By Ryan Martin
A field of 11 sophomores has been set for Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots’ final prep on the Road To The Kentucky Derby – the 106th running of the Grade II $1 million Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby on Saturday, March 23.
Six weeks out from the Grade I $3 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, the Louisiana Derby is the first race on the Road To The Kentucky Derby that awards the Top 4 finishers points on a 100-40-20-10 scale and has been a notable stop for many hopefuls wishing to qualify for America’s most prestigious race. Such horses include the likes of 2017 eventual Horse of the Year Gun Runner as well as 2013 Kentucky Derby third-place finisher Revolutionary and eventual Grade I winners Girvin in 2017.
Heading the field is Grade III Lecomte and Grade II Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford winner War of Will who has been made the 6-5 morning line favorite by Fair Grounds odds maker Mike Diliberto and will look to sweep the series of local preps for the Kentucky Derby. Trained by Mark Casse and owned by Gary Barber, the son of War Front has not lost over the main track. After a quartet of performances on grass, he switched to the dirt with a five-length triumph in a maiden special weight at Churchill Downs in November, which was contested over a sloppy track. From there, he would go on to take the Lecomte and Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds and climb atop the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard garnering a total of 60 points towards the Run for the Roses. War of Will has also acquired the most lifetime earnings of the Louisiana Derby having banked a total of $491,569 with a lifetime record of 7-3-1-1.
Purchased from the Arqana Breeze Up Sale in Deauville, France War of Will is out of the Sadler’s Wells broodmare Visions of Clarity (Ire.) who is a half-sister to 1997 Grade I Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Spinning World. Visions of Clarity also produced 2010 Group 1 Vincent O’Brien National Stakes victor Pathfork. Other members of his family include North American Grade I turf winners Good Journey and Denon.
Regular rider Tyler Gaffalione will pilot War of Will from post six.
A handful of familiar faces will be taking another crack at War of Will including Risen Star runner-up Country House. Owned by Mrs. J.V. Shields E.J. McFadden and L N J Foxwoods, the son of Lookin at Lucky was beaten 2¼ lengths by War of Will in the Risen Star which was his stakes debut for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. He broke his maiden by 3½ lengths at third asking over a fast main track at Gulfstream Park on January 17. In his prior two efforts, he finished behind eventual stakes winner Empire of War and eventual graded stakes placed Kentucky Wildcat, respectfully.
Country House will break from post eight as the 9-2 second choice under jockey Luis Saez.
The third and fourth-place finishers of the Risen Star, Roiland and Hog Creek Hustle, will also be seeking the opportunity to turn the tables on War of Will. A James and Mary Durlacher homebred son of Successful Appeal, Roiland closed late ground in the Risen Star Stakes to finish third at odds of 69-1. He broke his maiden at first asking over the main track at Indiana Grand Race Course on August 31 and defeated winners two starts later at upset odds of 28-1. He is trained by New Orleans native Tom Amoss, who seeks his first victory in the Louisiana Derby and will be guided by jockey James Graham. Something Special Racing’s Hog Creek Hustle breaks from post 11 at odds of 12-1 under jockey Miguel Mena and will seek his first victory since defeating winners in a seven-furlong allowance event on November 10. Trained by Vickie Foley, the son of Overanalyze was a first out maiden winner at Ellis Park on August 18 and was a respective second and fourth behind War of Will in the Lecomte and Risen Star Stakes.
Trainer Bret Calhoun will send out a pair of Allied Racing-owned sophomores with Mr. Money (post seven, Adam Beschizza, 20-1) and By My Standards (post five, Gabriel Saez, 12-1). The latter of the two Calhoun trainees was a distant seventh behind War of Will in the Risen Star Stakes in his 3-year-old debut and rounded out the superfecta in last year’s Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs on November 2 at odds of 41-1. While the son of Goldencents has some graded stakes experience under his belt, By My Standards will enter the Louisiana Derby fresh off of a 4¼-length maiden victory over the local main track. Also by Goldencents, By My Standards found the winner’s circle at fourth asking but has finished in the money in his quartet of outings. He enters the Louisiana Derby off of an easy half-mile work in :49.80 on March 16 and fired bullets in his prior two breezes with a half-mile work in :47.20 (March 2) and a five-furlong work in :59.00 (March 9).
Trainer Todd Pletcher has won the Louisiana Derby a total of four times with Circular Quay (2007), Mission Impazzable (2010), Revolutionary (2013) and Noble Indy (2018). This year, he sends Wertheimer and Frere homebred Spinoff in hopes for a fifth Louisiana Derby triumph. The son of Hard Spun broke his maiden at first asking over the main track at Gulfstream Park last June and followed that win with a third-place finish in the Grade II Saratoga Special Stakes on August 12 behind Call Paul. He did not race again until February 22, but when he did, he returned to action in astonishing fashion with a 11¾-length romp against winners at Tampa Bay Downs.
Hall of Fame conditioner Steve Asmussen and owner Ron Winchell teamed up to win two Louisiana Derbies with Pyro (2008) and Gun Runner (2016) and they’ll be double dipping in this year’s race with Limonite (post three, Jose Ortiz, 20-1) and Bankit (post nine, Irad Ortiz, Jr., 20-1). The former of the two runners was fifth beaten 7¼ lengths behind War of Will in the Risen Star and is still seeking a victory against winners. The son of Lemon Drop Kid broke his maiden going seven furlongs over the Keeneland main track on October 6. Meanwhile, Bankit has the most amount of lifetime starts of any horse in the field having run eight times. The New York-bred son of Central Banker broke his maiden second time out at Saratoga on July 27 by 6¾ lengths and three starts later won Belmont Park’s Sleepy Hollow Stakes ollow by 5¾ lengths. He is seeking his first victory against open company as both of his wins took place against fellow New York-breds. Both horses are owned by Winchell in partnership with Willis Horton Racing.
Trainer Keith Desormeaux will send Grade III Southwest Stakes runner-up Sueno (post four, Corey Lanerie, 8-1) to Fair Grounds for the Louisiana Derby. Owned by Silverton Hill, the son of Atreides broke his maiden second time out for an $80,000 tag at upset odds of 24-1 nby 4 ¾ lengths at Del Mar on August 31 and shipped to Golden Gate Fields to win the Gold Rush Stakes on December 1 for his next start. A native of Lafayette, Louisiana, Deseromeaux seeks his first Louisiana Derby win.
Rounding out the field is Lemniscate (post two, Brian Hernandez, Jr., 15-1) for trainer Kenny McPeek who won the Louisiana Derby with Repent in 2002. Owned by Susan Mouton and Magdalena Racing, the son of 2000 Louisiana Derby runner-up Exchange Rate broke his maiden over the turf at Gulfstream Park on March 3 last time out, which was won at third asking. Sure to show some pace in the Louisiana Derby, Lemiscate ran on the lead in both of his last two outings. Prior to his maiden win, he was a close second over the main track at Gulfstream Park on February 9.
The Louisiana Derby (5:13 p.m. CT) is carded as the last of 13 races on Saturday, March 23 and is also the final leg of a $500,000 Guaranteed All Stakes Pick 4, which kicks off in the Grade II $400,000 New Orleans Handicap (Race 10, 3:34 p.m. CT). First post on Louisiana Derby day is 11:00 a.m. CT.