Louisiana Derby Historical Winners

The road to the Kentucky Derby via Fairgrounds reaches its end on Saturday with the $1 million dollar, Grade 2 Louisiana Derby.

The entrants will travel 1 3/16 miles in this race, making the Louisiana Derby the longest Derby prep.

The Louisiana Derby is one of the oldest Derby prep races, first held back in 1894.

Since 1973, the race has been run as a Grade 2, with the exceptions of the years between 1985 and 1998 when it was a Grade 3 race.

It has been held 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 back at three of the most recent, noteworthy Winners.

GUN RUNNER (2016) This Steve Asmussen trainee appeared on the Derby radar 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 7-2 third betting choice in the Louisiana Derby.

There may have been some doubters going into the race, but there weren’t many left after His big Win. GUN RUNNER 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 was Asmussen’s third Louisiana Derby triumph.

GUN RUNNER ran 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. GUN RUNNER finished his career with a Win in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational in January 2018.


HOT ROD CHARLIE (2021) He had some impressive credentials heading 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.

For his final Derby prep, trainer Doug O’Neill chose to send him to Louisiana. He faced a tough field that day, yet HOT ROD CHARLIE was sent off as the 5-2 second choice.

Breaking from the five hole, HOT ROD CHARLIE got to the rail and had the early lead by the time the runners reached the first turn. With MIDNIGHT BOURBON pressing him on the outside, HOT ROD CHARLIE 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. His final time of 1:55.06 set a new track record for the 1 3/16 miles.

HOT ROD CHARLIE ran 3rd in the Derby behind MEDINA SPIRIT and MANDALOUN with ESSENTIAL QUALITY finishing 4th. He skipped the Preakness and in his next out finished 2nd to ESSENTIAL QUALITY in the Belmont Stakes.


EPICENTER (2022) The road to the Kentucky Derby for him went entirely through Fair Grounds with preps in the Gun Runner Stakes on December 26th, 2021 (Win), the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes on January 22, (2nd by a nose), and in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes on February 19 (Won). Next up was the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby.

In his final prep for the Kentucky Derby, EPICENTER changed tactics from his usual style, as he rated off the early lead and making his move on the turn. The strategy worked like a charm, as he took the lead entering the stretch and Won by 2 1/2 lengths. That race earned him 100 more Derby qualifying points, making him a leading point earner going into the Kentucky Derby.

In May, EPICENTER went off as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby. He rated off a fast pace and struck to the front at the top of the stretch and looked primed to give his trainer Steve Asmussen his first-ever Kentucky Derby Win until longshot RICH STRIKE came up the inside and pulled off a shocking upset, vanquishing EPICENTER to 2nd Place.  

Two weeks later, EPICENTER was sent off as the heavy favorite in the Preakness but again had to settle for 2nd, this time beaten by EARLY VOTING.

Later in the season, EPICENTER finally earned another bold-type Victory when he Won the $1.25 million Grade 1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga on August 27th. The Mid-Summer Derby had been the goal for EPICENTER and his connections since his Triple Crown letdowns. This time EPICENTER did not disappoint, earning the first Grade 1 Win of his career. 

For his overall season’s worth of accomplishments, EPICENTER received the Eclipse Award as Champion 3-year-old male of 2022.

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