We enter a new phase on the road to the Kentucky Derby with the Louisiana Derby. Up to this point a win in the key prep races has been worth 50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points. That is almost certainly enough to get into the field most years, but it could theoretically fall short. This race and the ones that follow it mostly, though, offer 100 points to the winners. It's more symbolic than truly meaningful for winners, but where it does matter is for the second- and third-place finishers. Points for those spots jump from 20 and 10 respectively to 40 and 20, so even getting a piece of these races can help get you into the Derby field.
So, this race is the beginning of the big time. In and of itself, though, it hasn't had much luck producing winners in Kentucky. The last winner of this race to win the Derby was Grindstone back in 1996 (the first Derby I attended live). He broke a streak of futility dating back to 1924. Last year hopes were high as International Star not only won this race but also swept the two key prep races - the LeComte and the Risen Star. Unfortunately, he was scratched on Kentucky Derby morning with a foot problem.
This year we have a field of 11 looking to show that you can have glory in both Louisiana and Kentucky. This race, the 10th on a ridiculous 15-race card on Saturday at Fair Grounds, is set for 5:12 p.m. ET. There are seven horses that stand out as the most interesting:
Mo Tom, Corey Lanerie, 5/2: You don't see this often - not only did the favorite not win his last race, the Risen Star, but he was third behind Gun Runner and Forevamo, two horses in this field. That result doesn't give him enough credit, though. He ran into the back of a spent horse early in the stretch of that one and was cut up. Instead of giving up like most horses would have, though, he regrouped and mounted a late charge to make it respectable. He's talented and he won the LeComte on this same track. I hate the price, and I'm quite convinced Corey Lanerie was put on this earth to burn my money every time I bet on him, but I can't rule him out.
Gun Runner, Florent Geroux, 3/1: Mo Tom had a nightmare trip late in the Risen Star, but he had had things go his way until then. Gun Runner had a much worse trip early on and still showed himself well. Now he has the rail, which could suit his running style. There is good stamina in his pedigree, and he obviously likes the track. He's the horse to beat in this one despite the odds - though I won't be in a hurry to bet him to win at this price.
Greenpointcrusader, John Velasquez, 7/2: He was a solid second behind the wildly-impressive Mohaymen last time out in the Holy Bull, and he won the Champagne Stakes last year, so he has real talent. It's odd seeing Velasquez on a non-Todd Pletcher horse in a Derby prep when there is a Pletcher runner entered, but the horse is in good hands. As a son of Bernardini, the distance isn't a concern. He's another real factor here.
Forevamo, Colby Hernandez, 10/1: He was second in the Risen Star, and he was closing like he had been fired out of a cannon. He's a nice horse at a solid price. The issue, though, is that he needs a very strong early pace - like any pure closer - and it is no certainty that he will get it. Even if he does, it's not clear that he is good enough to catch the best of this field. Nice price, but not quite nice enough.
Battery, Javier Castellano, 10/1: As a Canadian I am a sucker for any Canadian-bred horse racing at a high level. This horse is making his stakes debut, but there are reasons not to fear that big jump in class. He's another son of Bernardini, so breeding is on his side. The move he made entering the stretch in his last race - an allowance at Gulfstream Park - was hugely impressive and professional. Finally, he is trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Javier Castellano, who has won the Eclipse Award for top jockey the last three years. Pletcher is a disaster on Kentucky Derby day, but can be useful leading up to it. He has won this race twice and finished second two more times since 2010. This horse is well positioned to hit the trifecta - at least - and the price will be right.
Dazzling Gem, Shaun Bridgmohan, 12/1: This horse only made his debut on Jan. 18 and only has two career starts - both wins. That lack of seasoning will likely rule him out of serious Kentucky Derby handicapping consideration in my books, but I still have to look at him here. He has raced well, he has beaten some decent horses we have seen in other Derby prep races, and the lack of major speed suits him well here - he could set the pace. At this price I can't not have a bet on him in my exotics - and probably a little bit to win just in case.
Tom's Ready, Brian Hernandez Jr., 15/1: Interesting long shot here. He was a solid second behind Gun Runner in the LeComte. Then he had a horrible race in the Risen Star - nothing suited him on the day. If he can move past that race and remember what he used to be then he is a horse that likes the track and could deliver in the exotics at a big price.
The picks: I like Greenpointcrusader the best of the three favorites, and will use him in trifecta betting along with the other two favorites, Battery and Dazzling Gem.
This Saturday is another magnificent day for the ponies, and Doc's Sports expert Raphael Esparza has picks in New Orleans for the Louisiana Derby - click here for free picks for these races - the same ones that paying members get - and the sign up is hassle free and no credit card is needed. Not only do we get one stakes race but we actually get to see two stakes races this weekend. The first one is the Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Park and Saturday early evening is the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita
We all know that the Kentucky Derby is the most famous horse race of them all, but the BEST value is in all the Kentucky Derby prep races before the big event. Raphael Esparza; Former Race and Sports Book director from the Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, has all the inside connections and the years of experience. Build your Kentucky Derby bankroll with the pony expert. Last year Esparza cashed with both stakes races as he hit the Tampa Bay Derby with Carpe Diem and the San Felipe Stakes with Dortmund. Esparza is coming off a nice winning
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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