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Louisiana Derby 2024 | Fair Grounds Picks [Kentucky Derby]
Catching Freedom (Coady Photography)

Louisiana Derby 2024 | Fair Grounds Picks [Kentucky Derby]

Aaron previews the 2024 Louisiana Derby (G2) from Fair Grounds, then gives his top win pick from this 100-point Kentucky Derby (G1) prep race.

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The press release:

A half-length shy of adding the Risen Star to his Gun Runner and Lecomte wins, L and N Racing, Clark Brewster, Jerry Caroom, and Breeze Easy’s Track Phantom headlines twelve males on the hunt for a share of the 200 Kentucky Derby qualifying points up for grabs in Saturday’s $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. 

The first prep race to offer 100-50-25-15-10 points towards a spot in the $5 million Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve, post time is 5:42 p.m (all times Central) for the 1 3/16 miles stamina test.

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Track Phantom had everything his own way in the Risen Star (G2). Breaking to the lead and moving comfortably through slow fractions, the son of Quality Road trained by Steve Asmussen was passed in the final stages by Sierra Leone, finishing a half-length shy of sweeping the local preps to date. 

“I strongly believe with the 3-year-olds that your last race is generally not good enough for your next one,” Asmussen said. “And that’s the way it ought to be.”

The Risen Star is the only chink in Track Phantom’s two-turn armor as the colt has won his other three attempts, including dominant victories in both the Gun Runner and the Lecomte (G3). Having racked up 55 points towards the “Run for the Roses,” Track Phantom currently ranks tied for fourth on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard.

“He’s a wonderful horse,” Asmussen said. “I’m very fortunate to have him for the 3-year-old series here (at Fair Grounds). He has run extremely well in the three previous (Derby preps). Hopefully we can get back to the winner’s circle with him on Saturday. Obviously, we like his chances.”

Drawing the far outside post, the 3-1 morning line favorite will be guided once again by Joel Rosario.

Among his top competitors is stablemate Hall of Fame. Owned by Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, Westerberg, Gandharvi and Brooke Smith, the Gun Runner colt dazzled in his 10 1/4-length maiden-breaking score on the Lecomte undercard, but he fell flat down the homestretch over the sloppy track to finish seventh in the Risen Star. 

“No excuses on the going,” Asmussen said. “We like who he is, like how he came out of it, like how he’s trained back, and feel very fortunate to have this good of a 3-year-old at this time of the year in this significant of a race.”

Ricardo Santana Jr. returns to the irons and will break Hall of Fame from gate 2.

Second-choice in the morning line at 5-1 is Albaugh Family Stables’ Catching Freedom. A debut-winner at Churchill Downs in October, the son of Constitution trained by Brad Cox took the Smarty Jones by over two lengths in his first effort going two turns.

Finishing third in the Risen Star under jockey Luis Saez to bring his points total to 25, Catching Freedom will have Flavien Prat aboard as he breaks from post 5 in the Louisiana Derby.

“He’s always been the kind of horse that’s a little funny when he gets off the rail, he kind of wants to lean in a little bit,” Cox said. “He’s still a little green, he’s still learning. He’s always been a fairly average work horse, but in his last two he’s been a little bit more into it, finishing up a little better, and his gallop outs have been better. I’m optimistic he can take a step forward, and he’s had a good five weeks since the Risen Star. We’ve liked what we’ve seen since.”

Cutting the corner turning for home last out in the Rebel (G2), Tony Holmes’ Common Defense rallied up the rail to finish second behind Timberlake.

One of two entered by Ken McPeek, along with Tilted Shamrock Stables’ Real Men Violin, Common Defense ranks tenth in the Road to the Kentucky Derby Point Standings with 27. The dark bay Karakontie colt will be reunited with his Rebel pilot, Brian Hernandez Jr. 

Real Men Violin exits an 8th-place finish in the Risen Star, his first start since running second in November’s Kentucky Jockey Club (G2), and will break from just inside his stablemate in post 9 with Corey Lanerie holding the reins.

Occupying three of the inside four post positions, the trio of Louisiana Derby entrants trained by Todd Pletcher are led by Repole Stable and St. Elias Stables’ Pilgrim (G2) winner Agate Road. The Quality Road colt exits a second-place finish to No More Time in the Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs where he earned 10 qualifying points.

Agate Road’s previous four races were on the turf, including a solid late-kicking fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), defeated by only 2 1/2 lengths. Aboard for each of the four grass starts, jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. will leg up on the Pletcher trainee, made 8-1 in the morning line.

Pletcher leads all trainers with five Louisiana Derby victories, including saddling last year’s gate-to-wire winner Kingsbarns. Along with Agate Road, he entered Centennial Farms last-out local maiden winner Antiquarian and Repole Stable and St. Elias Stables’ Triple Espresso, who will make his dirt debut in the Louisiana Derby. 

Another accomplished sophomore entered in the Louisiana Derby is Ribble Farms, Michael Eiserman, Earl Silver, Kenneth Fishbein, and Daniel Fishbein’s Honor Marie. The winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club returned to the races to finish fifth in the Risen Star for trainer Whit Beckman. 

“He’ll like the (Louisiana Derby) distance,” Beckman said. “This horse to me is a true mile-and-a-quarter horse.”

Jockey Ben Curtis has been named to ride the Honor Code colt, replacing Rafael Bejarano. 

Here’s the complete field for the Risen Star from the rail out (with jockey, trainer, and morning line):

  1. Triple Espresso (Luis Saez, Todd Pletcher, 20-1)
  2. Hall of Fame (Ricardo Santana Jr., Steve Asmussen, 8-1)
  3. Antiquarian (John Velazquez, Todd Pletcher, 12-1)
  4. Agate Road (Irad Ortiz Jr., Todd Pletcher, 8-1)
  5. Catching Freedom (Flavien Prat, Brad Cox, 4-1)
  6. Awesome Ruta (Mitchell Murrill, Joey Foster, 30-1)
  7. Honor Marie (Ben Curtis, Whit Beckman, 8-1)
  8. Next Level (Jose Riquelme, Keith Desormeaux, 30-1)
  9. Real Men Violin (Corey Lanerie, Ken McPeek, 20-1)
  10. Common Defense (Brian Hernandez Jr., Ken McPeek, 6-1)
  11. Tuscan Gold (Tyler Gaffalione, Chad Brown, 8-1)
  12. Track Phantom (Joel Rosario, Steve Asmussen, 3-1)

With eight stakes worth $2.7 million carded for Saturday’s “Louisiana Derby Day,” the 111th running of the Louisiana Derby is the finale of the 12-race program, which begins at noon.

The $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks presented by Fasig-Tipton (G2) goes as race 11 (5:08 p.m.) and will award Kentucky Oaks qualifying points (100-50-25-15-10) to the top five in that 3-year-old filly event.