June 24, 2024

Catching Freedom rolls in last-to-first Louisiana Derby

Catching Freedom wins the Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds (Photo by Hodges Photography / Credit to Lou Hodges, Jr.)

Albaugh Family Stables’ Catching Freedom established himself as a major Kentucky Derby (G1) contender with a last-to-first verdict in Saturday’s $1 million TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby (G2). Unhurried through the opening six furlongs, the Brad Cox pupil swept down the center of the Fair Grounds stretch to earn 100 points, and assure himself of a spot in the starting gate at Churchill Downs.

Catching Freedom now tops the Derby points leaderboard with 125, including points from his first stakes win in the Smarty Jones S. at Oaklawn Park and his close third in the Feb. 17 Risen Star (G2) here. The well-named son of Constitution and Catch My Drift had still appeared to be a work in progress, until putting it all together in the Louisiana Derby.

The 3.30-1 second choice, Catching Freedom was reversing form with 2-1 favorite Track Phantom, the Risen Star runner-up. Track Phantom again carved out the pace on Saturday, prompted by Common Defense through splits of :23.49, :48.33, and 1:12.54. The tempo wasn’t the sort to deliver a meltdown, so Catching Freedom simply had to kick on all the more to erase his deficit.

Under Flavien Prat, who earlier guided Cox’s Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) heroine Tarifa, Catching Freedom began to rev up rounding the far turn. Fellow closer Honor Marie was also on the move, just to his inside, and the two fanned out to deploy down the lane.

Meanwhile, Track Phantom was determinedly holding Common Defense at bay. But his stamina ebbed inside the final furlong, reminiscent of the Risen Star, and the momentum was all on the outside.

Catching Freedom, widest of all, outkicked Honor Marie to win going away a length. Covering 1 3/16 miles in 1:56.16, the bay returned $8.60.

“I didn’t know what to make of it early on, being so far back and with not much pace,” Cox admitted, “but Flavien did a great job of letting him inch up. He needed pretty much the entire stretch to get there and I am very proud of the effort.”

Honor Marie was likewise improving from the Risen Star, where he checked in a useful fifth in his comeback. With 50 more points in his account, the Whit Beckman trainee has a total of 65.

“He ran a big race,” new rider Ben Curtis said of Honor Marie. “He’s tough. He can get any trip, he’s so relaxed. I’m thankful to Whit for this opportunity.”

The Chad Brown-trained Tuscan Gold stayed on for an encouraging third in his stakes debut, earning 25 points. The Medaglia d’Oro colt raced in striking range early, then lost position turning for home before renewing interest late.

“This colt is still learning,” jockey Tyler Gaffalione said. “He’s got a lot of natural ability. My question coming into the race was seasoning. He had a couple hiccups in the race, but definitely a lot of room to improve, and I think he has a bright future.”

Track Phantom received 15 points for his fourth-place result, giving him 70. Yet the son of Quality Road and Grade 2-winning sprinter Miss Sunset has lost both starts at 1 1/8 miles and beyond, suggesting that he’d prefer to revert to the 1 1/16 miles of his Gun Runner S. and Lecomte (G3) scores.

“He ran very nice out there. I don’t know if it was the distance,” jockey Joel Rosario wondered. “It looked like it was a comfortable pace. He was relaxed and he gave me a kick but the others came strong at the end. Sometimes it’s hard to tell, but maybe he got tired at the end.”

Common Defense tired to fifth, worth 10 points for a total of 37. Antiquarian, who broke through the gate prior to the start, wound up sixth, followed by Agate Road, Next Level, Awesome Ruta, Hall of Fame, and the eased Real Men Violin. Triple Espresso was scratched in favor of the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3), where he was fourth in a traffic-ridden stretch run.

Catching Freedom has bankrolled $877,350 from a record of 5-3-0-1. A smashing first-out winner at Churchill Oct. 1, he was a troubled fourth in a Nov. 9 allowance beneath the Twin Spires. Catching Freedom had a better trip to win the Smarty Jones, but his tendency to lug in might have been costly when third in the Risen Star. The Louisiana Derby proved what he can do, setting up a fascinating rematch with Risen Star winner Sierra Leone in the May 4 Kentucky Derby.

Cox has his program in mind building up to Derby 150.

“We’ll make sure he is happy and healthy. We’ll ship him up to Churchill; he broke his maiden there, so he knows the place. Hopefully he can have a great six weeks and a big run the first Saturday in May.”