Catching My Eye: Louisiana Derby Preview Day Round-up

February 24th, 2023

There was a mix of formful and surprising results last Saturday at Fair Grounds. The winners were definitely not the only stories, as a handful of favorites finished out of the money in some key races. As the Roads to the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Kentucky Oaks (G1) carry on and older divisions begin to take shape, here’s a round-up of my takeaways combined with my initial conclusion regarding backing these runners going forward.

The Risen Star (G2)

Kicking through the wire to win the Risen Star, Angel of Empire proved he will be a major player on the Derby trail going forward. His stride has been electric in his morning exercise. With his long legs, running style, and in Brad Cox’s care, as of now, I see him as a major contender in the Louisiana Derby.

Tapit’s Conquest went wide, but lacked the late kick. Florent Geroux says he just needs more experience to get there mentally. In other words, he has the talent, but he still needs to prove his mind is in the race so he can willingly challenge those foes he will have to run down in the stretch. I’ll back him again on top wherever he shows up next.

Two Phil’s would have won both the Lecomte (G3) and the Risen Star if they were at Gulfstream Park, or any other short-stretch situation. Word is he might head to Turfway next, which should suit him nicely. I’d back him to win in that spot.

Sun Thunder. Got a perfect trip from Brian Hernandez Jr., but still, he stepped up nicely and was game through the added distance. My opinion on him going forward will be totally price dependent.

Victory Formation. Cannot get the distance.

The Rachel Alexandra (G2)

Pretty Mischievous. Brendan Walsh has done excellent work with this talented runner who has been putting on weight, training steadily and won a nice race in the Rachel Alexandra. She seems poised to step forward again. It’s still a blurry division, but I don't see any reason why she can’t win the Fair Grounds Oaks, maybe even the Kentucky Oaks.

Vahva tended to the pace, saved ground, but got shut off on the rail in the second turn. She ran nicely, and I would take her against lesser, but would not back her on top in the Fair Grounds Oaks.

Hoosier Philly. What a flat effort. There are a list of things that could have contributed to such a poor comeback effort, but the bottom line is this filly did not run like a racehorse. She won as a 2-year-old based on talent, but never did she have to show heart or set down a run that demonstrates her mind is as mature as her muscles. I’ll keep a close eye on her, but I will fade her at the windows until I see otherwise.

Chop Chop. I blamed the trip in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1), but this filly just is not what she flashed in the Alcibiades. I am passing on her going forward. Also, I am downgrading The Alys Look, who beat Chop Chop in the Silverbulletday.

The Mineshaft (G3)

Pioneer of Medina tracked the leaders going 3-wide and dug in late as he often has before. Galloping out, he stayed in front of Mr. Wireless, all others, so not only was I impressed with this effort in terms of speed and heart, but thinking about the New Orleans Classic (G2), I am interested in backing this Todd Pletcher runner going longer.

Mr. Wireless. I don’t see the wide-trip as an excuse for not finishing the deal in the Mineshaft. With three place-finishes in a row, one has to ask if he has difficulty passing horses to win. This runner shows up every time, and he continually gets overlooked by bettors, but he remains a horse to use underneath for me.

Run Classic. I don’t think he wants to go any longer than 1 1/16 miles, but I am definitely in agreement with Bret Calhoun that his five-year-old can get the distance. He ran well, tending to the pace, but with all that being said, it would take a specific pace-scenario/field for me to back him to win. Still, he could continue to offer value underneath wherever he shows up next.

Tawny Port. The grinder who stepped forward nicely over his three-year-old summer had no excuses in the race. This was just his first start as a four-year-old, and he should run better next time, but still, he showed me nothing worth putting my money behind. I want to fade this runner going forward until he proves otherwise.

Undercard: Race 8, 3-year-old Allowance

Denington. He worked impressively coming into this and in fact foreshadowed his willingness to leap for the wire unasked in a work on Saturday Feb. 11. I’m a buyer that this three-year-old has talent and heart. Can he get the distance for the Derby? Undoubtedly.

Cagliostro. Cherie DeVaux’s runner took a mighty step forward finishing second in the salty allowance, which poses a question horseplayers will need to ask in his next start: as an improving three-year-old, will he improve off that effort or is he a bounce candidate? The word around the barn is they were just waiting for him to mature mentally. He demonstrated that he has, and I see his performance last Saturday as his new baseline, which he will move up from in his next race.

Tapit Shoes. Cyberknife’s half-sibling seems to be on par with his Kentucky Derby qualifying brother. Cyberknife won this same race last year on Louisiana Derby Preview Day, and though Tapit Shoes did not win, he showed his natural speed and ability to stay on. Similar to Cagliostro, when runners first show they have matured, I want to play them to take another step forward in their next race. Tapit Shoes is definitely a threat going forward.

Banishing. His coat looked dull in the paddock and likewise his performance on the track. The stall mishap in January certainly set him back, or at least messed up with the timing of his preparations. Word from the barn is they won’t rush him just to get a spot in the Derby. I’ll be keeping an eye on him in the mornings, but with just one loose-on-the-lead big performance, I will not be backing him going forward.