October 1, 2020

Five points to ponder: Louisiana Derby

Sharecropper broke his maiden at Churchill Downs last fall (Coady Photography)

The Kentucky Derby (G1) is postponed to the first Saturday in September, the Arkansas Derby (G1) is shifted to the first Saturday in May, the Blue Grass (G2) and Sunland Derby (G3) are off, and the Wood Memorial (G2) is in limbo, but the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) is still on for Saturday.

The Fair Grounds’ signature event is the first worth 100 Derby points to the winner, with 40-20-10 to the next three. Whatever other scoring opportunities might be added during this longest-ever Derby trail, the Louisiana Derby winner will have a spot in the starting gate.

Here are my five points to ponder:

1. The first Risen Star division looked stronger than the second.

The prior local prep, the Feb. 15 Risen Star (G2), was split into two divisions. The first division featured more stakes performers and more with higher Brisnet Prime Power ratings. I should have described it as having greater strength in depth than merely more evenly matched. In any event, the first division lived up to its paper status when front-running winner Mr. Monomoy posted a faster final time (1:50.43) than second division hero Modernist (1:51.28).

Thus if you want to play the counterfactual game, how would Modernist have fared in an undivided Risen Star? And does that hypothetical apply to his chances here? Mr. Monomoy has since been sidelined, but the excellent second Enforceable (who came from far back) and the still-developing third Silver State are here to represent Division 1. To be fair, Modernist is very much on the upgrade for Hall of Famer Bill Mott, and he’s eligible to be better on Louisiana Derby Day. That said, the Wygod blueblood will have to be, especially parked on the far outside post 14.

2. The form of the second Risen Star division isn’t iron-clad.

If Modernist can reasonably claim improvement in the interim, his beaten rivals from Division 2 have counterclaims of their own. A couple had varying degrees of tough trips, while Modernist capitalized on his inside speed angle that day. A rematch has a good chance of scrambling the bare form.

Major Fed and Mailman Money, the respective second and fourth to Modernist, were making only their third career starts in the Risen Star, and Lynn’s Map was a sneaky sixth. Aside from gaining experience, the way Major Fed stayed on dourly implies he’ll be helped by the step up to 1 3/16 miles, although he too needs to keep progressing. Mailman Money ran better than the bare result indicates. Hung out wide on the clubhouse turn, he got to the inside on the backstretch, had to go outside again on the far turn, threatened then tired late.

Lynn’s Map, unexpectedly lagging at the rear early, had to maneuver for running room in the stretch, and shrugged off a bump to gain late. To play another counterfactual, if he’d had his characteristically better position, Lynn’s Map arguably would have finished a lot closer – and he’d be a fraction of his 30-1 morning line. Remember he’d upset Mr. Monomoy in a Dec. 21 allowance, where future Rebel (G2) near-misser Excession was third in his optimal sloppy conditions.

The one with perhaps the hardest case to make for a Risen Star reversal is third-placer Ny Traffic, who set the pace contested by Modernist before yielding in third. His best talking point is that trainer Saffie Joseph is 20% in the blinkers-back-on category. If he somehow manages to clear early and relax, he’ll still have to see out the trip. (Also-eligible Mr. Big News, fifth in Division 2, would likewise have a hard case to make if he draws into the field.)

3. Collateral form from three other circuits is in play.

With shippers exiting preps from Santa Anita, Aqueduct, and Oaklawn, ordinarily I’d say that the Louisiana Derby will serve as a helpful test of the cross-country formlines. Yet the particular circumstances govern how informative it might be.

Royal Act’s close second in the Robert B. Lewis (G3) meant more before Thousand Words flopped behind Authentic and Honor A. P. in the San Felipe (G2). Even so, that was too bad to true from Thousand Words. And Royal Act has more to offer himself, considering that the American Pharoah colt is making just his second dirt start here. A big Fair Grounds performance from Royal Act – at this point a supporting actor on the Southern California stage – would underscore the depth of talent on the West Coast. Note that trainer Peter Eurton plundered last year’s New Orleans H. (G2) on the undercard with Core Beliefs.

Wells Bayou was just run down in the Southwest (G3). While the form was let down when Silver Prospector threw in a clunker in sixth behind Nadal in the Rebel, that doesn’t have to be a strike against Wells Bayou in this spot. Silver Prospector’s obviously better than his last result, and Wells Bayou has the potential to carve out his own destiny from post 3 with pace foe Ny Traffic wide. As a son of Lookin at Lucky and a Hard Spun mare from the family of Big Brown, Wells Bayou could hold on for some way.

Portos took an age to get going when third in the Withers (G3), and even with the increase to 1 3/16 miles, the Todd Pletcher pupil can’t afford to be as lackadaisical here. Whether he jumps forward or runs a vaguely similar race, it won’t give us a better read on Withers winner Max Player. After all, Withers runner-up Shotski was drubbed next out by Ete Indien in the Fountain of Youth (G2). We’ll wait for Max Player to speak for himself eventually.

4. Sharecropper could improve the most from a recent allowance prep.

I’ll confess to being smitten by Sharecropper since his Churchill Downs maiden win. Still, my bias doesn’t negate the fact that a trainer as conservative as Al Stall has entered him despite his fourth to Shake Some Action and Chestertown in a Feb. 15 allowance.

Unraced since his Oct. 27 score, Sharecropper likely needed that comeback, but his trouble in running is also worth highlighting. The Pioneerof the Nile colt tracked the pace with nowhere to go on the rail and didn’t find much once finally getting out. Right afterward, I thought for sure that Sharecropper was bound for another entry-level allowance. His presence in the Louisiana Derby could be a tell.

That’s not to underestimate the top two, only to forecast that Sharecropper could be capable of a bigger leap than his already race-fit rivals. The victorious Shake Some Action, a stablemate of Wells Bayou from the Brad Cox barn, is by hot leading sire Into Mischief (responsible for Authentic and Mischevious Alex) and out of a full sister to 2009 Demoiselle (G2) winner Tizahit. Shake Some Action uncorked a strong Brisnet Late Pace rating (105) to prevail in the allowance, but he had clear sailing. Chestertown earned a 103 despite being on hold himself at a decisive point, and he recently worked a 6-furlong bullet in company with Steve Asmussen comrade Silver State.

5. Tapit has three contenders led by morning-line favorite Enforceable.

If a Tapit trifecta is more theoretical than probable, the grand Gainesway patriarch promises to be involved in the Louisiana Derby finish. All three sons are fittingly gray.

Enforceable, tabbed as the 7-2 favorite on the morning line, is obviously his leading chance. The full brother to Mohaymen and Kingly, and half-brother to New Year’s Day, brings established form and just needs the right set-up for his closing kick.

Chestertown, the $2 million OBS March Sale topper a year ago, is the first foal from multiple Grade 1 star Artemis Agrotera. Inbred 3×3 to late Hall of Famer A.P. Indy, he is still putting it together. Portos, a Wertheimer et Frere homebred, is out of the stakes-winning Tiznow mare Fierce Boots. So far he’s shaped as a grinding galloper with no shortage of stamina.