Trainer Brad Cox has dominated Fair Grounds’ series of Kentucky Derby (G1) preps this winter and will look to make it a sweep by sending out three contenders in Saturday’s $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2).
Highest on the list is 2-1 morning line favorite Instant Coffee, winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) in November and the Lecomte (G3) over the Fair Grounds strip in January. Jace’s Road, an easy winner of the Gun Runner S. in late December, seeks to rebound off of a disappointing run in the Southwest (G3) at Oaklawn, while Tapit’s Conquest figures to enjoy the stretch-out to 1 3/16 miles after rallying for fourth in the nine-furlong Risen Star (G2).
Although Instant Coffee was able to overcome a dawdling pace in the Kentucky Jockey Club, a swifter one would be ideal. However, aside from Jace’s Road, there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of it on paper. Besides a potential pace advantage, Jace’s Road figures to avoid the wet conditions that likely compromised his chances in both the Southwest and last fall’s Street Sense (G3).
Tapit’s Conquest made a seven-wide bid into contention in the Risen Star before flattening out in the final furlong while stablemate Angel of Empire pulled off the upset. He’s in the same boat, pace-wise, as Instant Coffee, and possibly not as good at this stage.
Sun Thunder went from 12th to first in the Risen Star before he was run down in the final furlong by Angel of Empire, who won by a length. That was a far better effort than what was turned in by Curly Jack, who finished a nondescript eighth in his first outing of the year after having run second to Instant Coffee in the Kentucky Jockey Club.
Several potential Louisiana Derby contenders are stepping up from the allowance ranks. Denington, a stablemate of Sun Thunder’s in the Kenny McPeek barn, won a Risen Star Day allowance by a neck over Cagliostro, though his previous stakes attempts leave a bit to be desired. Shipping in from Florida is Kingsbarns, who is 2-for-2 for trainer Todd Pletcher after an easy overnight score at Tampa Bay Downs last month.
Steve Asmussen, who is tied with Pletcher for most wins (four) in the Louisiana Derby, will give Disarm and Shopper’s Revenge a shot. Though neither has yet started in a stakes and both exit allowance losses at Oaklawn, both have shown promise with a potential for further improvement, especially over a distance of ground.
The TwinSpires.com-sponsored Louisiana Derby will offer Kentucky Derby qualifying points of 100-40-30-20-10 to the respective top five finishers.
The $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) over 1 1/16 miles attracted only a field of five three-year-old fillies, but it includes the three biggest names in the division on the Fair Grounds backstretch. Pretty Mischievous will seeks to land her third stakes win of the meet following earlier wins in the Untapable S. and Rachel Alexandra (G2), while The Alys Look was freshened after her one-length triumph in the Silverbulletday S. in January.
The big question is whether Hoosier Philly will bounce back to her best form. The 2-5 favorite in the Rachel Alexandra after a trio of stunning wins at Churchill Downs last fall, Hoosier Philly did encounter a bit of trouble but seemingly not enough for her distant third-place effort to make much sense.
All five participants will earn Kentucky Oaks (G1) qualifying points on a 100-40-30-20-10 scale.