The Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans, Louisiana is one of the oldest horse racing tracks in the United States and on Saturday this venerable old lady of the Crescent City hosts the 100th running of the Louisiana Derby. Fourteen three-year-old colts are expected to load into the starting gate on Saturday in an attempt to earn a place in the 2013 Kentucky Derby. As a key prep race on the road to the Kentucky Derby, the top four finishers of the Louisiana Derby will earn 100, 40, 20 and 10 points, respectively, towards a spot in the starting gate in Louisville on the first Saturday in May.
Let's take a look at the field and top contenders for the 100th Louisiana Derby:
Grade 2 Louisiana Derby
Track: Fair Grounds Race Course
Distance: 1 1/8 miles
Purse: $1 million
Post Time: 6:44 pm Eastern
Kentucky Derby Points: 100 (1st), 40 (2nd), 20 (3rd), 10 (4th)
1-Hip Four Sixtynine (30/1): He broke his maiden in his most recent start, so at least Hip Four Sixtynine is coming into this race off of a win. On the other hand, this colt has never even sniffed graded stakes company and he was beaten badly in his only try a racing around two turns.
2-Palace Malice (5/1): While this colt has just a maiden win under his belt, he ran a good second to Ive Struck A Nerve in the Grade 2 Risen Star at the Fair Grounds in his last start. On paper, the Risen Star came back a pretty strong race (fourth place finisher Oxbow finished second in the Rebel at Oaklawn on March 16), and Palace Malice ran well despite running a bit wide at times during the race. He's an interesting contender in this spot but has one little negative in his corner: jockey Rosie Napravnik, the top jock at the Fair Grounds, will not ride Palace Malice in the Louisiana Derby as she'll be in Florida to ride Shanghai Bobby in the Florida Derby. Edgar Prado picks up the mount on Palace Malice.
3-Revolutionary (3/1): He had a rough trip in the G3-Withers at Aqueduct last time out but made a nice late run to get the win. The home stretch at the Fair Grounds is quite long which shohld give Revolutionary plenty of time to run down his rivals in deep stretch. However, this colt tends to get himself into trouble fairly regularly and in a big field like this race, he can't afford to make things any more difficult than they already are.
4-Golden Soul (20/1): This colt finished a well-beaten second to Oxbow in the G3-Lecomte back on Jan. 19 but ran an even race in the Risen Star last month. He only lost by 2 ¾ lengths in the Risen Star but he never looked like a winner at any point of the stretch drive. This colt is good enough to finish in the top four in this spot and could be a nice horse to include in some of the deep exotics.
5-Whiskey Bravo (30/1): He won a $50,000 maiden claiming race at the Fair Grounds in late January followed by a whole lot of nothing. His last race at Sam Houston Park was decent on paper but he needs to be much better on Saturday to beat this group.
6-Sunbeam (12/1): A Louisiana-bred colt entering the Louisiana Derby on a three race win streak, with all three races coming against Louisiana-bred competition. He's run well at the Fair Grounds, which is a nice plus, and he's performed well at two turns.
7-Departing (8/1): At first glance, this colt is facing a tough task after exiting an ungraded stakes race at Sam Houston and now facing a full field of rivals in a grade 2 race. But upon deeper inspection, this colt is in excellent form right now, is undefeated in three lifetime starts (two of which came at the Fair Grounds), and he appears to be developing at just the right time to run a big race. Additionally, his tactical speed should put him right into the mix from the moment the field leaves the starting gate. He's got a shot.
8-Code West (9/2): A son of Lemon Drop Kid, Code West narrowly missed winning the Grade 2 Risen Star in his last start when he lost by a nose to Ive Struck A Nerve at the wire. He's a legitimate threat to win this race.
9-Proud Strike (10/1): He was eighth in the Risen Star after prompting the pace for the first time in his career (and subsequently fading in deep stretch). He'll probably revert back to his off-the-pace running style in this race as Corey Nakatani takes over for Gary Stevens.
10-Titletown Five (8/1): The expected pace setter for the Louisiana Derby finished second in the ungraded Gazebo at Oaklawn Park back on March 2. Titletown Five has never raced longer than seven furlongs in his career.
11-Mylute (12/1): A son of champion sprinter Midnight Lute, Mylute finished seventh in the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds on Feb. 23 and he gives a good account of himself almost every time he steps onto the track. He might not be the most likely winner of the Louisiana Derby but he's a horse to consider playing in the trifecta or superfecta.
12-Brazilian Court (30/1): He won a $50,000 maiden claiming race at Gulfstream by 19 ½ lengths back on Jan. 30, so he's got that going for him. Seems like a tough spot to try graded company for the first time.
13-Ground Transport (20/1): Here's another local gold that's run a couple of really nice races against lesser competition this sprint. He broke his maiden at the Fair Grounds back on Jan. 19, and followed-up with a win over Optional Claiming/N1X company in late February. He's 2-for-2 when racing two turns at the Fair Grounds and his only defeat was to Departing in his debut.
14-Nina's Dragon (30/1): Finished second in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate back on Feb. 16 but has yet to win a race over dirt in his career.
When I started handicapping this race I figured that I'd probably end up picking Code West or Palace Malice or Golden Soul, one of the logical horses in the field. But as I kept pouring through the running lines I repeatedly came back to two colts time and time again: Departing and Ground Transport.
On paper, the Louisiana Derby appears to be a wide-open race containing a number of horses that have a real, legitimate shot to win. As a result, I'm looking for a couple different things in the winner: A colt that's improving and that's run well over the surface in the past. Departing fits both of those requirements to a "T" and he's a nice 8/1 on the morning line (although I expect him to get bet down to the 5/1 range come post time).
I don't like the post position for Ground Transport but I think he's good enough to run a competitive race at big odds. I think Departing is the more likely winner between the two so I'll put most of my win bets on Departing and then play an exacta with Departing above Ground Transport and Code West.