While the first Saturday in May is still six weeks away, the trail to the GI Kentucky Derby reaches its boiling point in New Orleans Saturday with the conclusion of the Fair Grounds prep series–the GII Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby. One of a pair of Derby points races happening within 20 minutes of one another Saturday, the Louisiana Derby offers 100-40-30-20-10 points and all but guarantees the winner a slot in the gate at Churchill Downs May 6.
Currently 10th on the leaderboard–the highest of the runners in the field–Instant Coffee (Bolt d'Oro) took the win in the second local prep race of the season–the GIII Lecomte S. Jan. 21–after ending his juvenile campaign with a victory under the Twinspires in the GII Kentucky Jockey Club S. for trainer Brad Cox.
Cox has swept the Fair Grounds prep races thus far with Jace's Road (Quality Road), winner of the Gun Runner S. Dec. 26. The Louisiana Derby will the his first start since a fifth in the GIII Southwest S. at Oaklawn Jan. 28.
Making just his second start since being named a 'TDN Rising Star' at Saratoga last fall, Disarm (Gun Runner) makes his stakes debut Saturday off a second against allowance/optional claiming company at Oaklawn Feb. 19.
“He needed that race and he needs this,” said trainer Steve Asmussen. “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 mile-and-three-sixteenths distance 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.”
Undefeated in a pair of starts, Spendthrift Farm color-bearer Kingsbarns (Uncle Mo) also makes his stakes debut for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Turfway Serves Up 'Well Done' Derby Prep
Bolt d'Oro has another potential leading contender on the trail in Turfway's GIII Jeff Ruby Steaks S. with GIII Kitten's Joy S. heroine Major Dude also flying the Spendthrift Farm colors. Having contested his last four races on the turf, including another graded-stakes win last fall in Belmont's GII Pilgrim S., the colt tries the tapeta for the first time for a chance at the 100-40-30-20-10 points on offer.
An experienced dirt horse, Two Phils (Hard Spun) leaves Fair Grounds for Turfway after contesting the last two preps in New Orleans-coming in second to Instant Coffee in the GIII Lecomte S. Jan. 21 and third when last spotted behind Angel of Empire (Classic Empire) in the GII Risen S. Feb. 18.
“At one point the horse did a two-minute lick for me one time over a synthetic surface and it was almost an eye-opening move,” said trainer Larry Rivelli of Two Phil's. “I've been trying to think of the easiest spot for the money and I think this will be the spot. If he absolutely hates the surface, that's on me. I'm sort of putting myself out there saying that I think he will run well over it. Working a half-mile or five-eighths is a lot different than running a race. That's when you find out if a horse doesn't like a surface. I'm pretty confident he will like it but like anything else in racing there could be a chance he doesn't like it. I didn't think he'd like the mud at Churchill (in the Street Sense) until he did.”
One contender who has experience over the surface is Congruent (Tapit), who faded to sixth behind Major Dude in the Kitten's Joy but rebounded with a win over the tapeta in the local prep, the John Battaglia Memorial S.
Art Collector Looks To Stay On Top
The newly-crowned GI Pegasus World Cup winner, Art Collector (Bernardini) looks to keep rolling into New Orleans in the GII New Orleans Classic S.
He'll face another son of the late Darley great in Gary and Mary West's West Will Power, entered off a pair of runner-up efforts in the GI Clark S. and the GII Razorback H.
The field also includes GSW Pioneer of Medina (Pioneerof the Nile) and GI Claiborne Breeders' Futurity winner Rattle N Roll (Connect).
Hoosier Philly Right Back At It
Already sitting in eighth place on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks, Tom Amoss's Hoosier Philly (Into Mischief) cares more about redemption than points in Saturday's GII Fair Grounds Oaks.
“I still think she's the best horse I have ever had in my barn,” Amoss said after his filly was a well-beaten third last time out in the GII Rachel Alexandra S. Feb. 18.
She'll be challenged by a formidable pair in the Rachel Alexandra winner, 'TDN Rising Star' Pretty Mischievous (Into Mischief), and Silverbulletday S. victor The Alys Look (Connect), who defeated GISP Chop Chop (City of Light).
While all three fillies are in the top 10 in points standings, the Fair Grounds Oaks does award a further 100-40-30-20-10 points towards the GI Kentucky Oaks.
Not a subscriber? Click here to sign up for the daily PDF or alerts.