Road to the Kentucky Derby Heats Up with Saturday's Louisiana Derby and Jeff Ruby Steaks

Track Phantom | Hodges Photography

The road to the GI Kentucky Derby kicks into high gear with Saturday's GII Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds and GIII Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park.

Over the next three weekends, there will be eight “Championship Series” races that will award Derby points to the top five finishers on a 100-50-25-15-10 scale.

Drawn widest of all in post 12, GIII Lecomte S. Jan. 20 winner and GII Risen Star S. Feb. 17 runner-up Track Phantom (Quality Road) looks like the one to catch in the Louisiana Derby. Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen will also saddle $1.4-million Fasig-Tipton Saratoga graduate and 'TDN Rising Star' Hall of Fame (Gun Runner), who disappointed in seventh over the sloppy going in the Risen Star.

“I generally believe for 3-year-olds, your last race is not good enough for your next one to be,” Asmussen said. “That's the way it ought to be. (Track Phantom) is a wonderful horse. I'm very fortunate to have him here at Fair Grounds for the 3-year-old series. He has run extremely well in the three prior races here at Fair Grounds. Hopefully, we can get him in the winner's circle again Saturday.”

'TDN Rising Star' Agate Road (Quality Road), winner of last term's grassy GII Pilgrim S. and a rallying second in the GIII Sam F. Davis S. at Tampa Bay Feb. 10, opts for this spot over the Jeff Ruby Steaks. Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher will also be represented by Antiquarian (Preservationist), a local maiden winner at second asking over promising next-out winner Cornishman (Curlin) Feb. 17.

The field for the Louisiana Derby also includes: the Brad Cox-trained Smarty Jones S. Jan. 1 winner and Risen Star third Catching Freedom (Constitution); longshot GII Rebel S. Feb. 24 runner-up Common Defense (Karakontie {Jpn}); and 'TDN Rising Star' Tuscan Gold (Medaglia d'Oro), a runaway maiden winner for Chad Brown at second asking at Gulfstream Jan. 31.

Endlessly (Oscar Performance), the 5-2 morning-line favorite and horse to beat in the Jeff Ruby Steaks, was a good-looking winner of the El Camino Real Derby over the Golden Gate all-weather Feb. 10. A two-time graded winner on grass in Southern California last year, Endlessly was eighth in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita Nov. 3.

“We tried to give him a short break after the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, but he's a feel-good type of horse,” trainer Michael McCarthy said. “He likes to train and we were able to get him back slowly after that race to the El Camino Real Derby.”

The loaded 12-race Louisiana Derby card also includes: the GII Fair Grounds Oaks, headed by GII Rachel Alexandra S. Feb. 17 one-two 'TDN Rising Star' Tarifa (Bernardini) and Intricate (Gun Runner) and the two-for-two Our Pretty Woman (Medaglia d'Oro); and the GII New Orleans Classic S. and GII Muniz Memorial Classic S.

Saturday's graded action is rounded out by the GIII Essex H. at Oaklawn Park, the GIII TwinSpires Kentucky Cup Classic S. at Turfway and the GIII San Luis Rey S. at Santa Anita.

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