The Florida and Louisiana Derby Previews

DERBY PREP PREVIEW

Friday, March 27, 2015

TRACKING THE FLORIDA DERBY AND LOUISIANA DERBY

The long Road To The Derby and the series of qualifying prep races which serves to amass points from each race, points that add up so that those 3-year olds with the most points have the option of claiming one of the 20 spots available in the Kentucky Derby, began with a handful of juvenile races at the end of 2014 and started up again in January of this year with the Jerome Stakes (January 3-Aqueduct.)
On Saturday, two more qualifying prep races (worth 100 points, 50 points, 20 points and 10 points each to the first through fourth place finishers) will be contested as the Grade I Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park and the Grade II Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds.

These are two of the remaining seven North American qualifying races (the UAE Derby, run at Meydan Race Course in Dubai will also be run Saturday) and based on the number of points needed to qualify since the protocol went into place three years ago, even if the winner or second place finisher of either of these races hasn't yet garnered any points, the 100 or 40 awarded should be enough to secure the entry.

Relatively speaking, in recent years, both positively and negatively, each of these two preps has had a significant impact on the Kentucky Derby.

In 2014, Constitution, a late developer from the Todd Pletcher barn made it 3-for-3 as he swept to victory in the Florida Derby, besting Wildcat Red, General A Rod and the heavily favored Cairo Prince (6-5.) Unfortunately Constitution and Cairo Prince each had issues after that race and neither one made it to the Kentucky Derby. For their part, both Wildcat Red and General A Rod were up the track at long odds on the first Saturday in May.

In 2013 it was just the opposite as Orb, who had swept the Gulfstream Park prep series was just as impressive in Louisville and triumphed in the Derby as a generous $12.60 payoff favorite. On the other hand, Itsmyluckyday, who ran second to Orb in the Florida Derby could not sustain a middle move and retreated to 15th at 9.5-1.

In 2012 those who exited the Florida Derby were conspicuous in their Kentucky Derby failures. Gulfstream winner Take Charge Indy began to make a move at the half mile pole and flattened out quickly, Union Rags, who had a troubled trip over the speed favoring surface at Gulfstream as the 5.1-1 second choice (behind Arkansas Derby winner Bodemeister) lost all chance when he was bumped at the start by Dullahan, was kept in tight until inside the half mile pole, was 6 wide on the turn and 7 wide through the stretch and though he had to settle for 7th could have easily hit the board. The only other Florida Derby returnee was El Padrino, who never factored at 29.4-1.

The Louisiana Derby gets considerably less press than the Florida Derby, but that hasn't lessened its impact on the Kentucky Derby the last two years.

What is interesting about the dynamics of both preps in question is that in 2014 and 2013 Gulfstream Park and Louisiana Downs played to speed, with the exception of Orb, who was simply that good. The winners and on-the-board supporting runners in those two preps used their speed to garner good success and conversely that speed was a liability in Louisville.

That overview is particularly germane when looking at the Fair Grounds signature preps in 2014 and 2013.

Last year, both Vicar's In Trouble (as the 3.33-1 third favorite) and Intense Holiday (the 9-5 favorite) ran 1-2 in the Louisiana Derby with the former going wire-to-wire and the latter stalking just 1 ½ to 2 lengths off throughout. But when it came to the Kentucky Derby both had a bit of trouble at the break, but were allowed to settle into stride and came up empty by the time they hit the top of the stretch (Intense Holiday checked in 12th and Vicar's In Trouble finished 19th.)

It was third place finisher Commanding Curve, who had closed against the Fair Grounds bias in both the Louisiana Derby (came late for the show) and Risen Star (rallied a bit on the turn and ran evenly in the stretch to check in 6th) over the surface who and essentially ran the same even fractions, staying power race to grind out a second place finish at 37.8-1.

In 2013 the Louisiana Derby to Kentucky Derby scenario proved eerily familiar as Golden Soul, who had a similar running style to Commanding Curve rallied late at the Fair Grounds and finished 4th in his final prep (he was beaten a total of 4.5 lengths whereas Commanding Curve was 5 lengths back in his Louisiana Derby performance.)

It is also noteworthy that the 2013 Louisiana Derby winner Revolutionary ran a solid third in Kentucky and Mylute, who was second at the Fair Grounds that year was only 4 lengths back in 5th in the Kentucky Derby. While Revolutionary was respected at 6.4-1, Golden Soul went off at 34.5-1 and Mylute at 15.3-1.

Of course none of this guarantees anything regarding the 2015 Kentucky Derby, but it should give you even the slightest hint of just how much analysis goes into handicapping North America's most important three-year old race.

That being said, it is time to take a look at this year's Florida Derby and Louisiana Derby. There are 9 three-year olds entered in each race and each will be run a mile and an eighth.

ARE THERE ANY UPSTART FLORIDA DERBY CONTENDERS WITH MATERIAL CONSTITUTION TO KNOCK OUT THE FAVORITES?

There can be no question that the Florida Derby, which has produced 57 Triple Crown winners since its inception in 1952 is one of the paramount Derby Preps. And the two consensus leading contenders for the Kentucky Derby, the Bob Baffert trained duo of Dortmund (who will have his final prep in the Santa Anita Derby next week and American Pharoah (slated to have his final prep in the Arkansas Derby on April 11) aside, the one-two finishers in the Fountain Of Youth, the 8-5 ML favorite Upstart, who was DQ'd to second in that race and Itsaknockout, who was deemed the winner via that reversal figure to once again be in the thick of it at the finish.

But these two are not going to be handed the laurels automatically as once again Todd Pletcher, who has never been known, like King Richard II, to offer his Kingdom for a horse, he has the horses and the kingdom both, will be sending out the intriguing Materiality, who will be aiming just the third start of his career after breaking his maiden and winning a minor stakes at the distance, each by widening margins.
It appears on paper that these three have a bit of an edge, but the improving second place finish by Ami's Flatter in the Tampa Bay Derby and the solid workouts over the surface by the Indian Charlie colt Indianaughty among others gives reason to think this might not be an open and shut race.

Let's take a brief look at the nine runners from the rail out.

  • AMI'S FLATTER - The Josie Carroll trained son of Flatter is still eligible for entry level allowance, but his improved effort when staying on for second in the Tampa Bay Derby in his just his fourth career start could indicate he has even more room for improvement. While his numbers don't match those of Upstart, Itsaknockout or Materiality he should get a ground saving trip from the rail under meet leading jockey Javier Castellano (26%) and it would not be a stretch to consider him as a part of the gimmicks.
  • JACK TRIPP - Trainer Dale Romans appears to be reaching a bit with this son of Flatter. He has made 4 tries to crack the entry allowance level. He has flashed speed in all 4 of those tries, one at a mile and a sixteenth, the last three at a mile, but has lost ground (twice significantly) in the stretch in all four. It is quite possible that the conditioner has higher hopes for this colt's stable mate, who runs right to his outside, and is using this one to battle down the backstretch and keep the likes of Upstart and Materiality honest.
  • INDIANAUGHTY - Like Schrodinger's Cat, we won't know what we have until the gate (the box) is opened and the race is run. Trainer Romans has yet to run this son of Indian Charlie on traditional dirt. He ran well in his first two career starts, a win and a third on the synthetic in Great Britain and then won his NA debut by beating entry level allowance foes on the turf here in mid-January. Romans sent the horse out west to try synthetic again in the El Camino Real Derby only to see the colt race on the pace and fade. He now returns to Florida, has worked well over the main track and enters as the unknown under regular rider Corey Lanarie.
  • ITSAKNOCKOUT - Depending on their investments in the Fountain Of Youth the punters are still yapping about the validity of this Lemon Drop Kid colt being put up over Upstart via DQ in that race. The great thing about racing is that it didn't take long for those two to get back at it. This three-time Todd Pletcher starter certainly has the credentials. He won his debut on 12/1, returned to take a mile entry level allowance by daylight on 1/4 and then showed a strong rally in the Fountain Of Youth before being herded by Upstart in that race. He is bred to run the distance, has every reason to improve and has turned in a trio of in-hand half mile breezes leading up to this. One of two Todd Pletcher runners in the race, if he runs his race he will be tough. Regular rider and hot Gulfstream jockey Luis Saez will be in the irons.
  • QUIMET - This appears to be now or never time for the Nick Zito trainee. The son of Birdstone began his career with two miserable tries on grass as a juvenile. He reversed form to win a 50K maiden claimer when put on the dirt here in early January and after running second in his first entry level try (at today's distance) was a well beaten fourth behind Materiality in that one's minor stake win last time out. He has the breeding to improve, but it will have to be significant if jockey Edgard Zayas can help get him a piece.
  • MY POINT EXACTLY - Trainer William Kaplan is no stranger to Grade Stakes race success, having won 23% of them from his last 35 tries. But even he will have to pull one out of the hat as this son of Concorde Point is making his first start since September, has raced just 4 times and has never traveled longer than a mile. He did break his maiden over the surface but his speed figures in that, or any of his other races doesn't come close to the best in here. Maybe further down the road, but unlikely on Saturday.
  • MATERIALITY - Last year Todd Pletcher entered Constitution in the Florida Derby following a MSW debut sprint win followed by a two turn entry allowance win. This year he enters this late developing son of Afleet Alex off a MSW debut sprint win and a victory in a two turn overnight stakes race around two turns. The colt wheels back in three weeks following a sharp half mile drill and as Yogi says...it could be déjà vu all over again. John Velazquez has been aboard since the start and returns. This colt would not be a surprise.
  • DEKABRIST - By far the most seasoned three-year old in the race, he is also the extreme outside. He has just 2 wins to show for 13 career tries and no other on-the-board finishes. His trainer, Gennadi Dorochenko won just his 5th race at the meet yesterday from over 80 tries and the colt's highest BRIS speed number is a 90, accomplished 12 races ago as a juvenile. By comparison, Materiality has a 96 and a 100 and Upstart has three triple digit figures in his last 5. He is the definition, on paper, of hapless longshot. But here is what makes this game so much fun. In 2012, this trainer entered a colt by the name of Hero Of Order in the Louisiana Derby following a fourth place finish in the 7.5 furlong Black Gold Stakes on the turf at Fair Grounds and the longshot won and PAID $212.40. Guess what Dekabrist did in his last race? He ran fourth in the Black Gold Stakes at Fair Grounds.
  • UPSTART - One of the last things that trainer Richard Violette said right before Tuesday's post position draw for the Florida Derby was, "the only thing I don't want is to draw the nine post." Voila! That might indeed hinder the colt given how difficult outside posts have proven at this distance over this track. That being said, the son of Flatter (one of three by that sire in the race) this colt has been a picture of consistency since winning his debut in a NYSB MSW sprint at Saratoga in mid-August. His 2.5 length win in the Fountain Of Youth continued the dominant form he showed in the Holy Bull when he made his first start since a troubled third in the BC Juvenile at Santa Anita in early November. He did drift a bit in the Fountain Of Youth but if anything the three works at Palm Meadows since that DQ indicate he might be coming into the Florida Derby in the best form of his career. Regular jokey Jose Ortiz (who has ridden all 6 of the colt's six career races) will be in the saddle and if any colt can overcome the post this guy can.

WHO WILL STAR IN LOUISIANA DERBY WAR?

Just as Upstart and Itsaknockout will look to settle or resettle their confrontation in the recent Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park when they hook up in the Florida Derby, so will International Star and War Story go at it again in the Grade II mile and an eighth Louisiana Derby on Saturday.

Seven other contenders, a number of them promising have signed on to face the 1-2 finishers of both the Lecomte and Risen Star Stakes (the two local Louisiana Derby Preps) but International Star and War Story continue to get most of the press.

In each race, War Story was outgunned at the finish by International Star, although it is noteworthy that the margin was considerably less in the Risen Star last time out. I'll detail that more in the individual horse breakdown below but it is important to know that in a number of ways the Louisiana Derby could turn out to be more deeply competitive than the Florida derby. And as I mentioned above, participants in this race have been very strong at very juicy prices in the subsequent Kentucky Derby.

Let's take a look at the field.

  • STANFORD - Can we have a Derby Prep without one or more Todd Pletcher runners? This is another well bred, promising three-year old with which the conditioner has taken his time. After winning his debut at Monmouth in late June he washed out and was well beaten in the Saratoga Special in early August. The son of Malibu Moon was not seen again until he returned to annex an entry level allowance in a sprint at GP February 8 an then made all the pace before wilting late and finishing a well-beaten second in his two turn debut in that minor stakes won by stable mate Materiality in his first two-turn try. Split off from Materiality the son of Malibu Moon would not be a surprise.
  • MR. Z - The Wayne Lukas trained son of Malibu Moon has not missed a dance since breaking his maiden in his debut back on June 28 at CD. He has raced 9 more times since and has placed in 6 of 8 graded stakes tries since. The only thing the colt hasn't done is win his second career start. That being said, it is worth pointing out that in the colt's last 4 starts, at 3 different race tracks he has never been further from the leader than half length at second call and stretch call. Currently 16th with 14 points on the Derby qualification list, it appears as though Lukas would need at least a third place finish to remain on the bubble. Pulling out all the stops the conditioner ships in, removes the blinkers and hopes that the colt can carry his contentious speed 9 furlongs. Lukas is always tough to dismiss.
  • DEFONDO - It wouldn't be the Louisiana Derby if trainer Dallas Stewart weren't involved. I have discussed both Golden Soul and Commanding Curve, the two Kentucky Derby second place longshot bombs trained by Stewart, but this cot is different in that he has been a confirmed front runner in his four race career. He enters here following a MSW sprint tally in career start number three and a second place finish after weakening late in a mile and 70 yard entry level allowance in his most recent (both over the surface.) The son of El Corredor should contribute to the pace but sustaining it against the better in her seems a difficult task.
  • FUSAICHI FLAME - The nicely bred son of Fusaichi Pegasus got his second career win (from 7 starts) in an entry level allowance in his last but the speed figure in that sloppy main track mile test, while the best of his career (87 BRIS Number) doesn't come close to matching up with the top four or five in here. The trainer is only at 8% from a sizable sample at the meet and this may be one of those local horses whose connections want to see him in a big race at the meet. Looks outclassed.
  • A DAY IN PARADISE - Trainer Larry Jones has won 25% of his races at the meet so anything he sends to the track has to be considered. However, this son of Yes It's True might be in a bit deep. The colt ships in from Houston where he was a winner of the 5K Texas Heritage Stakes at a mile in his last, but appears to be another speed horse who will have to contend with quicker rivals in the early going and has yet to surpass an 85 BRIST speed number in 5 lifetime starts. It is tough to see him keeping pace.
  • WAR STORY - His is an interesting prospect. He likely needs just a top three finish to secure enough points to get into the Kentucky Derby (already has 24 points.) In the Lecomte Stakes he made his first 3-year old start, was off a bit slow and rushed up in the mile and 70 yard test to take a brief lead in deep stretch before being passed late by the rally of International Star and beaten 2.5 lengths. In the Risen Star he once again started slowly but this time was more steady and settled in his rally and was coming on late while following International Star and finished a length back of that one in second. He definitely needs to clean up his gate act but interestingly both he and his nemesis mirror the running style of the aforementioned Commanding Curve and Golden Soul, though with much more pre-Kentucky derby success so it will be interesting to see just how trainer Tom Amoss uses this race as he looks forward to the Run For The Roses. Joe Talamo ships in to ride for the first time and he is a definite major contender.
  • KEEN ICE - If there is a sleeper in the race this might be the one. While not yet getting over the hump vs the likes of International Star and War Story, the son of Curlin has been improving slightly of late and his last two tries, a third behind the top two (beaten 1-3/4 lengths by War Story) in the Risen Star and an even run after being bumped at the start in his 3-year old debut in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park he currently sits 21st of 20 on the qualifying points list and would need at least a third to stay on the bubble. His running style is not well served by either the Fair Grounds or Gulfstream, which play more to speed than his even fraction staying style but Dale Romans has cranked him up with a pair of solid breezes at GP prior to this race and once again ships in. He is likely making the better choice (rather than the Florida Derby) in his hoopoes for at least 20 points and looking forward, he is closer to Commanding Curve and Golden Soul in running style and resume than either International Star or War Story. But he needs at least a third place finish before that even comes into consideration and might get it under James Graham, who rode him here in last.
  • ST. JOE BAY - Arguably the quickest early speed horse in the field the Peter Miller trainee did not embarrass himself first over the track when he shipped in from Santa Anita to make the pace to mid-stretch before fading to fourth in the Risen Star in his last. The saint Anddan colt has turned in a pair of terrific 6 furlong drills since the Risen Star and the fact that despite his late weakening off strong early speed he has improved his speed numbers in 4e straight races. Local jockey Robby Albarado gets aboard for the first time and it would seem he'll have to gun from this outside post. He figures to improve and will take them to deep stretch. He is probably the toughest in the race to figure out.
  • INTERNATIONAL STAR - His wins in the Lecomte and Risen Star have already given him more than enough points to start in the Kentucky Derby (currently second overall with 71) so it is tenuous at best to believe he is overwhelmingly the horse to beat. The Michael Maker trained son of Fusaichi Pegasus has already proven his bona fides and one has to wonder just how hard regular ride Miguel Mena will work him, especially from this outside post should he, given this colt's closing style, find the 3-year old 5 or 6 lengths off the ace at the top of the stretch. At that point an effortless close that leaves something left in the tank could result in a useful second or third heading into the Kentucky Derby, a second or third that leaves those who invest in him too heavily on the front end left holding the bag.

In summary, the Louisiana Derby is intriguing in that so many of the better horses are off-the pace runners while the better ones, with the exception of Mr. Z. and Keen Ice need to get qualifying points. Isn't this game fun?

22
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