Who Wins The Louisiana Derby?

The winter/spring meet at Fair Grounds wraps up this weekend with the track’s signature race, the $1 million dollar, Grade 2 Louisiana Derby on Saturday.

The race is the first domestic Derby prep offering top-tier qualifying points, distributing them on a 100-40-20-10 basis to the first four finishers.

It’s the last of four qualifying points races for Derby 148 held during the Fair Grounds meet.

It’s slated as the last race on a card of 12 with a scheduled Post Time of 6:45. Here is a look at the field.

1. SILENT POWER [ML 50-1] Jockey: Gerard Melancon. Trainer: Scott Gelner. He comes into the Louisiana Derby as a huge longshot and will be hard pressed to make an impression in the race based on his past performances. This colt has not visited the Winner’s Circle since taking his debut at Prairie Meadows back in June 2021. In his two starts at Churchill Downs last fall facing the toughest competition of his career, he was defeated by a combined 25 ½ lengths.

2. ZOZOS [ML 8-1] Jockey: Florent Geroux. Trainer: Brad Cox. He is the wild card in Saturday’s Louisiana Derby, as he takes a big class jump on the back of two solid Wins earlier this year. Look for him to race close to the early pace expected to be set by favorite EPICENTER; he’ll need to run faster to topple that foe, but he’s been training well at Fair Grounds and, if he takes the next step in what so far has been a solid forward progression, he could make some noise Saturday. Cox and Geroux teamed up to Win the 2020 Louisiana Derby with WELLS BAYOU.

3. CALL ME MIDNIGHT [ML 6-1] Jockey: James Graham. Trainer: Keith Desormeaux. He joined the Kentucky Derby trail as a 29-1 upset Winner in the January 22nd Lecomte Stakes, where he rallied to beat 8-5 favorite EPICENTER by a head. He showed promise late in his 2021 juvenile season with a sharp 3 ¼-length Win in a mile race at Churchill Downs and then closed out his campaign with a 7th-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes after traveling wide throughout. He won’t be ignored at the window again, but he will need a fast early pace to set up his closing kick and he might not get that Saturday.

4. CURLY TAIL [ML 30-1] Jockey: Colby Hernandez. Trainer: Dallas Stewart. His connections are taking a shot at the big time after this colt broke his Maiden in his sixth career start last month at Oaklawn Park. He’s an intriguing, late-developing longshot who will be hard-pressed to Win the Louisiana Derby but could spice up exotic tickets if he can improve off of his last effort. Jockey, Hernandez leads the Fair Grounds rider colony in earnings through March 20th and is 2nd in Wins, takes the mount for the first time Saturday- a plus. Trainer, Stewart, who Won the 1999 Louisiana Derby with 21-1 longshot KIMBERLITE PIPE, is not afraid to run high-odds contenders in marquee races, and he’s had success doing so.

5. KUPUNA [ML 8-1] Jockey: Reylu Gutierrez. Trainer: Bret Calhoun. Another improving colt who has a shot at joining the Kentucky Derby trail with a Win Saturday. KUPUNA broke his Maiden by a widening five lengths two races back in a two-turn, one-mile race at Oaklawn Park, and like several other Louisiana Derby contenders, he’s been training solidly at Fair Grounds over the past month. He’s twice posted an Equibase Speed Figure of 95, which is competitive in this field, and overall has not run a bad race yet through four starts.

6. EPICENTER [ML 7-5] Jockey: Joel Rosario. Trainer: Steve Asmussen. He is a deserving favorite based on his success over the past months at Fair Grounds. All of the other contenders here prefer to race well off the early lead, so there’s a good chance that EPICENTER will have things his way on Saturday, giving expert pace rider Rosario the opportunity to dole out sensible fractions and keep enough stamina in reserve for Fair Grounds’ long homestretch. Unless something unexpected happens, this consistent colt should finish no worse than 3rd Saturday, and he’s practically got a Derby starting-gate spot already wrapped up. If EPICENTER Wins the Louisiana Derby, he’ll solidify his status as one of the best 3-year-olds to compete at Fair Grounds this century on the road to the Kentucky Derby.

7. PIONEER OF MEDINA [ML 5-1] Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione. Trainer: Todd Pletcher. He ran well as a 17-1 longshot in the February 19th Risen Star Stakes, pressing the pace before leveling out in the stretch and ending up 4th. He Won two races in a row prior to the Risen Star, breaking his maiden at Tampa Bay Downs on December 22nd in a one mile and 40-yard race and then leading gate to wire in a January 22nd Allowance-optional claiming race at Fair Grounds and scoring by 1 ¾ lengths. He’s posted Equibase Speed Figures in the 90s for four straight races. This talented colt will need to up his game in order to upset EPICENTER, but it’s never wise to discount a Pletcher-trained runner in the Louisiana Derby– as he has Won this race a record four times.

8. GALT [ML 8-1] Jockey: Junior Alvarado. Trainer: Bill Mott. It’s do-over time for GALT in a Derby prep, as he enters here after surviving a near-disastrous incident in the March 5th Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream. He was racing near the back of the pack going through the far turn of that 1 1/16-mile race when he jumped over a fallen HIGH OAK (who clipped heels with another rival) and tossed jockey Joel Rosario. Both horse and rider came out of the race fine. GALT will look to regain the momentum he had heading into the Fountain of Youth. There’s a chance Alvarado could urge him into early contention Saturday to prevent EPICENTER from establishing an uncontested lead, but a more likely scenario has this colt sitting somewhere between 3rd and 5th early on, within striking distance, before making a bid for the lead on the far turn.

9. RATTLE N ROLL [ML 6-1] Jockey: Brian Hernandez Jr. Trainer: Ken McPeek. He was one of the most highly regarded Kentucky Derby contenders through the winter, based on his eye-catching Win last October in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity. After a lackluster effort in his 3-year-old debut, he arrives in New Orleans with a last chance at regaining that status and securing enough points to punch his ticket to Churchill Downs. He missed the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile due to a hoof abscess, and did not make his 3-year-old debut until the Fountain of Youth Stakes on March 5th, where he finished 6th, never in contention. McPeek said afterward that his colt “needed a race” to get back to full fitness. If that’s the case, this talented runner should be without excuses in the Louisiana Derby.

SUMMARY: #6 EPICENTER is clearly the horse to beat Saturday.  He should be able to control the pace here as he looks to Win his final tune-up for the Kentucky Derby. But with a Morning Line of 7-5 the Daily Racing Blog will look elsewhere for some Value- perhaps in a horse who doesn’t already have his ticket punched for the first Saturday in May.

That said, we’re going to take a shot with #9 RATTLE N ROLL. His 3-year-old debut in the Fountain of Youth was a disappointment, as he finished 6th. But a speed-favoring surface at Gulfstream Park was probably ill-suited for him. He seems primed for a better showing here at a distance he should appreciate.

THE PLAY: We’re going to do a Trifecta key with #9 RATTLE N ROLL in the top spot and underneath we’ll use #2 ZOZOS, #3 CALL ME MIDNIGHT, #6 EPICENTER, and #7 PIONEER OF MEDINA.

In multi-race wagers we’ll use #2, #6, and #9.

Best of luck no matter how you play it.

I

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