Last week, the Gotham presented us with a tough set of challenges. This week, the Louisiana Derby makes the Gotham look like an introductory course to handicapping.
Easily the most challenging Derby prep race of the season from a handicapping perspective, Saturday's Louisiana Derby is a head-scratcher. On paper, you can make a case for all 10 starters and while Friesan Fire has won the first two legs of the Louisiana series and will be the likely post time favorite, he is by no means a lock.
Looking at the PPs, I can't recall a race where so many of the starters have fired bullet works coming into a race. Throw in the fact that some are adding blinkers, removing blinkers, coming off a layoff, coming from different circuits, recovering from a variety of different ailments, and you have one tough race to handicap.
I'll do my best to break this one down, and then you can tell me who you like and why. I'll be back on Friday with brief breakdowns of the San Felipe, Rebel and Tampa Bay Derby too. And don't forget to join me right here for another live blog on Saturday at noon eastern. We have a lot to go over. I'll also be joined by professional handicapper TopTurfTeddy to help give us an edge.
1. Free Country - He's the first of many in here you have to make a difficult decision on. Showed little in the Sam Davis, but maybe he didn't care for the track. Since then he has fired off two bullet works and the addition of blinkers might help. He's also proven at two turns based on his Gulfstream allowance win. Tough call. I say he improves and runs a nice race, but not a winning one. A good exotic play.
2. Soul Warrior - The first of two Asmussen longshots. Broke poorly but finished well in the Risen Star. Not sure he is fast enough or has good enough to be a major factor. Does get Bridgmohan back and also adds blinkers for the first time. I guess he could be worth a shot for bottom of exotics, but in a field this good, I'll pass.
3. Patena - He's the hot horse and his price will likely reflect this. Dutrow says he's back to 100% since minor muscle and coughing issues forced him to miss Risen Star. His bullet work on March 9 suggests he's right. Might be closer to the front than he was in the LeComte because there isn't much speed in here. Remember, he broke his maiden going wire-to-wire and was close to the pace in his Display win. All indications are that he runs a big race. However, I'm taking a stand against him for top prize based on his probable short price. Don't leave out of exotics though.
4. Terrain - Makes his 3YO debut after battling health issues. The 3-month layoff is a concern but there is also a lot to like about him. He's had a pair of bullet works over the grounds and adds Leparoux. Also takes blinkers off, which sometimes helps more than the other way around. His first three wins were without the equipment. Also, has a significant class edge over most of these. If the layoff doesn't affect him and he's 100%, is certainly an upset possibility. Another of many tough calls.
5. Flying Pegasus - His runner-up in the Risen Star was very impressive considering having to break from post 12 and being 5-wide on the first turn. It's completely logical that he will be even better in the race, and now he draws a good post. Trainer has been hot too. Only red flag is Albarado jumping off to go to Patena; can't say I blame him. Johnny V no slouch though. Morning-line indicates value will be there if you like him.
6. Giant Oak - Will this one finally live up to expectations? Two of his three graded stakes efforts he had legitimate excuses - both traffic related. Like the way he finished the Risen Star; it was easy to tell there was plenty more in the tank. On first glance, Prado leaving not a good sign. But Graham knows this track and more importantly, he's the regular exercise rider. Very solid work on March 7 indicates his minor health issues from two weeks ago are behind him. The people who know are very high on this colt, and I am too. If he can avoid the same traffic pitfalls, he's going to be there in the end. The pick.
7. Uno Mas - Asmussen's second entry. Had every chance in the Risen Star but didn't show any late kick. Looks like he is going in the wrong direction and works haven't been great. Does have two wins over the track and defeated Friesan Fire last year. That seems like forever ago. Unless Asmussen has worked magic I don't see him being a major factor.
8. Papa Clem - The wild card in here. Will the California shipper's first try on dirt be as successful as I Want Revenge was in the Gotham? Many think it will. Major difference is that he hasn't run well at Hollywood, which they say is more similar to dirt than any of the other synthetics. Has a couple of bullet works at Santa Anita which indicates he's in good form. The fact that he beat I Want Revenge last out is significant, and even more significant is that he appears to be some of the only early speed in here. He could carry them a long way. But something tells me he's a sucker bet. Too easy to pick him off of I Want Revenge's win. I could be wrong, but he won't be in my figures.
9. Friesan Fire - Jones says the LeComte and Risen Star winner is just starting to peak, which could mean lights out for the rest of the field. His work on March 9 was scary good and surprised even Jones. There is nothing to indicate that he won't run a big one here, except that he breaks from the unfamiliar 9 post. Others think he is set up to bounce a bit. I would be surprised if he wasn't a major factor and didn't hit the board, but since I'm looking for value, he'll only be used in exotics.
10. Nowhere to Hide - Gave a nice effort in the Risen Star. Question is, will he improve off that? Always have to respect Zito horses this time of year. He might try to send him right to the front and see what happens, but his PPs indicate he doesn't have great early speed. Too many others in here I like to include in my tickets.
Selections: If Graham can put Giant Oak in the right position turning for home I have every reason to believe he can run them all down. He has big, long strides and is the kind of horse who can pick them all up on Fair Grounds' long stretch. Kind of risky taking a horse with his running style; needs a good trip. But he's due for some racing luck and I'm hoping he gets it here. I'll put $50 win on Giant Oak and put him on top of Free Country, Patena, Terrain and Friesan Fire in trifectas.