Catching My Eye: Morning Breezes Ahead of Louisiana Derby Preview Day

February 16th, 2023

As the three-year-old campaigns build momentum and with Louisiana Derby Preview Day on Saturday, the morning workouts at Fair Grounds have been heating up.

I’ve been watching the workouts of the likely runners in the Risen Star (G2) and the Rachel Alexandra (G2) closely, as well as talking to the barns, riders, and clockers to get a clear picture of the Derby and Oaks dreamers. Now that we know the fields, here’s a roundup of some stand-out morning drills. Also included are some thoughts on other stakes runners and Derby dreamers entered on Saturday’s card. 

The Louisiana Derby Preview Day showcases six stakes. In addition to the $400,000 Risen Star and the $300,000 Rachel Alexandra, Saturday’s program also features the $250,000 Mineshaft (G3), the $150,000 Fair Grounds S. (G3), the $100,000 Albert M. Stall Memorial S., and the $100,000 Colonel Power S. The eighth race is an allowance for three-year-olds, and six of the eight runners are Triple Crown nominated. The all-stakes Late Pick 5 has a guaranteed pool of $500,000.

Risen Star (G2)

Tapit’s Conquest. Moving in company, the pair set off right behind a pair from Brendan Walsh’s barn that included Rachel Alexandra contender Pretty Mischievous. Under the quiet guidance of exercise rider T.C. Stevens, Tapit’s Conquest pulled away from his partner, tipped out and took aim at the Walsh duo, beating them to the finish line. He finished up at the five-sixteenths pole, aka halfway through the second turn. This fella is ready to run.

It took a few thwacks with the reins to keep Victory Formation urging on through his breeze, though he did it in an impressive time: 1.00.40, the fourth best on the morning of Feb. 11. This runner should have no trouble breaking and finding a nice position near the front, but whether or not he can finish the deal at the nine-furlong distance is the question.

Two Phil’s breezed a bullet a couple weeks back, which was a fine move, but what impresses me most is what I’ve seen from him in his daily exercise. He carries himself like the king of the court day-in and day-out. The way he has been touting himself, and the fact that he feels so at home and confident on the track, for me, makes him a definite use in my exotics. 

Rachel Alexandra (G2)

Hoosier Philly has a look all her own. The gray Into Mischief filly out of the Tapit mare Tapella has an efficient stride powered by her big ole engine. She moves at such a high cruising speed, and she’s been motoring across the track, breezing bullets that are making her fans mouths’ water. I’m impressed. The price will be odds-on, but this is a single for me.

Vahva has been touting herself ever since returning from her getaway to Florida. Fully dappled out, her coat looks beautiful and she is moving through her morning exercise with ease. On Sunday she breezed under exercise rider Irwin Rosendo, who told me he has had a tight grip on the reins as she has been moving powerfully. In the bend she had to maneuver around a couple of slower horses on the rail, which she did so with ease, full of run.

Chop Chop worked with Comparative and made a move up on him in the stretch, evening things with a sixteenth to go, then she really pulled away nicely, which is exactly what Brad Cox is looking for with adding the blinkers. Upset potential.

Mineshaft (G3)

Big Blue Line was last Saturday’s show-stopper. His ears pricked back through the wire, he stayed professional in his gallop-out, fully in the rhythm of his stride. Paul McGee says he has always liked him, but even more so now as Big Blue Line has certainly taken a nice step forward. He can win the Mineshaft, and the value will be there.

Fair Grounds S. (G3)

Tiz the Bomb is back, and wow did he impress me. Working with stablemate Camp Hope, he was set up to run him down, and he did that and more so. As his rider sat motionless, Tiz the Bomb exploded by Camp Hope to beat him to the wire by five lengths, clocking in five furlongs in 1.01.60. Watch out for this runner—he’s live.

Race 8: 3-year-old Allowance

Willakenzie went well solo. Initially the idea was to get this War Front colt out of the Quality Road mare Road to Victory on the turf, but his debut was taken off the grass, and he did very well. The Cox barn likes how he has been training on the dirt, and I could see why as Willakenzie went smoothly through five furlongs in 1:01.80. Tough race to handicap, but even with the outside post, he’ll factor.

Cagliostro moved on the inside of a stablemate from the Cherie DeVaux barn going half a mile in 49.80 seconds. The three-year-old charged forward with a powerful stride and his workmate Pyrenees, a length behind, was urged by his rider to keep up but moved nicely as well.

The blinkers go back off for Denington after the trial run in the Lecomte (G3). I’m hearing from the barn that they didn’t like where he was positioned in that last race, where he was basically in chase mode throughout. On Saturday the blinkers were off and Denington impressed going five furlongs in 1:01.20 with stablemate Oddsontony, who’s listed as having the same time. They were even until the final yards, when Denington eyed the finish line and surged forward with ease to get there three-quarters of a length ahead. Watch out for this fella; he’s live and will be a price. 

Banishing on the rail kept ahead of his unraced Godolphin stablemate St. John’s throughout the stretch. He has a nimbleness to him that was always present before, but not as articulated as he demonstrated in this morning move. He certainly has been maturing into his long, lean form. Really nice move making five-eighths in 1.01.40.