The 100 Point Derby Preps start this weekend with the UAE Derby in Dubai and the Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds. Some of the top three year olds from last season, Mandaloun, Hot Rod Charlie, and Midnight Bourbon used this race in 2021 as their penultimate start before the Derby. This season, the Risen Star, which is the local “prep” for this race, came up extremely strong last month. Epicenter put on a show that day, taking the lead early and drawing off in the stretch, before being eased up at the wire. He comes back again to start in the fourth and final race in Louisiana’s Road to the Kentucky Derby Series. While some of the other horses from that race will make their final Derby prep elsewhere, eight other challengers will be trying to punch their ticket to Louisville on the first Saturday in May.
Fair Grounds Saturday 3/26/22, Race 12: The Grade 2 Louisiana Derby
170 Total Derby points (100/40/20/10)
1 – Silent Power (50-1 ML, 400-1 Circa): His only career victory came in a 4 and ½ Furlong maiden special weight sprint in his debut at Prairie Meadows back in June. Since then, he hasn’t really been close to winning a race. His best effort was a 4th place finish last out in the restricted Big Drama Stakes at Delta Downs. This is a massive step up in class for a horse that deserves to be 99-1 or higher.
2 – Zozos (8-1 ML, 35-1 Circa): He’s the horse that enters this race with the least experience, only starting two times in his young career. So far, he’s done everything right, coming from off the pace to win a sprint race here in his debut, and then drawing off to win in allowance company at Oaklawn by over ten lengths. He’s an exciting homebred for Barry and Joni Butzow that is trained by Brad Cox and ridden by Florent Geroux. I was uncertain about his ability at two turns while picking against him last out at Oaklawn. While looking at his pedigree, I still think he’ll be more effective at one turn. I think to win this race today, he’d have to be special, which is certainly possible. However, he seems to be the common “wiseguy” horse in this race, so I fear he’ll be bet down to a price that is half of his morning line figure. That would be a lower number than I’d be comfortable taking on him.
3 – Call Me Midnight (6-1 ML, 100-1 Circa): The upset winner of the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes in January makes his second start of the year. He got the right setup and a perfectly timed ride from James Graham that day. Desormeaux intentionally kept him out of the Risen Star, which may prove to be the toughest Derby Prep race this season, in favor of waiting for this spot. He had a solid foundation as a two year old, racing six times, so skipping that race is not a concern for me. He’s another that seems to have a pedigree that may limit his effectiveness at longer distances though. I have some mixed feelings about him, and I have no idea how he’s going to be received by the public at the windows. If his odds float over the 6-1 mark and closer to 10-1, I’d be more inclined to upgrade him a bit.
4 – Curly Tail (30-1 ML, 300-1 Circa): He jumps right into stakes company after graduating from the maiden ranks in his sixth career attempt. While his last was his best career effort, consistency has not been a hallmark for this son of Curlin. Dallas Stewart likes to take chances with horses in major races and every now and then he connects with big longshot on a big stage. However, I don’t foresee that happening here.
5 – Kupuna (8-1, 200-1 Circa): This son of Hard Spun is trying stakes company for the first time this afternoon for Brett Calhoun. He was an open lengths winner two starts back at Oaklawn when facing an average maiden special weight there. He was a respectable second behind Cyberknife in optional claiming/allowance company on the Risen Star undercard. He (Cyberknife) appears to be headed to Arkansas for the Arkansas Derby next weekend, so a strong performance from Kupuna today, would certainly flatter him next week. I love the way Relyu Gutierrez has ridden at this meet, and he gets the return call today. I’m thinking this horse is a cut below the top contenders in this race though.
6 – Epicenter (7-5 ML, 12-1 Circa): The heavy favorite has been as good as anyone that’s currently on the Derby Trail this year. He kicked off his run by an impressive, open lengths win in the Gun Runner Stakes in December. He was narrowly defeated by Call Me Midnight in the Lecomte, while under pressure every step of the way in that race. He returned to win the Risen Star Stakes, a race which may prove to be the deepest prep race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. He comes here as the controlling speed once again on a course where he has had success. He’s already passed the nine furlong test, so adding the extra 1/16 of a mile isn’t a big concern to me, especially with how he finished last time. He took a big lead at the top of the stretch, and Rosario was able to ease up on him before crossing the wire. He’ll be a short price in this field, and deservedly so. My only trepidation with him is that he’s all but guaranteed to have earned entry into the Derby. They have the luxury of experimentation with this horse. Would Asmussen instruct Rosario to rate him off an early lead set by Zozos, Pioneer of Medina, or Galt? Personally, I think it’s more likely that he will be allowed to use his natural speed as a weapon in this race, and if he does, I think he’s the most likely winner.
7 – Pioneer of Medina (5-1 ML, 150-1 Circa): He took a big step forward when finishing fourth, 3 and ¼ lengths behind Epicenter in the Risen Star last month. He makes his sixth career start with his sixth different rider this afternoon as Tyler Gaffalione comes in to ride in place of Luis Saez, who’ll be in Dubai. He’s never run a bad race, consistently improving with each career try. He was in chase mode last out, pressing a solid tempo, just off the flank of Epicenter. He started to fall back when the race winner opened up, but he dug in gamely, finishing right behind both Smile Happy and Zandon. I thought his effort in the Risen Star was very good, finishing behind three more accomplished horses. I like that he has multiple starts at two turns, and he’s improved as the distances have gotten longer. I think this field, outside of the favorite, isn’t as strong, so to me, he’s a legitimate threat to be a part of the vertical exotics today.
8 – Galt (8-1 ML, 150-1 Circa): Songbird’s baby brother is one of two that are shipping here after running in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream three weeks ago. He did not finish that race as Joel Rosario fell off while trying to avoid a fallen horse. He was very good two starts back when finishing 4th in the Holy Bull behind White Abarrio, Simplification, and Mo Donegal. He drew the rail that day and used his post to put himself on the lead. He dug in gamely to be a clear 4th that day, running the best race of his career to that point. In his next start, he drew post 11 in the Fountain of Youth, and was relegated to the back of the field while trying to save ground. Despite his attempts, he was wide into the first turn and wide down the backstretch. As he started his acceleration, he was stopped in his tracks due to the spill. I think it’s fair to say there was no way he was going to be able to beat Simplification that day, however, had there not been an incident, I do think there’s a chance he could have hit the board. Longshot O Captain was able to save more ground, but he was in a similar spot down the backstretch, and he made up ground to get into third. He’s a horse that has been improving and has as good of a pedigree as you could ask for. I think he has enough tactical speed to keep Epicenter honest, while also creating a much more effective trip than last time. I would argue that he might be the one that would be best suited to upsetting the heavy favorite.
9 – Rattle N Roll (6-1 ML, 25-1 Circa): He was the only Grade 1 winner in the Fountain of Youth three weeks ago, and he’s the only horse that has ever competed in a Grade 1 race in this field. He split the field last out, finishing 6th of 11, never really looking he had any intention of contending. He certainly could have needed that race to shake off the rust, when making his first start since October. Classic Causeway, who was about five lengths behind him in the Breeders’ Futurity, has gone on to run well in his next three starts. Brian Hernandez has been his regular rider, and this is his home track, so I’m expecting that he’ll give him a better ride today than he did at Gulfstream. However, I’m not convinced that he’s as good as some of the others at the moment, and I’m not sure the price is going to be high enough for me to consider using him.
The Verdict: 6-8-7
On paper, this is Epicenter’s race to lose. He has handled front end pressure in his last two starts, running gritty and professional races. He showed an extra burst of energy when he drew away at the top of the stretch in the Risen Star, where he looked he could blow that race wide open. Rosario eased him up at the wire, indicating that there was more left in the tank despite going nine furlongs for the first time. He ran a tremendous race, perhaps the most impressive of any of the Derby Prep winners thus far. Many of the prime players in the Risen Star are looking elsewhere to do their final preparations for the Derby, so this race doesn’t appear to be as deep as his last try. Asmussen has campaigned him perfectly so far, and Joel Rosario is a great fit for this frontrunner.
Galt is the horse that I’m most interested in seeing in this race. I’m looking to see if he can rebound after a disastrous race last out in the Fountain of Youth. He’s a beautifully bred, full brother to the champion Songbird, who will find herself as a Hall of Famer soon. He wasn’t as flashy as his sister to start his career, but he has been making steady progress. If he can continue to progress after losing the rider while avoiding a spill in his last race, I believe he could be the biggest threat to the favorite in this race.
Pioneer of Medina is another horse that started off a bit slow when he debuted at Monmouth in September, but he has been steadily improving. He was 4th with some serious racehorses in the Risen Star, while running career top speed figures. Pletcher has only had ten starts at this meet, and he will be making his third straight local start, despite operating from his Florida base at Palm Beach Downs. We know he likes this course, and I believe he will be dangerous if he can relax a little more off the early leader.
Each week, we’ll have an update on horses and races from the previous week that may produce starters for the 148th Kentucky Derby on May 7th, 2022. Current futures odds from Circa or Caesars-William Hill will be provided as they are available. Feel free to reach out on Twitter @EricSolomon718.