective.  Yet, this daughter of To Honor and Serve deserves a long look.  She is coming into good form at the right time and even though she won’t get the sloppy footing over which her last-out allowance score came, she acquitted herself well over a dry Oaklawn course earlier in the winter.  If CLASSY ACT gets enough badgering up front, ESKIMO KISSES may be running best late.


#1 CLASSY ACT (5/2)



Longshot:  You could have had #9 CHOCOLATE MARTINI (10/1) for $15,000 on January 12.  H er current connections (owner Double Doors racing and high-percentage trainer Tom Amoss) snagged her for $25,000 on February 2.  They ran her back in an optional $50K/N1X on the 18th at Fair Grounds, and she won by a neck over Haynesfest (who won in her next start, at the very same level, and got claimed for $50K by Amoss.)  Now she turns up in the Fair Grounds Oaks.  Of course, this is a huge class test for CHOCOLATE MARTINI.  But, she has upside.  She has shown tactical speed, she keeps rider Mitchell Murrill from the last-out win, and she doesn’t require a big jump up from her allowance effort to be competitive in this spot.  Her two best races — her two wins — have been her only two starts going two turns on dirt.  Back to that here, CHOCOLATE MARTINI could surprise people at long odds.

Race 11: Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby (G2), three-year-olds, one and one eighth miles on the dirt, post time 5:21pm CDT

The Louisiana Derby, which will be run for the 105th time this year, began its life in 1894 as the Crescent City Derby.  Resurrected in 1897 for its second running, the race then took its current name.  The race has been run at its current one and one eighth mile distance for most of its history (1897-1987, 2010-present); its first running came at a mile, and the races from 1988-2009 were a mile and a sixteenth.  It has been graded since the beginning of North American stakes grades in 1976; it has been a Grade 2 through that period, except for a period between 1985 and 1998 when it was a Grade 3.  To date, just two Louisiana Derby winners have won the Kentucky Derby as well: Black Gold (1924) and Grindstone (1996).  One other Louisiana Derby runner also won the Kentucky Derby: Funny Cide (2003) finished third behind Peace Rules in New Orleans, but annexed the first two legs of the Triple Crown.  Over time, it has been the Belmont in which Louisiana Derby horses have come to the winners’ circle most often.  Risen Star, winner of the 1988 Louisiana Derby, won both the Preakness and the Belmont.  In addition, three other horses who contested the Louisiana Derby eventually won the Belmont: Creme Fraiche (2nd, 1985), Drosselmeyer (3rd, 2010), and Palace Malice (7th, 2013).

Its most successful winner in recent times has been Gun Runner (2016).  Even though he did not win any of the Triple Crown races, a victory in the Clark (G1) made him a Grade 1 winner before the year was out, a win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) last year crowned a Horse of the Year campaign, and he finished his career with a victory in this year’s Pegasus World Cup (G1).

Gun Runner makes easy work of the 2016 Louisiana Derby.

This year the Louisiana Derby again offers a purse of $1,000,000, as well as Road to the Kentucky Derby points (100-40-20-10) to its top four finishers.

In a sense, this is a tough race to assess — many of the runners come out of the Risen Star (G2), and the Risen Star was quite the carousel, with SNAPPER SINCLAIR and BRAVAZO bonking heads all the way around up front, and both surviving to win clear of the rest of the field.  The clearest bit of information to glean from that race was that Principe Guilherme may not have been as good as some wise guys (including, for a while, this space) thought.  But, that one doesn’t return here, making that pearl of wisdom unnecessary for tossing him out of consideration.

This race has speed to spare: not only do BRAVAZO and SNAPPER SINCLAIR return, but MARMELLO reliably sends, RETIREMENT FUND has been exposed as one-way speed, and both NOBLE INDY and DARK TEMPLAR have done their best work on the front.  With all this gas up front, it makes Keith Desormeaux’ decision to ship MY BOY JACK to Louisiana look like a wise one.  MY BOY JACK rallied late to win the Southwest (G3) with flair.  Though he doesn’t get a rail draw like he did last out, his drop-back-and-rally style should give Kent Desormeaux plenty of chance to drop him back to the rail when he can, let the front end fight, and make a rally late. The biggest question with MY BOY JACK is the dry track, as both of his dry dirt tries have been disappointing.  But one was too short — a five-furlong sprint on debut — and the other was over a Santa Anita course that does not play as fairly to closers as Fair Grounds tends to.  With the right running style and legitimate breeding for nine furlongs on dirt, MY BOY JACK looks well spotted.

We then turn our eyes to the top two from the Risen Star: BRAVAZO and SNAPPER SINCLAIR.  Though they fought it out on the front end last out, neither of them needs the lead, a positive in this race where so many of their foes do need it.  Between the two, this space likes SNAPPER SINCLAIR just a bit better.  He gets a rider change from Adam Beschizza, who has sent him to or near the lead in their two starts together, to Jose Ortiz.  A change in rider, combined with a bit further outside post than he has been drawing in his most recent starts, may lead to a positive change in tactic with SNAPPER SINCLAIR.  The son of City Zip is well proven at two turns, well proven at Fair Grounds, and also well proven (at age two) from a stalking or tracking spot.  Add the fact that he is trained by Steve Asmussen, a 20% winner with runners third off the lay.  All in all, there’s a lot to like about SNAPPER SINCLAIR, and he has every right to acquit himself well once again here.

BRAVAZO also deserves a good look, particularly with the swap back to Gary Stevens in the irons.  Stevens piloted Bravazo to victory two starts back in an allowance at Oaklawn.  Unlike the forward ride Miguel Mena gave BRAVAZO in the Risen Star, Stevens gave BRAVAZO a rate-and-rally kind of trip back at Oaklawn.  That sort of ride should suit him here.  The rail draw is a bit of a concern, but with Stevens rating BRAVAZO from the two hole in that start two back, it’s not as much of a concern as it would otherwise be.  With pace versatility and Fair Grounds form, BRAVAZO figures.


#9 MY BOY JACK (5/2)


#1 BRAVAZO (7/2)

Longshot:  The longshot writer looked at a pair here: LONE SAILOR and GIVEMEAMINIT.  Both will be prices, and both have a solid closing style.  However, this space thinks GIVEMEAMINIT does his best in sprints, leading the longshot writer right back to the Tom Amoss barn with #8 LONE SAILOR (20/1).  He has tables to turn on several in here, but he very well could.  Two back he showed little in the Lecomte (G3), but that was his first race since the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) last fall.  Second off the lay, LONE SAILOR improved — he rallied to finish second in a mile and seventy yard allowance behind lone leader DARK TEMPLAR.  DARK TEMPLAR will have things a lot tougher on the front here — and, on the other side of that coin, LONE SAILOR will have a lot more to chase.  With a better setup and James Graham back in the irons, LONE SAILOR may sail into the picture late at appealing odds.


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