Louisiana Derby (G2) — Race 14 (6:44 p.m. ET)
The three best three-year-old colts that have run at Fair Grounds in New Orleans this winter have been, in alphabetical order, Mandaloun, Midnight Bourbon, and Proxy. The trio occupied the top three slots in both the Lecomte (G3) and Risen Star (G2), and there might not be much deviation from that trend in Saturday’s $1 million TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby (G2).
Mandaloun, who bounced back from an odds-on defeat in the Lecomte to take the Risen Star by 1 1/4 lengths when adding blinkers, again looks like a firm favorite to win the 1 3/16-mile Louisiana Derby. The powerfully-built son of Into Mischief has been lauded by trainer Brad Cox as a colt who will keep improving with additional distance, and so far has looked the strongest Kentucky Derby (G1) prospect among the local crop.
Proxy, runner-up in the Lecomte and Risen Star for Godolphin, has shown greenness at times over the winter, but could take a significant step forward on Saturday while adding blinkers. A clean start is potentially crucial as well as the son of Tapit was bumped leaving the gate in both of the earlier preps.
“There were just a number of reasons why the blinkers were added,” trainer Mike Stidham said of Proxy. “If you look at all of his races here at the Fair Grounds, in every race you can kind of see him doing a little erratic stuff, whether it be shying away, drifting out, or losing focus like he did in the Risen Star.
“I felt like the works with blinkers, in company, he was definitely a little handier for the rider and more focused. We’re finally getting these horses at our game; without a doubt the 1 3/16 miles is a big help.”
Midnight Bourbon, the Lecomte winner, wasn’t as effective in the nine-furlong Risen Star after pressing the pace. Although bred for distance being a son of Tiznow, his speedier style might make him more vulnerable the more he stretches out.
The Louisiana Derby field looks very much like that of the Risen Star with also-rans O Besos, Rightandjust, and Starrininmydreams also returning. However, if there is a shake-up among the top three placings, it’s more likely to come from two others.
Hot Rod Charlie, a close second to Essential Quality as a 94-1 chance in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) last fall, should move forward off of a photo-finish loss in the Robert B. Lewis (G3) at Santa Anita in his season opener on Jan. 30.
“We freshened him up a little bit (after the Juvenile) and he came back and ran a really tough race in the Bob Lewis,” said Doug O’Neill, who is currently serving a suspension and will not be the trainer of record for Hot Rod Charlie on Saturday. “From our experience, when you run that hard off the layoff, the best thing you can do is give them a little extra time before the next one. Just watching him train, he seems to get stronger as the distances go out in the morning.”
Trainer Bret Calhoun captured the 2019 Louisiana Derby with last-out maiden winner By My Standards and hopes history repeats itself with Run Classic, a son of sprint champion Runhappy who dominated his two-turn debut on the Risen Star undercard.
“We were lucky enough to make this move once before but By My Standards had had a little more seasoning,” Calhoun said.
The Louisiana Derby will award Kentucky Derby qualifying points of 100-40-20-10 to the top four finishers.