The field for this weekend’s $750,000 Louisiana Derby (gr. II) at Fair Grounds is similar to the recently concluded Florida Derby (gr. I) in one important way: Both major preps for the May 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) drew full fields of promising, but largely unproven 3-year-olds.
In the Florida Derby, it was longshots Ice Box and Pleasant Prince that stamped themselves as classic contenders thanks to big efforts at big prices. It remains to be seen which horses will do the same March 27 in a wide-open Louisiana Derby, but there is a good chance the result will shake up an already muddled Kentucky Derby picture even further.
Of the 13 sophomores drawn for the 1 1/8-mile Louisiana Derby (it was 1 1/16 miles last year), only two are proven graded stakes winners: lukewarm 7-2 favorite Discreetly Mine, who won the Feb. 20 Risen Star (gr. II) at Fair Grounds in wire-to-wire fashion, and Ron the Greek, upset winner of the Jan. 23 Lecomte (gr. III) over the same strip before finishing sixth in the Risen Star. A Little Warm, winner of the six-furlong Spectacular Bid Stakes at Gulfstream Park at the start of the year, is the only other starter with black type on his résumé.
E. Paul Robsham Stable’s homebred Discreetly Mine is one of two entered for trainer Todd Pletcher. The son of Mineshaft out of the Private Account mare Pretty Discreet was never seriously challenged in the 1 1/16-mile Risen Star, which is the local prep for the Louisiana Derby. Under Javier Castallano, the bay colt was allowed to get away with easy fractions en route to his 1 1/2-length score.
Graded stakes-placed twice as a juvenile and fourth to A Little Warm in the Spectacular Bid while encountering a troubled trip, Discreetly Mine will be stretching out to nine furlongs for the first time. It remains to be seen if he will grab an uncontested lead this time around, but early pace pressure could come from Marylou Whitney Stables’ Wow Wow Wow and/or Thoroughbred Legends Racing Stable’s The Program, trained by Hall of Famers D. Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert, respectively. Castellano will keep the mount and they will break from post 7.
Pletcher, who saddled Circular Quay to win this race three years ago, will also send out Twin Creeks Racing Stable’s Mission Impazible, a winner of one of four starts. The Unbridled's Song colt missed by a head in an allowance race in his season debut going six furlongs on the slop at Gulfstream, then was fourth in an even effort in the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) Feb. 20 at Oaklawn Park. Rajiv Maragh will ride for the first time.
Edward Evans’ A Little Warm, second choice on the morning line at 4-1, came from off the pace to win the Spectacular Bid in his season debut. After that, the Stormin Fever colt finished second by a length to multiple graded stakes winner D' Funnybone in the grade II Hutcheson Feb. 20 at Gulfstream after racing four-wide on the turn. Trained by Tony Dutrow, the homebred broke his maiden by 10 1/2 lengths last fall at Philadelphia Park. David Cohen gets the riding assignment this time.
“He’s been doing very well," said Dutrow's assistant Matt Koch. "He’s been training great. We’re expecting a good run out of him. He tries every time and he’s getting better every time. Personally, I think that he will enjoy the long distances.”
Also shipping in from South Florida with a buzz is Richard Pell’s Fly Down, who won a nine-furlong allowance race in his season debut Feb. 21 at Gulfstream for Nick Zito. The lightly-raced Mineshaft colt has won two of three starts and will be ridden by Jose Lezcano again. He worked a bullet four furlongs in :48 1/5 March 20 at Palm Meadows in his final tune-up for this race. Zito and Lezcano teamed up to win with Ice Box in the Florida Derby.
“He’s definitely built to go a distance. He’s got a nice, big stride on him," said Zito's assistant Tim Poole. "He’s a good-sized horse with a big stride and we’re very fortunate to have a horse like this. He’s performed up to expectation. We thought he was a nice colt and we’re just thankful he’s proved us right. Hopefully he’ll continue to prove us right.”
Also coming out of the Risen Star are Drosselmeyer, Stay Put, Ron the Greek, and Hotep—the fourth, fifth, sixth, and tenth-place finishers, respectively.
WinStar Farm’s Drosselmeyer was the beaten favorite in the Risen Star, but the confirmed closer chased a slow pace and was finishing gamely along the rail in his two-length defeat. The Bill Mott trainee, who won a 1 1/8-mile allowance contest at Gulfstream in January, will likely take from off the pace again under Kent Desormeaux, especially since he drew post 13.
Richard, Bertram, and Elaine Klein’s Stay Put also turned in a solid effort in his stakes debut, coming from way back after a half-mile to close ground while four-wide into the final turn. A son of Broken Vow trained by Steve Margolis, Stay Put is based at Fair Grounds, where he has worked three times since the Risen Star. Jamie Theriot will be in the irons once again.
Jack T. Hammer’s Ron the Greek came from last to win the Lecomte under James Graham, as he stormed down the center of the track to get up by 1 1/2 lengths. The Tom Amoss trainee picked off a bunch of horses in the Risen Star, but did not show the same kick when finishing 4 1/2 lengths back.
“You know, this race has some different variables from the Risen Star and by variables I mean horses coming into it that did not run their race in the Risen Star," Amoss said said. "So we can get a lot more speed in there. I think it will be a fair race and that’s what we want."
A couple of other local horses hoping to make a name for themselves are Al and Bill Ulwelling’s Backtrack, who is undefeated in two starts, and Stonestreet Stables’ Island Soul, a Steve Asmussen trainee making his third start of 2010.
$750,000 Louisiana Derby (gr. II, Race 10, 4:48 p.m. CDT), 3YO, 1 1/8 Miles (Dirt), All starters carry 122 lbs.
Horse, Jockey, Trainer, Morning Line Odds
1. Hotep, Patrick Husbands, Mark Frostad, 30-1
2. Mission Impazible, Rajiv Maragh, Todd Pletcher, 8-1
3. Fly Down, Jose Lezcano, Nick Zito, 8-1
4. The Program, Martin Garcia, Bob Baffert, 10-1
5. A Little Warm, David Cohen, Tony Dutrow, 4-1
6. Ron the Greek, James Graham, Tom Amoss, 6-1
7. Discreetly Mine, Javier Castellano, Todd Pletcher, 7-2
8. Island Soul, Robby Albarabo, Steve Asmussen, 20-1
9. Stay Put, Jamie Theriot, Steve Margolis, 10-1
10. Wow Wow Wow, John Jacinto, D. Wayne Lukas, 30-1
11. Mister Marti Gras, Shaun Bridgmohan, Neil Pessin, 30-1
12. Backtrack, Shane Sellers, Gary Scherer, 30-1
13. Drosselmeyer, Kent Desormeaux, Bill Mott, 5-1