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
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
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?
Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contests page—there's a new challenge every week!
The Road to the Kentucky Derby handicapping challenge is back for the seventh straight year! Check out the Road to the Kentucky Derby contest page for more details.
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.