Sloppy Thursday but rain expected to yield at Fair Grounds; pace lacking in Louisiana Derby

March 24th, 2016

The skies opened Thursday morning and Fair Grounds was soaked well before the first post at 1:25 p.m. (CT), with a sloppy main track and no turf racing. But sunny conditions will rule Friday and Saturday should be dry as well, with the next wave of rainfall not expected to hit until evening.

Saturday’s main event, the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2), features a nice cast of 11, including the top five finishers from the February 20 Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds and Greenpointcrusader, who exits a runner-up to Mohaymen in the January 20 Holy Bull (G2) at Gulfstream.

At first glance, I’m struck by the lack of early speed in the large field. Candy My Boy is the likely pacesetter on paper, showing the way on a clear lead in the Risen Star, but trainer Roger Brueggeman doesn’t believe the colt has to be on the lead, citing his strong finishing kick in previous starts. And the Brueggeman barn is winning at a sizzling 27% clip this meet.

Don’t be surprised if jockey Francisco Torres takes a hold of Candy My Boy at the start, allowing possibly the Todd Pletcher-trained Battery to seize the initiative from post 3. Either way, a moderate early tempo appears likely.

A slow pace could compromise the chances of the late runners, a group that includes the formidable Mo Tom. A convincing winner of the January 16 Lecomte (G3) over the track, the Uncle Mo colt lost all chance at victory when forced to check sharply in upper stretch of the Risen Star but finished up nicely for third afterward, beaten only 1 ½ lengths by the winning Gun Runner.

Mo Tom is listed as the 5-2 morning line favorite for good reason – his supporters are buoyed by the likelihood that the Louisiana Derby is his biggest target this spring given the local connections and potential distance limitations for Triple Crown races.

Owned by Gayle Benson, Mo Tom is the namesake of her husband, New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, and is conditioned by New Orleans native and Fair Grounds kingpin Tom Amoss, who is on the verge of his 12th local training title. Amoss has never captured the Louisiana Derby; these connections want to be in the winner’s circle Saturday and probably aren’t too concerned about what comes next.

I expect Mo Tom to rally boldly late; it’s just a matter of whether he can be up in time given the projected pace scenario. And the fact that he’s waited until the stretch drive to offer his best turn of foot in the last two starts looms as another concern; he must avoid leaving himself too much to do turning for home on Saturday.

The $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) is the other race of major interest Saturday. Five of the last eight winners of the Kentucky Oaks (G1) have prepped at the New Orleans track, but Saturday’s winner figures to face a difficult task against the likes of Songbird.

The unbeaten 2-year-old champion will receive her final tune-up in the Santa Anita Oaks (G1), but Songbird still plays a part in the Fair Grounds Oaks handicapping discussion, with Land Over Sea finishing second to the superstar filly in both starts this year. It will be interesting to see how that forms transfers on the class drop.

I’ll take a closer look at Saturday’s stakes races in Friday’s blog from Fair Grounds.