If everything goes according to plan then Girvin will become the first Louisiana Derby winner since Grindstone in 1996 to win the Kentucky Derby. There have been some good horses since that have fallen short - Peace Rules was third in 2006, and Pants on Fire, Pyro and Circular Quay were all nice horses who didn't have their best day in Louisville. Is Girvin, the colt who has won three of four career starts, including the two biggest Derby prep races at Fair Grounds, the horse to restore the reputation of the race that brought us the great Preakness and Belmont winner Risen Star, among others? Is he good enough to wear the roses in this season full of good horses but few, if any, superstars?
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Last race: There were nine horses in the starting gate for the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds, but only four and a half of them were serious contenders. Of those, Girvin was the solid favorite, and he didn't disappoint. He settled just off the pace, moved into the lead at the top of the stretch, and wound up winning by nearly two lengths. If you want to be critical then there are two things you could target. First, he was wide on both turns, and it would be nice to see him save more ground in the Derby. Second, he was ridden very hard up to the wire. He was clearly the best on the day, but it wasn't as easy or confident as you might hope for a win to be. That suggests that he is a very good horse, but he might not possess a streak of greatness. Of course, not every horse that wins the Derby is ultimately a great horse - far from it, in fact. Against a Louisiana Derby field that won't go down in history as one for the ages, though, I would feel better about this horse if he had won just a little more impressively. Still, it was strong enough that I'm not going to complain too much - it could certainly have been worse.
Prior experience: The Louisiana Derby was Girvin's fourth career start - a little less than I would ideally like to see but pretty typical in these days of coddled youngsters. He broke his maiden in December. The whole race was a two-horse duel, and he came out on top. In his next start, a February overnight stakes race, he again dueled with one horse, but this time he came up short by a neck. It was a solid effort, though. Next was a jump into graded stakes territory for the Risen Star. There were five solid horses in the 11-horse field, and he prevailed as the fifth betting choice. He sat off the pace until taking the lead around the final turn. He did not have a huge challenge down the stretch, but again he was ridden very hard to the wire. That seems to be what this horse needs, for better or worse. All in all, it's a solid body of work for the youngster. If we again want to be critical then we could easily point to the lack of geographical variety. This horse has spent his whole racing career based at Fair Grounds and has run all four races there. From a racing perspective, New Orleans is on a whole different planet from Louisville, so I'd feel better if he were more seasoned and well traveled.
Trainer: Joe Sharp is best known in the racing world as being the husband of Rosie Napravnik, the now-retired top female jockey. He's much more than that, though. A former jockey, Sharp started as an assistant trainer in 2005 and worked his way up to the point that he was the top assistant for Mike Maker's large stable. He went out on his own in 2015 and is off to a solid start. Things come slowly early on, though, and Girvin represents two of the three graded stakes victories he has ever had. He's a talented guy who does things right, though, and it's easy to see him climbing into the upper echelons of the sport.
Jockey: Regular rider Brian Hernandez Jr. opted to ride his other potential Derby mount, McCraken, in the Derby. It was probably a tough choice, but in terms of upside he probably made the right choice. That left a vacancy, and Sharp wasted no time in filing it. And what a replacement he found. Mike Smith, basically a part-time rider at this point - he leads the nation in earnings with just 64 starts this year, while second-place rider Jose Ortiz has 345 - but by far the best big-race rider there is right now, found himself without a Derby mount, so now he'll be on Girvin. It's a serious coup for Sharp and, with all due respect to Hernandez, this makes it easier to like this horse.
Breeding: Girvin is a son of Tale of Ekati, who won the Wood Memorial in 2008 before finishing fourth in the Derby and sixth in the Belmont. He was a well-bred horse who so far has had decent-but-reasonably-modest success as a stud. On the Triple Crown front the best he has done is a second in the 2015 Preakness with son Tale of Verve. Girvin's damsire is Malibu Moon, who is best known for siring 2013 Derby winner Orb. Malibu Moon is a son of A.P. Indy, so stamina is not a concern on that front. In general, the breeding of this horse makes it seem reasonable that he will handle the Derby distance.
Odds: BetOnline has Girvin at +1800 to win the Derby, which puts him far behind the favorites but entrenches him within the realm of the strong contenders. If he were to go off at near that price at post time it would have to be considered fair. In the final Kentucky Derby future wager offered by Churchill Downs he went off at 17/1, which made him the seventh choice among the 24 listed options - with one of those lower-priced options being the mutuel field.
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