Fair Grounds‘ road to the Kentucky Derby reaches its terminus Saturday with the $1 million dollar, Grade 2 Louisiana Derby. The Louisiana Derby is one of the oldest Derby prep races, first held back in 1894.
The field will travel 1 3/16 miles on dirt in this race, making the Louisiana Derby the longest Derby prep.
Since 1973, the race has been run as a Grade 2. It had been contested at 1 ⅛ miles for a majority of its history, having been extended to 1 3/16 miles for the first time in 2020.
Here’s a look at a few of the best Louisiana Derby Winners of the 21st century.
FRIESAN FIRE (2009) He had a chance to make history in the 2009 Louisiana Derby– no horse had ever swept their way through all three major Derby preps at Fair Grounds, but FRIESAN FIRE had the opportunity to do just that. He Won the Lecomte Stakes by 1 ½ lengths and then took the Risen Star Stakes by two lengths. Bettors showed their respect in the Louisiana Derby, sending him off as the 2-1 favorite on a sloppy track.
Like he had in his prior two Wins, FRIESAN FIRE enjoyed a stalking trip in the Louisiana Derby. Jockey Gabriel Saez rated him in 3rd off loose early leader PAPA CLEM. When that rival began to tire, FRIESAN FIRE made his move, seizing command and drawing off at the top of the stretch. He Won by 7 ¼ lengths, establishing himself as one of the Derby favorites.
FRIESAN FIRE ended up going off as the 7-2 Favorite in a very competitive Kentucky Derby, but he had some traffic trouble early on and finished 18th in a race Won by longshot MINE THAT BIRD.
GUN GUNNER (2016) He appeared on the Derby scene in the Risen Star Stakes. He made a solid move for the lead and then held off the late rally of longshot FOREVAMO for a half-length Win. Off that effort, he was the 4-1 third betting choice in the Louisiana Derby.
There may have been some doubters going into the race, there weren’t many left after a big Win by GUN RUNNER. He saved ground under Florent Geroux early on and then moved to the leaders on the turn. He drew away at the eighth pole to Win by 4 ½ lengths. That Win gave trainer Steve Asmussen his third Louisiana Derby Victory.
GUN RUNNER finished 3rd in the Kentucky Derby and then added two more Graded Stakes Wins to his résumé that year. It was as a 4-year-old, however, that he truly shined. He Won five Graded Stakes races in 2017, including four Grade 1s in a row. After his front-running Win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, he was a near-unanimous choice for Horse of the Year. He finished his career with a Win in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational in January 2018.
HOT ROD CHARLIE (2021) He carried an impressive resume into the 2021 Louisiana Derby, but had yet to Win a Stakes race. He capped off his 2-year-old season with a 2nd–place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. In his 3-year-old debut, he finished 3rd in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, having lost by a neck to MEDINA SPIRIT.
For his final Derby prep, HOT ROD CHARLIE was off to Louisiana. He faced a tough field that day, including Risen Star Stakes Winner MANDALOUN and Lecomte Stakes Winner MIDNIGHT BOURBON.
Breaking from Post-Position five, HOT ROD CHARLIE got to the rail and the early lead by the time the other runners reached the first turn. With MIDNIGHT BOURBON pressing him on the outside, he set honest fractions but continued to hold firm to the lead. He dueled with MIDNIGHT BOURBON through the stretch, but shook him off in the last sixteenth of a mile and pulled clear to Win by two lengths. He ran 1 3/16 miles in 1:55.06 to set a new track record !
HOT ROD CHARLIE enjoyed success for the rest of his 3-year-old season. He finished 2nd behind ESSENTIAL QUALITY in the Belmont Stakes, next he Won the Haskell Stakes but was disqualified for interference. Undaunted, he bounced back with an impressive 2 ¼-length Win in the Pennsylvania Derby.