Man, do we ever need a good, honest Kentucky Derby prep race. This prep season just hasn't been very good. Too many disappointing performances from favorites or seeming stars. Too many wins by horses that are either just plain underwhelming or talented but tough to judge.
Normally by this stage of things - as the big 100-point prep races get started and horses make their last pre-Derby starts - we know who the best horses are, and we have a sense of how the big race is shaping up. Now, we are faced with as muddy a picture of what is going on as I can ever remember. It's kind of a mess.
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The horses that have already locked up their spot and are training up to the race are mostly the kind of horses that are pretty easy to rule out as real contenders. And what we have left for the big upcoming races - like this Louisiana Derby, the Florida Derby, Santa Anita Derby, Blue Grass and Wood Memorial - is a group of horses that could all emerge as serious contenders or stumble and fall, and we couldn't be surprised about either.
So, all I am asking for Saturday's Louisiana Derby is simple - that it doesn't suck. It shouldn't be too much to ask. However, after what we have seen so far this year, who knows.
The Louisiana Derby is a great race in and of itself, but it hasn't been great at producing Kentucky Derby winners. The last to win both races was Grindstone in 1996 - incidentally the first Derby I saw live. Since then, though, there have been a few notable results. Funny Cide was second in this race in 2003 before coming painfully close to a Triple Crown. In 2013 Mucho Macho Man was third in this race and the Kentucky Derby, but he went on to eventually win the Breeders' Cup Classic. Last year Gun Runner won this race, was third in the Derby, and was second to Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup last weekend. Will this be the year that this race makes a big splash on the Derby trail? There are nine horses entered, but only seven are worth a serious look (odds are morning line odds):
Girvin, Brian Hernandez Jr., 8/5: Joe Sharp, a newer trainer best known for being married to former jockey Rosie Napravnik, is looking to make a step onto the biggest stage with a Kentucky Derby contender. This horse won the Risen Star, the main prep for this race. He has only three career starts, but two were wins, and all were at this same Fair Grounds track. He likes the surface, he should be able to get the middle-of-the-pack trip that he likes in a field this small, and he's obviously talented. I have no questions about this being the deserving favorite. If he was just a bit more experienced I'd be more excited about the price. As it is it sets up that he is the most likely winner but likely a horse I'll look to beat for price.
Local Hero, Florent Geroux, 7/2: This is the likely pace setter, but he needs to stay calm while doing it. In the Risen Star he got loose on the lead and ran out of gas to hold off the charge of Girvin. He is naturally very fast and has the talent to be a factor but not if he works too hard, too fast. I like the horse, really like his jockey, and will be watching the price closely. At better than this morning line price he'd be attractive, but I don't see that happening.
Guest Suite, Robby Albarado, 4/1: To decide if you like this horse you have to decide how you feel about ignoring the last race a horse ran. Two races back, in his stakes debut, he won the LeComte, which is the prep for the Risen Star. It was a very nice race. Next time out, though, he was very unimpressive in the Risen Star. He's a closer, and on that day he just didn't have nearly enough jump. There were some excuses, so if you are feeling generous you could ignore that race and trust he can replicate the prior result. I'm not optimistic, though - I'm not sure he'll see the pace he needs, and at this point he's too one-dimensional to overcome less than an ideal setup.
Patch, Tyler Gafflione, 9/2: Todd Pletcher has been dominating the Derby prep races, and often with horses that aren't favored going into the races. So we sure can't ignore this guy. I love the breeding here - he's a son of Belmont winner Union Rags out of a mare by Belmont winner A.P. Indy, so he should be able to run forever. The knock here is that he has run only twice and only in maiden races. His last win was very impressive, though, and there is talent. In a field that doesn't have massive star power, I'm willing to bet on potential and take the fourth favorite for price. This is my pick to win.
Hollywood Handsome, Francisco Torres, 12/1: This horse has run his last three races at Fair Grounds, so that's a benefit for him. The challenge, though, is that it took five tries to break his maiden and he is making his stakes debut. Simply, I just don't think he's good enough.
Senior Investment, Channing Hill, 12/1: Of the longer shots, I like this one best. He's another closer, and he is coming off a really nice score in an allowance race. He's making his stakes debut as well, but he has plenty of experience and has had success on this track. At this price he'll be useful on the bottom of exotics.
Monaco, Rajiv Maragh, 12/1: This is the other Pletcher horse in the field, and the price will certainly be higher than his stablemate - but not more attractive. He's another one who hasn't run in a stakes race. He broke his maiden last time out in the third try. That win was by 12 lengths, though, so it showed promise. This feels like too much of a step up in class, though, and he looked really raw even in winning impressively. I'll pass.
This Saturday is a tremendous day for the ponies, and Doc's Sports expert Raphael Esparza has picks in both big stakes races - 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. Esparza is coming off a big win at the Tampa Bay Derby, cashing big with Tapwrit, and this Saturday he looks for more horse winners. Not only do we get one stakes race but we actually get to see two stakes races this Saturday. The first one is the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds Park and the second race is the Florida Derby at Gulfstream.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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