Hanson: 2024 Louisiana Derby Day Spot Plays

March 22nd, 2024

The penultimate day of the 2023-24 winter meet at Fair Grounds on Saturday is also the biggest, highlighted by the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2). Before that comes 11 races, including four open stakes. Here are several horses of interest on the program.

Race 4 – Maiden (2:30 p.m. ET)

This maiden for three-year-old fillies over one mile on the turf might be a better spot for second-time starter #7 Justify Perfection (8-1). The daughter of Justify debuted going six furlongs on the main track but broke last and passed only two rivals before the wire.

Although she concedes experience to several others in the field with positive or indifferent turf form, she remains with upside and is appealing from a pedigree standpoint. Justify has developed into an excellent sire of turf performers, while half-sister Stormy Perfection was Grade 1-placed on the grass at two in the Natalma at Woodbine.

Race 6 – Allowance (3:30 p.m. ET)

Although trainer Kenny McPeek has endured a rough Fair Grounds meet with five times as many seconds and thirds as wins, #9 Interlock Empire (10-1) should come on from his comeback attempt at Oaklawn on Feb. 25. That was his first outing since July and only his second since last April.

The July effort was his only turf attempt to date, and he was beaten 3 1/2 lengths by a future stakes-placed runner and a rival that had previously captured the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3). Many in this field have been stuck at this first-level allowance condition a while, and he appears to fit with some mild improvement.

Race 8 – Tom Benson Memorial (4:32 p.m. ET)

She didn't get the best of trips when favored last out in the Marie G. Krantz Memorial in late January, but #6 Tufani (8-1) has performed well otherwise over this course, scoring in an allowance and in the Pago Hop S. to end her three-year-old campaign.

The short break might have done her good and I expect a step forward following several above-average works.

Race 10 – Muniz Memorial (G2) 5:36 p.m. ET

His sixth-place finish in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) was his worst in in more than a year, but #3 Webslinger (9-2) was still beaten only three lengths by world-class Warm Heart after a tough trip. Although winless since June, the Mark Casse trainee wasn't beaten much by Program Trading in a pair of Grade 1s at Saratoga and Del Mar late in the year. He's the pick to reverse form slightly with Pegasus runner-up I'm Very Busy.

Race 12 – Louisiana Derby (G2) 6:42 p.m. ET

Although not as accomplished as stablemate and morning line favorite Track Phantom, I doubt we saw the best from #2 Hall of Fame (8-1) in his stakes debut last month in the Risen Star (G2). His 10-plus length maiden win earlier in the meet is still one of the most dazzling by a three-year-old this winter, and much went wrong for him in the Risen Star, contested over a sloppy track and with little pace support from Track Phantom. Connections aren't readily giving up on him, and neither will I if this early price holds steady.