Updated March 22, 2018 - 6:21 pm
One more race.
With just six weeks until the Kentucky Derby, give or take a day, most horses being aimed for the race are going to run just once more to try to secure a spot in the starting gates. There was a time when that wouldn’t have been a given, but with the lighter preparations for Derby candidates in recent years that’s likely how it will go.
That means you need to pay close attention to the next round of Derby preps – beginning with this weekend’s Louisiana and Sunland derbies — whether you’re a hard-core handicapper or a casual fan. (The #RJhorseracing handicappers are all over the Louisiana Derby, as well as the Fair Grounds Oaks. Keep reading to see how they see the races.)
It also means it’s time to take another look at the Derby leaderboard, as that determines which 20 horses end up running in Kentucky.
The points system also could have an impact on how these late preps are run. Case in point:
In the Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds on Saturday, My Boy Jack, Noble Indy and Snapper Sinclair — three of the race’s four top contenders — are legitimate Triple Crown prospects. But they’re going to be left on the outside looking in if they don’t run well right now, with the final points cutoff this year likely to be in the high 20s to low 30s.
Snapper Sinclair, with 22 points, is 13th on the leaderboard, but that total isn’t likely to hold up, with the late prep races that award big points.
My Boy Jack (12 points) and Noble Indy (10 points) are in more precarious positions. The former is No. 20 on the points list and the latter is 26th.
That means their trainers need to have them ready to run good enough in Louisiana to earn points – a fourth would likely do, but third would be safer — but still have gas in the tank for the first Saturday in May.
Bravazo, on the other hand, the co-second choice on the morning line at 7-2, already has 54 qualifying points, plenty to ensure a start in Kentucky. Do you think D. Wayne Lukas is going to tell jockey Gary Stevens to try to win the Louisiana Derby at all costs? I don’t. I think he’ll run a solid race and probably hit the board, but I don’t see him winning unless the race falls into his lap.
If he doesn’t win, though, don’t downgrade his chances in Louisville. Instead figure that Coach Lukas has his eyes on the big prize.
#RJhorseracing featured races
The #RJhorseracing handicappers advance down the road to the Triple Crown with the $1 million, Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, but also dive into the 3-year-old fillies division via the Fair Grounds Oaks, also a Grade 2 race.
In the Grade 2 Oaks, a 1 1/16th-mile race immediately preceding the Louisiana Derby, the crowd ‘cappers give 3-1 second choice Wonder Gadot the narrowest of edges over 5-2 morning line favorite Classy Act, with Eskimo Kisses (9-2) the pick for third. I’ll put a few doubloons on long shot Patrona Margarita (10-1), who will need to improve in her second start off a layoff, and box her in an exacta with Classy Act and Wonder Gadot.
In the Louisiana Derby, run at 1 1/8th mile, the handicappers are siding with My Boy Jack, the 5-2 morning line favorite, but only narrowly over Bravazo and Noble Indy, co-second choices at 7-2.
“Faced tougher in SoCal and drilled solid field in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn,” wrote handicapper Carlo “TheIronHorse” Campanella, playing along on Twitter.
I like Noble Indy to resume his winning ways with the addition of blinkers.
Join the fun next week by emailing me or following me on Twitter and letting me know you’d like to get involved.
Ellis Starr’s Louisiana Derby analysis
My Boy Jack, winner of a turf stakes at 2, improved significantly in his second race as a 3-year-old when winning the Southwest Stakes in convincing fashion last month. My Boy Jack returned to the races in January in the Sham Stakes, his first dirt race since his debut seven months earlier. In the Sham, although no match for the top two finishers, My Boy Jack did manage to finish third, earning a 98 Equibase speed figure. That demonstrated enough for trainer Keith Desormeaux to enter him in the Southwest Stakes, a test he passed with flying colors to earn a 106 figure. Shipping back to the trainer’s home base in Southern California since the Southwest and putting in three workouts, My Boy Jack comes east once more while appearing capable of running back to his 114 figure effort last summer, that kind of effort making him the one to beat in this year’s Louisiana Derby.
Snapper Sinclair, like My Boy Jack, was a stakes winner last year on turf. After a 12th place effort in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, Snapper Sinclair took a similar path as My Boy Jack as trainer Steve Asmussen tried him on dirt in his first start at 3. In that race, the LeComte Stakes, Snapper Sinclair ended up third of 13 after pressing the pace in the early stages. Five weeks later, Snapper Sinclair ran his best race to date when battling head-and-head for the last seven-eighths of a mile in the Risen Star, coming up a nose short on the wire to Bravazo with a career-best 110 figure. With five weeks of rest since that effort, Snapper Sinclair should run as well or better in the Louisiana Derby, particularly with a jockey change to Jose Ortiz, currently the fifth leading rider in North America.
Noble Indy finished third behind Bravazo and Snapper Sinclair in the Risen Star as the second betting choice at 5-2. That was just the third start of his career and although he did not win, as he had in both his previous races, Noble Indy earned a career-best 106 figure in the process. Trainer Todd Pletcher is equipping Noble Indy with blinkers for the first time and that just may be what he needs to run better based on the fact he was third over the course of the entire stretch run of the Risen Star. If the new equipment helps him to focus more on the task at hand in the late stages and to improve his figure just a bit, Noble Indy could stamp himself a strong contender for the Kentucky Derby in six weeks.
Bravazo was my choice last month based on the fact he placed second in a graded stakes (the Breeders’ Futurity) as a 2-year-old and had an excellent prep race in January when making his first start at 3. That effort earned Bravazo a career-best 104 figure, which improved to a 110 figure when he won the Risen Star. Now third on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leader board with 54 points, Bravazo just needs to stay in top shape as that point total assures him a spot in the starting gate in Louisville on the first Saturday in May. Bravazo worked exceptionally well in preparation for the Louisiana Derby so another top effort should be forthcoming. However, it may be other horses that need to finish first or second in the race may run the best races of their careers while Bravazo won’t be pushed to his limit until the Kentucky Derby, leading to one of the other contenders emerging victorious in this race.
Ellis Starr is the national racing analyst for Equibase. Visit the Equibase website for more on the race or to purchase handicapping products.