Will Proxy Upset the Louisiana Derby?

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

The Road to the Kentucky Derby will take another major turn on Saturday. Fair Grounds is set to host the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2), the first prep race of the season awarding 100 qualifying points to the winner.

A suitably deep field has turned out to contest the lucrative race, which is held over the formidable distance of 1 3/16 miles. Some folks will favor the California shipper #5 Hot Rod Charlie (3-1), runner-up in the 2020 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1). Others will turn toward the flashy maiden winner #3 Run Classic (12-1), a $475,000 two-year-old purchase fresh off a 3 1/4-length victory at Fair Grounds.

But I believe the Louisiana Derby is going to be a rematch of the Risen Star (G2) and Lecomte (G3), the two local steppingstones toward Fair Grounds' signature race. #7 Midnight Bourbon (5-1) claimed the first leg of the three-race series, defeating #4 Proxy (7-2) and #6 Mandaloun (8-5) in the Lecomte. Then Mandaloun turned the tables in the Risen Star, edging out Proxy and Midnight Bourbon in a three-way drive to the finish line.

Most bettors will expect Mandaloun to maintain his advantage in the Louisiana Derby, and understandably so. The son of Into Mischief boasts a 3-for-4 record, and he was arguably the best horse in the Lecomte, finishing just a length away from victory after racing wide behind a slow pace. Adding blinkers and chasing a quicker pace in the Risen Star produced a different outcome, as Mandaloun tenaciously wore down Midnight Bourbon and turned back Proxy to prevail by 1 1/4 lengths.

Mandaloun is clearly progressing in the right direction for high-percentage trainer Brad Cox, and a couple of fast five-furlong workouts at Fair Grounds indicate he remains in strong form. Hot jockey Florent Geroux (a 27% winner at Fair Grounds) retains the mount, and drawing post six sets the stage for a clean trip stalking Midnight Bourbon and #2 Rightandjust (20-1)—just like in the Risen Star.

I won't be surprised at all if Mandaloun visits the Louisiana Derby winner's circle. But 8-5 is a pretty short price to accept, especially when you consider how Proxy has already defeated Mandaloun once this season and might be poised for a big jump forward.

A Godolphin homebred trained by Michael Stidham, Proxy reminds me a lot of current Dubai World Cup (G1) favorite Mystic Guide, and not just because they share the same connections. Mystic Guide felt like a work in progress for most of his three-year-old season, flashing talent but usually getting into gear too late to vie for victory. Adding blinkers made a world of difference for Mystic Guide, who has since displayed improved focus to sandwich victories in the Jim Dandy (G2) and Razorback Handicap (G3) around a close runner-up effort in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1).

Proxy will likewise add blinkers for the Louisiana Derby, and I suspect they'll make a big difference in his performance. There's no doubt Proxy has talent—he's never finished out of the exacta in five starts, including four route runs at Fair Grounds. But along the way, he's shown signs of greenness, getting off to less-than-perfect starts and drifting around when asked for his best. Despite these issues, Proxy dug deep to edge Mandaloun by a head for second place in the Lecomte, and in the Risen Star he re-rallied to finish just 1 1/4 lengths behind his rival after appearing to be going nowhere around the final turn.

If blinkers sharpen Proxy's focus and stop him from drifting around, perhaps his third time in a Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race will be the charm. He's trained sharply wearing blinkers, and the 1 3/16-mile distance of the Louisiana Derby should only help his chances. After all, Proxy is a son of Tapit (the sire of three Belmont Stakes winners) out of the multiple Grade 1-winning router Panty Raid, who has already produced 1 5/16-mile Dueling Grounds Oaks winner Micheline.

It's also worth noting Proxy is a late foal born on Apr. 25, so he's apt to mature a bit later than his key rivals Mandaloun (born Mar. 18) and Midnight Bourbon (born Jan. 25). The five-week difference between the Feb. 13 Risen Star and the Mar. 20 Louisiana Derby might not seem like much, but at this time of year—for a late foal like Proxy—it could make all the difference from a maturity standpoint.

Throw in the services of two-time Louisiana Derby-winning jockey John Velazquez, who has gone 5-2-1-1 (40%) at Fair Grounds this meet, and I think we have a winning combination. At 7-2, Proxy is worth playing on top of Mandaloun, with Midnight Bourbon and Hot Rod Charlie battling for third place.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Louisiana Derby?


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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.

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