The road to the Louisiana Derby kicks off on Saturday at Fair Grounds with the LeComte (Grade 3, $200k), going 1 mile/70 yards. They drew the race last Friday, eight days out, and landed a very nice field of 12, headed by Untrapped and Saints Fan, who are co-morning line favorites at 9-2 (without running a route between them).
Before this race is discussed, we have to mention the unfortunate equine herpesvirus situation at the track, which is preventing shippers from coming in and could, if more positives are found, lead to scratches from this race. Hopefully, everything remains clean, but it’s certainly something to be aware of.
Let’s take a look at this compelling 12-horse field, where we like a Tom Amoss charge to pull a minor upset.
This is a very tough race and you can make a case for probably eight or nine of the 12 entered. We’ll go horse by horse, in post position order (morning line odds).
1 – Phat Man (12-1) – The 77 Beyer figure he earned breaking his maiden puts him right there, but that was earned on the lead in the slop and there is other speed in here.
2 – Arklow (10-1) – He finished second to Takeoff last time when that one wired the field. Arklow sat on the inside in that race, angled out at the top of the lane, and was running well down to the wire. He had some trouble in his previous start and could get a nice ground-saving trip in this race for trainer Brad Cox.
3 – Totality (12-1) – We noted Rowdy the Warrior in the Southwest Monday at Oaklawn, and this horse beat that one, also dealing with a very slow pace, in the Springboard Mile at Remington in December. However, Totality saved ground in that race and this is a tougher field top to bottom (save Uncontested, the Southwest winner) than this one. He would be a surprise.
4 – Shareholder Value (6-1) – They ran this horse twice on turf to start his career (he’s the first foal from an unraced dam but the second dam was a four-time turf winner), before he broke his maiden in an off-the-turf race at Keeneland on October 21st. That spurred a try in the Kentucky Jockey Club, where a poor break put him behind the eight-ball right at the start. Expected to show speed, he was far back early, had to rally in between horses, and then never really got clear against a pretty good group of (then) two-year olds. Then in his first race at Fair Grounds, Shareholder Value, was very rank being held back off the pace, got shuffled back on the turn, and had to bull his way out of trouble, finally leveling off and crushing a field of allowance runners. While that race was slower than the Arklow/Takeoff race on the same card, they had relatively easy trips compared to Shareholder Value, who should get some more pace to attack today.
5 – Untrapped (9-2) – The co-morning line favorite off a blowing maiden win at Churchill Downs, he stretches out to two-turns for the first time. He ran a perfectly fine debut race behind subsequent Southwest winner Uncontested in his debut and broke his maiden in his second start. It doesn’t appear the distance will be a problem. FWIW, Steve Asmussen is 4-22, $2.00 ROI going sprint-to-route on dirt in graded stakes, but of those four winners, two were champions (Untapable and My Miss Aurelia) and two were stretching to one-turn miles. He’s a tough call, and I think he can win, but as a shortish price in a wide-open race, we’ll look elsewhere on the top end.
6 – Marco Mischief (20-1) – While he is first time on a fast track (presumably), he’ll have to take a significant step forward to contend.
7 – Tip Tap Tapizar (12-1) – Well-seasoned runner (six starts) got caught in a fast pace last time in the Delta Jackpot and had a throw-out trip (he was soundly bumped at the half mild pole) in the Saratoga Special four-back, but he is going to have to improve off of his other races to find the winner’s circle in this race.
8 – Guest Suite (5-1) – If someone out of this race wins the Louisiana Derby, I think it will be him. He broke his maiden at Keeneland from the 11-post going 8.5 furlongs, which is not easy, fast pace or not. In the Street Sense at Churchill Downs, he had some traffic in between horses on the turn, ran fine when he got out, but it was too late behind McCracken, who returned to win the Kentucky Jockey Club. Guest Suite went to an allowance race instead and crushed a field going a one-turn mile. There should be some pace to help him today as well. My one concern would be that trainer Neil Howard is a very patient trainer that brings his runners along slowly, and certainly this race is not the one he is focusing on. That said, he’ll be a major factor for us in our play.
9 – Running Mate (10-1) – He did not run especially well in the Sugar Bowl last time after wiring a maiden field at Delaware and an allowance field at Fair Grounds. He stretches out today for the first time and is at least a pace factor. He’s working well (three straight bullet works), though trainer Larry Jones is just 5-33 with a $1.35 ROI going sprint to route on dirt. His pedigree says the distance won’t be a problem, but he’s going to have to chase the pace and then finish, not an easy task, though he should have the foundation after three sprint races. He’s a tough call, but usable (though I think he could be lower than his 10-1 morning line).
10 – Takeoff (6-1) – He wired a maiden field beating Arklow last time (a race that was faster than Shareholder Value’s allowance on the same card). That said, he set a very slow pace while clear and at 6-1 from an outside post, we’ll have to let him beat us.
11 – Pat on the Back (12-1) – He’s a two-time stakes winner, though both were against New York-breds, once at Finger Lakes and once on a sloppy track at Belmont. He comes out of the Delta Jackpot where he tried to close but was a bit overmatched. This field is tougher than anything he’s faced and the post is no bargain.
12 – Saint’s Fan (5-1) – This a Dallas Stewart show – he bred, owns, and trains Saint’s Fan, who is 2-2 with off-the-pace sprint wins at Churchill Downs and at Fair Grounds against Louisiana-breds. The second, third, and fourth place finishers from his last start all came back to win and improve their figures. The lone sibling was a sprinter, though sire Tale of Ekati was a solid miler. He’ll probably be somewhat forward stretching out but a wide trip from a bad post could await.
The Play – Shareholder Value, off a few tougher trips, will be our pick to pull the small upset and will mostly let the stretch-out sprinters and Takeoff beat us. The play will be to bet Shareholder Value to win and play him in exactas with Guest Suite, Arklow, and a little Running Mate. Good luck!