By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Slowly but surely, quietly
but steadily, the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds is emerging
as one of the most influential prep races for the Kentucky Derby (G1).
The numbers craft a
compelling story. The Louisiana Derby has produced at least one Kentucky Derby
superfecta finisher in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2019, 2021,
and 2022. Louisiana Derby alumni Mandaloun (2021) and Country House (2019) both
won the Kentucky Derby via disqualification, while Epicenter (2022), Hot Rod
Charlie (2021), Commanding Curve (2014), Golden Soul (2013), and Nehro (2011)
have all finished second in the Run for the Roses.
The Louisiana Derby has
gained steam since lengthening from 1 1/8 miles to 1 3/16 miles in 2020, and
the dozen runners entered in the 2023 edition are a promising group with the
potential to make a big impact on the Kentucky Derby six weeks from now.
The most accomplished
entrant is #2 Instant Coffee, and I
can't argue with anyone who wishes to support the son of Bolt d'Oro. As a
juvenile, Instant Coffee won his debut at Saratoga, finished a good fourth in a
deep edition of the Breeders' Futurity (G1), and unleashed a strong
turn-of-foot to rally and win a slow-paced edition of the Kentucky Jockey Club
S. (G2) at Churchill Downs.
This admirable campaign
stamped Instant Coffee as the horse to beat in the 1 1/16-mile Lecomte S. (G3)
on Jan. 21 at Fair Grounds, and he didn't disappoint. After settling at the
back of a six-horse field, Instant Coffee rallied steadily to defeat graded
stakes Two Phil's by 2 1/2 lengths, with Confidence Game another 5 1/4 lengths
back in third place. Two Phil's returned to run third in the Risen Star S. (G2)
at Fair Grounds, and Confidence Game won the Rebel S. (G2) in his next start,
so it's safe to say Instant Coffee defeated strong competition.
Instant Coffee is conditioned
by red-hot trainer Brad Cox, a 40% winner at Fair Grounds this winter. He'll be
ridden by regular jockey Luis Saez, who has gone 4-for-7 (57%) teaming up with
Cox over the last two months per Brisnet stats. So Instant Coffee is a lock to
Well... not so fast. Instant
Coffee is a formidable contender no doubt, but there isn't much speed on paper
in the Louisiana Derby field, which could lend a tactical advantage to Instant
Coffee's less heralded stablemate #11
Jace's Road could be easy to
overlook off his fifth-place finish in the Southwest S. (G3) at Oaklawn Park
two months ago, but that misfire came over a sloppy track. Jace's Road's only
other start over a sloppy track produced an eighth-place finish as the favorite
in the Street Sense S. (G3) at Churchill Downs last fall, so it seems safe to
say Jace's Road doesn't like wet footing.
If you forgive those two
performances, Jace's Road's form lines look solid. At Ellis Park last summer,
he employed pace-pressing tactics to trounce a six-furlong maiden special
weight by 6 1/4 lengths. Then he stepped up in class and distance for the 1 1/16-mile
Iroquois S. (G3) at Churchill Downs, tracking the pace before staying on to
finish third by 1 1/2 lengths in the Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifier.
The Street Sense came next,
after which Jace's Road rebounded over fast footing in the Gun Runner S. at
Fair Grounds. Carving out the pace in the 1 1/16-mile Road to the Kentucky
Derby qualifier worked wonders for Jace's Road, who kicked clear down the
homestretch to defeat future Gotham S. (G3) winner Raise Cain by 5 1/2 lengths.
Suppose Jace's Road shakes
loose on an uncontested lead in the Louisiana Derby? Assuming the track is dry,
he may forget to stop. He earned sharp speed figures of 90 (Beyer)
and 96 (Brisnet) in the Gun Runner, which puts him pretty much on par with
Instant Coffee. For all these reasons, I'm picking Jace's Road to spring a
surprise in the Louisiana Derby.
I also have to respect the chances of #6 Kingsbarns, whose 2-for-2 record
includes a 7 3/4-length romp in a $75,000 allowance optional claimer at Tampa
Bay Downs last month. Trainer Todd Pletcher has won the Louisiana Derby four
times, and Kingsbarns is bred top and bottom to thrive racing 1 3/16 miles, so
this up-and-coming colt can't be dismissed from consideration.
1st: Jace's Road
2nd: Instant Coffee
Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Louisiana
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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.