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Aaron previews the 2023 Louisiana Derby (G2) from Fair Grounds, then gives his top picks & long shots from this major 100-point prep race for the 2023 Kentucky Derby (G1). The Brad Cox-trained Instant Coffee is set to attempt winning his 3rd straight Kentucky Derby prep race following the 2022 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) and January’s Lecomte Stakes (G3). Will he triple up? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
Gold Square’s Lecomte (G3) winner Instant Coffee, currently ninth on the Road to the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve with 32 points, headlines a full field of twelve 3-year-olds for the 110th running of the $1 million Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby (G2). Saturday’s program on March 25 at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots also features the $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) presented by Fasig-Tipton. Both races for 3-year-olds are the first preps in the Championship Series, offering 100-40-30-20-10 qualifying points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve and the Longines Kentucky Oaks.
The Louisiana Derby was extended from 1 1/8 miles to 1 3/16 miles in 2020 and it is the only North American Kentucky Derby run at that distance. Six other Louisiana Derby runners besides Instant Coffee have already banked Kentucky Derby points: Sun Thunder (24), Curly Jack (17), Jace’s Road (15), Tapit’s Conquest (10), Denington (8), and Single Ruler (5).
Along with the duo of 3-year-old stakes events, Saturday’s program also includes the $500,000 New Orleans Classic (G2) presented by Relyne GI by Hagyard, the $300,000 Muniz Memorial (G2) presented by Horse Racing Nation, the $100,000 Tom Benson Stakes, the $100,000 Costa Rising Stakes (LA), the $100,000 Crescent City Derby(LA), and the $100,000 Crescent City Oaks (LA).
Slated as the 12th of 15 races, post time for the Louisiana Derby post is 5:42 p.m. (all times central) and it will serve as the last leg of the all-stakes 15% takeout, 50-cent Pick 5 with a guaranteed pool of $500,000 (races 8-12), as well as the last leg in the “Bayou Bluegrass 5.” This new 50-cent Pick 5 with 15% takeout combines five key stakes from Saturday’s cards at Fair Grounds and Turfway Park. It begins with the New Orleans Classic at 4:04 p.m, then covers the Bourbonette Oaks at Turfway, the Fair Grounds Oaks, the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway, and finally the Louisiana Derby.
Trainer Brad Cox has swept the trio of local preps leading up to the 2023 Louisiana Derby, winning the Gun Runner with Jace’s Road, the Lecomte (G3) with Instant Coffee and the Risen Star (G2) with Angel of Empire. Both Jace’s Road and Instant Coffee are back for the Louisiana Derby, along with Tapit’s Conquest, who was recently a very competitive 4th in the Risen Star. Cox sent out Wells Bayou to win the Louisiana Derby in 2020.
Riding a two-race win streak into the Louisiana Derby that includes a pair of graded stakes, Instant Coffee will make his second start as a 3-year-old. In both the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) and most recently in the Lecomte, Instant Coffee proved his ability to rally from first to last, sustaining his late kick through the 1 1/16 miles finish lines. Both races have come back strong as Confidence Game (G2 Rebel) and Denington (undercard allowance) came back to win their next start and Lecomte runner-up Two Phil’s returned to finish third in the Risen Star. In the Kentucky Jockey Club, Instant Coffee bested Red Route One who is currently in 8th on the Derby Leaderboard, Cyclone Mischief (25th), Denington, Curly Jack, and recent stakes winner Hayes Strike.
Getting the 1 3/16 miles distance is the foremost question for each of these 12 sophomores, but pace is a big factor as well. Brisnet defines seven of the 12 as having late speed, and of the five with moderate early speed. It could be argued that none have proven themselves as true front-runners, but Cox’s entry West Point Thoroughbreds and Albaugh Family Stables’ Jace’s Road did win the Gun Runner on the lead. He drew post No. 11 and will be piloted by Florent Geroux.
After ranging up outside of the top three finishers in the Risen Star, Robert LaPenta, e Five Racing Thoroughbreds and Madaket Stables’ Tapit’s Conquest failed to produce a bid but held on for fourth. He hasn’t won since breaking his maiden in October at Churchill, but the Tapit colt has been training forwardly and has a new pilot in Manny Franco for the Louisiana Derby.
Steve Asmussen has won the Louisiana Derby four times, including last year with Epicenter. He’s represented by a pair of upstarts in Saturday’s race in Shopper’s Revenge and Disarm.
Drawing the rail, Whisper Hill Farm and Three Chimneys Farm’s homebred Shopper’s Revenge could be a main pace presence in a field light on front-runners. That is, if he can break with alacrity. Winning his maiden at Oaklawn in January, he hesitated slightly before gamely splitting foes and putting himself on the lead. In his next start, he hesitated even longer and was forced to attack the field from the back of the pack, but still ran well for second.
“We worked him out of the gates this morning (Monday, March 20),” Asmussen said. “He’s gotten a little caught up away from the gates a couple of times. His one victory was when he was away recently and led wire to wire. With drawing the rail, I want him to get away cleanly and we worked him from the gates trying to assure a better start for him. He’s a beautiful athlete and will stay on really well.”
Having won the last two Louisiana Derbies, piloting Epicenter last year and Hot Rod Charlie in 2021, jockey Joel Rosario will again be donning the maroon silks of Winchell Thoroughbreds aboard Disarm, as the owners vie for their fourth victory in this race. The Gun Runner colt broke his maiden in September going 7 furlongs at Saratoga, but didn’t race again until finishing second going one mile in February at Oaklawn Park.
“He needed that race and he needs this,” Asmussen said. “He’s a talented horse playing catch up. From where we were at, I only felt we could get two runs in him (before a possible start in the Kentucky Derby), and the 1 mile and three-sixteenths distance (of the Louisiana Derby) will move him forward. He’s a horse who will stay on nicely but he needs some racing. He has a high talent level and deserves this chance.”
Todd Pletcher has won the Louisiana Derby four times, most recently with Noble Indy in 2015. On Saturday he will be represented by Kingsbarns, who is undefeated in two starts.
The only other trainer participating in this year’s race who has won a Louisiana Derby is Ken McPeek, who did it way back in 2001 with Repent. He entered the Risen Star place-finisher in R.T Racing Stable and Cypress Creek Equine’s Sun Thunder along with Fern Circle Stables and Magdalena Racing’s Denington, who followed up his fourth-place finish in the Lecomte with an impressive allowance win. Sun Thunder will once again receive the services of jockey Brian Hernandez Jr., but Denington will have a new pilot in Junior Alvarado, as Corey Lanerie opts to ride Lothenbach Stable’s Baseline Beater.
Seven of the 12 horses entered in the Louisiana Derby were offered in Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 5 (closed March 12) – Instant Coffee (19-1), Sun Thunder (33-1), Kingsbarns (43-1), Disarm (60-1), Tapit’s Conquest (90-1), Cagliostro (189-1), and Denington (241-1).
Tom Amoss, trainer of Curly Jack
“I don’t see a lot of pace in that race but what I don’t want to do is get caught up in being too quick early. Drawing (in post No. 3) along the rail allows us to break and not have to worry about trying to position closer to the rail than we already are. It’s going to be break, relax, save as much ground as possible, and hopefully get a trip where we can get out when we want to get out.”
“I thought (he would move forward) in the (Risen Star). But I do think we were up against it in terms of where we were positioned and how fast the race was. The whole race collapsed and the closers finished up very strongly. I’d like to be in a position where I’m one of the closers this time. Although looking at the race I’m not seeing a lot of pace, but it doesn’t change the fact we’re going one mile and three-sixteenths.”
Neil Pessin, trainer of Baseline Beater
“He’s never (had a clean run), not one time. Hopefully it will be Saturday. He’s not fast out of the gate. Last time he broke as good as he can, either way he still takes back. But he can close. And it doesn’t matter about tight spots, he’ll go wherever you put him, just give him a spot to go and he’ll finish.”
“Distance won’t be a problem for my horse. Three-year-olds this time of year tend to improve or go the other way and my horse is improving. So, we’re taking a shot.”
Adrianne DeVaux, assistant trainer of Cagliostro
“He’s a bit of a nut in the barn but on the track and in his races, he’s having fun out there. (In his last race) I think Denington just surprised him and dropped him at the wire. But Cagliostro came back on in the gallop out.”
He’s got the grit and the go, and you could see it this week working with (stakes placed 3-year-old filly) Vahva. Most of the time he’ll just go head-to-head with another horse, happy to stay next to someone. This week when he worked he really tried to keep getting himself in front of Vahva, which Irwin (Rosendo, regular exercise rider) did a good job keeping him right next to her exactly like Cherie (DeVaux) wanted.”
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