Road to the Derby Kickoff Day Preview (with Picks)
Last night I was fortunate to emcee a very special event, the first Twin Spires Club VIP Stakes Mixer. We invited all of our Platinum and Gold VIPs for dinner and open bar in the Clubhouse on us and everyone enjoyed a preview of Saturday's six stakes on Road to the Derby Kickoff Day Presented by Hotel Monteleone. First, Racing Analyst Katie Mikolay interviewed two of our top horsemen, Neil Howard and Steve Margolis, about their careers and their entrants in Saturday's stakes. Then, Katie and I hashed out the races. It seemed a good time was had by all and I already can't wait for the next VIP Stakes Mixer on Feb. 17, the Thursday prior to Louisiana Derby Preview Day Presented by Lamarque Ford.
These events are by invitation only and if you want to make sure you're included in the future contact me and I can give you the details on how much you have to handle to reach the VIP level. If you attend the races or Fair Grounds OTBs on a regular basis it's probably easier to reach the VIP threshold than you think.
There were some interesting tidbits from both trainer interviews. Howard mentioned that Wilkinson probably ran back a little too quickly last time and may have experienced a slight bounce. He wasn't planning to enter the Lecomte but the horse has trained very well and turned a corner the past few weeks. Also, when he found out he could ride Garrett Gomez, who was already coming to town to ride Apart (Louisiana Handicap) and Aide (Silverbulletday Stakes) for Al Stall Jr., that sealed the deal.
Margolis, meanwhile, mentioned that his Silverbulletday pair, Bouquet Booth and Little Miss Holly, worked in company last time out and Bouquet Booth outworked her stablemate "just about a half-length."
I spent some time yesterday looking at Saturday's races in preparation for my segment with Katie and thought I'd share my picks here with a few short comments:
Race 1 -- The $60,000 F.W. Gaudin Memorial Stakes (older horses at six furlongs)
I'm picking morning line favorite Mambo Galliano, who has been very consistent overall, especially at Fair Grounds. Having had a break before the Thanksgiving Handicap and then a lot of time between that start and this I think he can run back to that effort.
Le Grand Cru is interesting but I think this is a tightener for something else a few weeks from now, probably at one of the middle distances he seems to prefer.
I’ll take Mambo over Early Return.
Race 6 -- The $60,000 Louisiana Handicap (older horses at 1 1/16)
Apart is making the first start of his 4-year-old year and I think now is a good time to beat him, when he'll be short odds.
Mad Flatter will be a square price. He obviously needs the lead to run his best and I think he’ll get it with James Graham from the four-hole and with Royal Express the only pace to his inside. He’s showing his customary speed in the mornings. I think Mad Flatter takes them all the way and Country flavor makes up ground for second.
Race 7 -- The Dr. A.B. Leggio $60,000 Leggio Memorial Stakes (older females at 5 ½ on turf)
In a race like this, so competitive and so deep, I look for a specialist. I don’t want a horse that might be able to step up or might like turf sprinting. I want a horse that’s sharp in her last few races, who loves sprinting on the grass. The closest I can find to that is Mullins Beach from the Malcom Pierce barn, coming off a win here last month and some surprisingly quick breezes over the surface.
Race 8 -- The $100,000 Silverbulletday Stakes (3yo fillies at 1 mile and 40 yards)
Bouquet Booth will come from off the pace, which is why I give her the edge over another promising filly in Aide. It's possible that Aide can relax more than we've seen but she hasn't proven it yet the way Bouquet Booth has. I can envision a scenario where Aide gets hung three-wide in the first turn while trying to make the lead from her outside post. Meanwhile, Bouquet Booth can tuck in behind the abundance of pace and come charging past in the stretch.
Race 9 -- The Grade III Colonel E.R. Bradley Handicap (older horses at 1 1/16 on turf)
I’ll take Joinem, very impressive winning the allowance prep for this. The Carroll barn has really taken their time bringing him along and I think this is his coming out party. Interestingly, Katie landed on the same horse at our preview and he's 8-1 on the morning line so I'm hoping this is a case of great minds thinking alike.
Race 10 -- The Grade III Lecomte Stakes (3yo at 1 mile and 40 yards)
Much has been made of Justin Phillip's antics in the stretch last time out but I'm not so concerned. In an interview yesterday, Steve Asmussen said this horse is kind as can be 90% of the time and just shows a wild hair now and then. He added that he likes the way the colt has trained in blinkers, which he'll wear for the first time in a race on Saturday. We saw the talent on New Year's Day and I think he's only going to get better with the blinkers and more experience. There's nothing wrong with even money as far as I'm concerned.
Very much looking forward to everything tomorrow. There's another interesting Horse Ownership Seminar with trainer Dallas Stewart in the Horsmen's Services office across from the 1/16-pole at 9:30 a.m. Then at 11 a.m., one of my favorite writers not just in racing but in sports overall, Sean Clancy, leads a lesson on "How to Look at Horses" in The Phoenix Room on the third floor. Clancy is a former steeplechase jockey who has created his own horse racing publishing empire with the Steeplechase Times and the Saratoga Special. He also makes some deals as a bloodstock agent and is one of those people I love to watch horses train with because he can pick out the good ones practically at first glance.
So come on out Saturday and do feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about all the happenings on track.