When it comes to A-list 3-year-old talent, this year’s Louisiana Derby is an example of a race that is an inch deep and a mile – actually 1 3/16 miles – wide. It’s a Kentucky Derby prep featuring 14 solid, but heretofore unspectacular, horses all in search of a breakout performance.
Set for Saturday at New Orleans’ Fair Grounds, the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby will run without spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s the first race on the Kentucky Derby Trail to offer 100-40-20-10 qualifying points to the top four finishers, and the first Derby prep run after Churchill Downs officials moved the race to September.
Race officials at Fair Grounds added a half-furlong to this year’s race, making the distance 1 3/16 miles instead of its traditional 1 1/8 miles. This is one element that makes the race even more competitive and trickier to handicap than usual. The extra distance and generally equal level of talent means you can make cases for several horses to emerge.
That said, history brings us elements that show what kind of horse can emerge with those 100 points.
Louisiana Derby Odds
- Major Fed, 8/1
- Mailman Money, 15/1
- Wells Bayou, 8/1
- Chestertown, 15/1
- Social Afleet, 50/1
- Shake Some Action, 15/1
- Sharecropper, 20/1
- Royal Act, 10/1
- Portos, 8/1
- Enforceable, 7/2
- Ny Traffic, 15/1
- Lynn’s Map, 30/1
- Silver State, 6/1
- Modernist, 6/1
First off, speed. The kind of tactical, consistent speed possessed by stalkers and pace-setters. The deep field makes it difficult for closers to pick their way through traffic and easy for them to get hung out wide around the far turn. Only two winners in the last 10 years managed to rally from the back half of the field, and only one front-runner captured the title.
This rules out early speed horses such as Ny Traffic (15/1) and Modernist (6/1), one of the favorites. The fact that Ny Traffic’s best Equibase Speed Figure is 97 and Modernist’s 93 further bears this out. Modernist won the second division of last month’s Risen Star and can factor here, but dealing with faster horses such as Enforceable, Silver State, and Royal Act – along with an outside post – makes this a tough ask.
Enforceable Becomes Tepid Favorite
Speaking of Enforceable, this shines unfavorable light on the 7/2 favorite. He’s local, which is good. Seven of the last 10 Louisiana Derby winners ran the Risen Star. He has a stakes win with his late finish to win January’s Lecomte Stakes, which is also good. He closed – albeit late – in the first division of the Risen Star last month, he’s bred for distance, and he should, by all measures, hit the board.
But his closing style demands jockey Julien Leparoux gets him out of traffic on the backstretch and into position at the top of the stretch.
For tactical speed, look to Wells Bayou (8/1) and Royal Act (10/1). Both own triple-digit Equibase Speed Figures; Wells Bayou a 101 in his runner-up at the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes in January and Royal Act a 100 on turf in the Eddie Logan and field-best 106 in the Robert B. Lewis his first dirt trip.
With that speed, you want to mix favorites and longshots on your tickets. Four of the last 10 winners started as the favorite, while four others started at 7/1 or less. The betting favorite has hit the board in nine of the last 10 years.
But given the deep field, weird things happen. Hero of Order set the upset table in 2012 when he won at 109.4/1. Last year’s winner, By My Standards, went off at 22.5/1. Three times in the last decade, the runner-up hit at odds greater than 19/1.
March Madness is a Trend
The other two trends to watch are Todd Pletcher-trained and March-born foals. Pletcher owns four victories and four runners-up in this race since 2007, which brings attention to Portos (8/1). His pedigree screams distance runner. His sire, Tapit, produced three of the last six Belmont Stakes winners and all five of his starts have come at 1 1/16 miles or longer.
Having reigning two-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard doesn’t hurt either, although Portos is a closer.
As for March-born foals, well, for whatever it’s worth, nine of the last 10 race winners were born in March. The outlier to that was 2013 winner, Revolutionary, who was foaled Feb. 20. That said, there isn’t a March foal in the field.
The closest is 30/1 shot Lynn’s Map, who just missed with his April 1 birth. He does have tactical speed and Fair Grounds experience, so given everything else in play here, an upset isn’t off the board.