Catching My Eye: Louisiana Derby Day at Fair Grounds

March 29th, 2023

Kingsbarns won the Louisiana Derby (G2), but does he have a shot in the Kentucky Derby (G1)?

Here’s what we know. The pace was slow. Kingsbarns got an easy lead and was never seriously pressured. Yes, he is 3-for-3 and won this graded stakes earning a 98 Brisnet Speed figure, but this son of Uncle Mo has never been tested. Winning for fun in his first two, the only horse who was near him in the Louisiana Derby was Jace’s Road, who I believe is an absolute need-the-lead runner and wanted no part of making a bid past Kingsbarns. First blink I say we fade Kingsbarns going forward.

Here’s what we don’t know. What if Tapit’s Conquest doesn’t get stuck behind horses, having to hit the brakes twice before scrambling out to find running room? What if Cagliostro and Jace’s Road don't break through the gate before the race? What do we do with Baseline Beater, the horse who finished 11-lengths back in ninth but galloped out rounding the bend ahead of the winner? What if Disarm and Sun Thunder didn’t have their momentum stunted by traffic in the second turn?

My short answer: Come the first Saturday in May, I won’t be backing any one out of the Louisiana Derby to win the Run for the Roses.

Long answer: I think Tapit’s Conquest has talent and a winning run and connections should enter him in either Keeneland prep, the Blue Grass (G1) on April 8 or the Lexington (G3) on April 15.

Jace’s Road won’t get the lead in the Derby and I will fade him completely in all wagers.

Sun Thunder is an absolute monster. Along with Baseline Beater, they both towered over the field in the paddock ahead of Saturday’s Louisiana Derby. Sun Thunder has saved ground and came running late on the rail in each of his two Fair Grounds preps. I think he can continue to develop, will have no trouble taking bumps in the 20-horse field, and will be a definite use underneath in my vertical exotics, but not to win.

Look out for Baseline Beater in the Belmont (G1), as well as in any of the marathon distance stakes in the year to come.

Disarm. I am torn about Disarm. I have two Derby future wagers, Tapit’s Conquest and Disarm. With only one race to prepare for the Louisiana Derby off a long layoff, this was definitely a quality run that Asmussen will be able to build off of and I project the son of Gun Runner to progress once again in early May. But his stride does not inspire confidence and he has been slow to respond when his jocks have tried to open him up. As Asmussen has said, Disarm will step forward with added distance, and I see the further he runs, the more he finds within himself. I’ll be watching his works closely the weeks ahead of the Kentucky Derby.

Didia Returns in the Benson Memorial 

Didia, a multiple Group 1 winner in Argentina, made the first start of her five-year-old campaign at Fair Grounds in the $100,000 Benson Memorial. I expected an impressive performance and she delivered.

Trained by Ignacio Correas, Didia made two starts in the states last year, both at Colonial Downs and in both she put her full range of tactics and talent on display. A front-runner in Argentina, Correas chose to adjust her running style to teach her to come from off the pace and prove more useful instead of being sent on the lead against graded stakes caliber American turf fillies and mares.

In the Benson, after taking a few brushes out of the gate and being a touch rank in the early stages, Didia settled nicely and found a spot midpack. Lonely and three-wide throughout, she had a healthy pace to close into but the 9-5 Cox mare Adventuring had a perfect trip and first run at the longshot leader, which Adventuring took advantage of and set down a drive to win. Didia, well, she moved perfectly into the hunt, lined up Adventuring and cleared her by one length.

Seven months in preparation for this, and she hasn't lost a thing. In fact, as Correas saw coming, she took a conservative step forward, running a 101 Brisnet Speed figure, up from the 95 she received winning the Old Nelson. Didia will be even better next time out.

Wow! West Will Power in the New Orleans Classic

Ever since being transferred to Brad Cox’s barn prior to his five-year-old campaign, with every race West Will Power has shown he belongs at the top of the older dirt males division. Saturday’s New Orleans Classic (G2) triumph sealed the deal.

Making his second start as a six-year-old, West Will Power took on a formful group including the Pegasus World Cup (G1) winner Art Collector. He tended to the pace set by the burning wheels of Treasury, which could have easily exhausted him, but no. When Flavien Prat opened him up at the top of the stretch, West Will Power showed a marvelous final two furlongs. Never allowing Art Collector to menace, West Will Power thundered home to win by 4 3/4 lengths, receiving a career-best 111 Brisnet Speed figure.

Behind him Art Collector ran a touch slower speed figure than his latest top effort. Was Art Collector’s so-called masterpiece in the Pegasus a forgery? Or is West Will Power really that much better? Nine of the Pegasus have run back and each has finished in the money, with four next-out winners and three of those in graded stakes. He stepped forward in his last but still ran well on Saturday, so I’m not ready to knock Art Collector, especially with Bill Mott in his corner.

The Classic distance is the question as West Will Power has never attempted anything beyond the nine-furlong distance of the New Orleans Classic. Watching West Will Power’s gallop-outs in this race and past ones, I say this son of Bernardini can get the Classic distance should connections point him to the Breeders’ Cup.