Of the eight stakes on TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby Day at Fair Grounds, three are turf contests, topped by the $300,000 Muniz Memorial Classic (G2). Recent Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) hero Colonel Liam is on a path reminiscent of 2019 Horse of the Year Bricks and Mortar, who used the Muniz as a bridge from the Pegasus to the Old Forester Turf Classic (G1) on Kentucky Derby Day.
Muniz Memorial Classic – Race 12 (5:43 p.m. ET)
Trained by Todd Pletcher, Colonel Liam flashed real potential when switching to turf in his third career start. The $1.2 million OBS April purchase bolted up in an entry-level allowance at Saratoga, and his close fourth to division leaders Domestic Spending and Gufo in the Saratoga Derby confirmed the favorable impression. Resuming from a four-month break in the Dec. 26 Tropical Park Derby at Gulfstream Park, Colonel Liam looked more polished with a 3 1/4-length romp.
The competition in the Jan. 23 Pegasus Turf was deeper, but the Liam’s Map colt raised his game again to deny stablemate Largent by a neck, with Cross Border third and Pixelate fifth. Irad Ortiz looks to go 4-for-4 aboard the rising star who will break from post 5 in a 12-horse field.
Colonel Liam ranks as the joint 124-pound highweight alongside defending champion Factor This, who eclipsed his own 1 1/8-mile course record when wiring last year’s Muniz. The Brad Cox charge went on to capture three more stakes last term, notably the Wise Dan (G2) and Dinner Party (formerly the Dixie) (G2).
Yet Factor This has gone unplaced in his past three. Eighth in both the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) and Ft. Lauderdale (G2), he most recently tired to fifth when trying to defend his title in the Fair Grounds S. (G3). Factor This was swamped by the 43-1 Captivating Moon. He wasn’t beaten much, however, by placegetters Logical Myth and Peace Achieved. If he can bounce back with Shaun Bridgmohan on the rail, Factor This would emulate Proudinsky (2008-09) as a repeat Muniz winner.
While the versatile Captivating Moon is cross-entered to Saturday’s New Orleans Classic (G2) on the main track (in which he was second last year), Logical Myth and Peace Achieved are confirmed for a rematch. Logical Myth had taken the Buddy Diliberto Memorial (over Cross Border) and Col. E.R. Bradley in his prior two over the course, and Peace Achieved landed the 2019 Bourbon (G3) as a juvenile.
Peace Achieved’s trainer, Mark Casse, sends an even more compelling contender in Woodbine Mile (G1) fourth Olympic Runner. Arriving in the wake of solid efforts at Gulfstream this winter, the Gio Ponti gelding went last to first in a salty allowance on the Pegasus undercard and placed a neck second in the Feb. 27 Canadian Turf (G3). Olympic Runner keeps John Velazquez in the saddle.
The Casse duo are drawn wide. Peace Achieved is in post 10 and Olympic Runner in post 11. Stuck in the far outside post 12 is the aforementioned Pixelate. A Godolphin homebred trained by Mike Stidham, Pixelate has course form as the Woodchopper winner two back, and his signature win came in last summer’s Del Mar Derby (G2).
Mike Maker is double-handed with Cross Border and Conviction Trade. Cross Border, just edged by fellow English Channel son Spooky Channel in the 2020 W.L. McKnight (G3), had a breakout campaign when promoted to victory in the Bowling Green (G2) and finishing best of-the-rest in the Sword Dancer (G1). Conviction Trade has yet to win since Maker claimed him last fall, but he was denied late in the two-mile H. Allen Jerkens on Dec. 26 and placed third in the 1 1/2-mile John B. Connally Turf Cup (G3). The cutback in trip could help the son of Exchange Rate, who picks up Joel Rosario.
Spooky Channel prevailed in that Connally Turf Cup, with trainer Brian Lynch opting for Sam Houston in late January instead of a W.L. McKnight title defense. Although his marquee performances have come going longer, Spooky Channel was a useful fourth to Largent in the Dec. 12 Ft. Lauderdale at this trip, and he gets Florent Geroux.
Another English Channel, Two Emmys, held off a ring-rusty but highly regarded import Darain in a course-and-distance allowance before a troubled fifth cutting back to mile. Two-time Louisiana Champions Turf hero Ninety One Assault was just dethroned when fourth in the Dixie Poker Ace.
Tom Benson Memorial – Race 10 (4:42 p.m. ET)
Dalika seeks her third stakes score of the meet in the $150,000 Tom Benson Memorial. After wiring the Dec. 19 Blushing K.D., the Al Stall Jr. trainee regressed to fifth in the Jan. 16 Marie Krantz Memorial, but rebounded for a poignant score in the Al Stall Memorial last out. The German-bred beat Temple City Terror, Pago Hop winner Pass the Plate, multiple Argentine Group 1 queen Joy Epifora, and His Glory at this same 1 1/16-mile trip.
His Glory is one of a trio of entrants for Joe Sharp. Catch a Bid, formerly with Chad Brown, had denied Dalika in the 2019 Riskaverse at Saratoga. In her recent debut for her new barn, Catch a Bid was fourth in the Jersey Lily at Sam Houston. Summer in Saratoga, who was with Brown much earlier in her career, was last seen landing a Kentucky Downs allowance.
Winter Sunset, a multiple Grade 3-placed turf sophomore of 2019, hopes that a return to Fair Grounds gets her career back on track after racing just once in 2020. The daughter of Tapit and Winter Memories sports a 2-for-2 local mark, including the Shantel Lanerie Memorial for Wayne Catalano. Winning Envelope, fourth in last year’s Benson Memorial, stretches back out after a series of turf dashes including the Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint (G3) where she was runner-up to Get Stormy.
Logic N Reason ships in for Christophe Clement off a sharp allowance tally at Tampa Bay Downs. Dominga, winner of the Allen “Black Cat” Lacombe Memorial last meet, has not raced since a fourth in the Aug. 12 Indiana Grand. Her Cox stablemate Dreamalildreamofu, eighth in the Indiana Grand, returned to romp in an off-the-turf allowance here, and Russian Mafia captured an allowance over course and distance.
The $100,000 Costa Rising S. (Race 8, 3:42 p.m. ET) pits defending champ Monte Man against reigning Woody Stephens (G1) star No Parole, who would be making his turf debut in the 5 1/2-furlong dash.
One of three stakes for Louisiana-breds, it is preceded by the $100,000 Crescent City Oaks (Race 1, 12:20 p.m.) and followed by the $100,000 Crescent City Derby (Race 9, 4:12 p.m.), both on the main track. Cox’s undefeated Australasia looms large in the Oaks, and Bret Calhoun holds a strong hand in the Derby with the Allied Racing Stable duo of Who Took the Money and Highland Creek.