A dozen three year olds are set to go in the first 200 point Derby Prep of the season. Instant Coffee comes in as the 2-1 morning favorite after back to back wins in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes and the Lecomte Stakes. He didn’t race last month in the Risen Star Stakes, in favor of waiting for this spot. He’ll face 11 rivals looking to guarantee their spot in the starting gate for the 2023 Kentucky Derby.
Two winners of this race have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby, Black Gold in 1924 and Grindstone in 1996. In recent years, this race has produced some quality runners, with Gun Runner, Girvin, Hot Rod Charlie, and Epicenter, all going on to win Grade 1 races after winning this race in the spring. Mandaloun finished 7th in this race in 2021, but would go on to cross the wire second in the Kentucky Derby that year, eventually being named the winner when Medina Spirit was disqualified.
The Louisiana Derby will headline a massive 15 race card that will begin at 12:00 (CT). Post time for this year’s renewal is scheduled for 5:42 (CT). In addition to a loaded wagering menu there is also the Bayou Bluegrass Pick-5 to look at this weekend, consisting of three races from the Fair Grounds and two races from Turfway Park. The Jeff Ruby Steaks from Turf and this race will be the last two legs in that sequence.
Fair Grounds, Saturday 3/25/23, Race 12: The Grade 2 Louisiana Derby
200 Total Derby points (100/40/30/20/10)
1 – Shopper’s Revenge (12-1 ML, 110-1 Circa): There are a few horses in this race that I think could be setting modest fractions on the front end, and this regally bred son of Tapit is one of them. He’ll make his stakes debut after finishing second in an allowance race where he was slow to go from the gate. He found himself near the back of the pack that day, and behind a wall of horses heading into the far turn. Santana had no choice but to swing him five wide, where he hit the front, but he idled a bit on the front end where the race winner, Air Time, saved all the ground and came through an opening along the rail. Some of the speed figures were rated higher than others for that performance, and it’s worth noting that the top finishers were well clear of the rest of the field. I really liked his maiden score two starts back. He led gate to wire, but she showed he had multiple gears, and pulled away with ease when he was asked the question. I think with a better break and forwardly placed trip, he has a chance to rebound in this race.
2 – Instant Coffee (2-1 ML, 16-1 Circa): The morning line favorite is a horse that is coming off back to back graded stakes wins. I thought he was vulnerable in both of those races and he found a way to win each time. He’s a horse that likes to come from off the pace, and once again, he finds himself in a field where there isn’t much early speed signed on. On paper, I didn’t think the fields for both the Kentucky Jockey Club and the Lecomte Stakes were particularly deep, however, both races have produced horses that have come back to run big races in their next starts. He did run a career top figure last out, but I’m still left to wonder how high his ceiling actually is. He went off at 1-2 and 6-5 in those races, and I thought that number was too low. I think he’ll go off around the same number once again, so I’ll be trying to beat him in this spot as well.
3 – Curly Jack (12-1 ML, 85-1 Circa): I thought he was a live runner in both the Kentucky Jockey Club and the Risen Star Stakes in his last two starts. He ran okay, despite having a less than ideal trip two back in Kentucky, but I thought his most recent performance here left a lot to be desired. He doesn’t seem like he’s made any significant progress from two to three, and I think that’s going to be problematic for him in races like this where there are other runners that are improving at a faster rate.
4 – Sun Thunder (5-1 ML, 75-1 Circa): The first of two runners sent out by Ken McPeek is coming off a strong performance in the Risen Star last month. He was sharp at Oaklawn three starts back when breaking his maiden emphatically. He tried stakes company for the first time in the Southwest Stakes when facing Arabian Knight at the end of January. He finished 4th that afternoon while competing on a sloppy course for the first time. Angel of Empire was just a little bit better than him last timeout when they both were closing rapidly into a hot pace. He’s one of several live runners in this race that likes to linger near the back of the pack before making their best run. His speed figures have improved with each start, but it will be interesting to see if he can be as effective if he doesn’t get a great setup.
5 – Disarm (10-1 ML, 60-1 Circa): This son of Gun Runner is the second Asmusssen entrant in this race. He looked like a promising colt when breaking his maiden impressively at Saratoga at the beginning of August. However, an injury kept him on the sidelines for the remainder of his two year old campaign. He returned last month in a one mile allowance race at Oaklawn where he seemed a bit flat as the heavy favorite. He’s been based here over the winter and has worked well over this oval, however, I’m not sure that he’s on par with some of the others in this race at the moment.
6 – Kingsbarns (6-1 ML, 35-1 Circa): Todd Pletcher sends out this undefeated son of Uncle Mo for Spendthrift Farm. He was an impressive allowance winner at Tampa, earning a better Beyer Speed Figure than his stablemate, Litigate, who was the winner of the Sam F. Davis a day on that track a day earlier. Pletcher sent out Tapit Trice in the Tampa Bay Derby, so he opted to wait an extra two weeks to run him here. Flavien Prat will take the mount today, and he’s a runner that could be in a perfect stalking spot in he’s good enough. He’s listed at 6-1 on the morning line, but I suspect he’ll go into the starting gate at shorter odds than that. He hasn’t faced much in those first two starts, so it’s going to come down to value on this one for me. I suspect he’s going to be a shorter price than I’m willing to accept.
7 – Cagliostro (12-1 ML, 110-1 Circa): He battled Denington in an optional claiming/allowance race on the Risen Star undercard last month. He made the front, but lost by a desperate neck when his rival surged in the final yards. That effort was a big improvement from his maiden score on the Lecomte undercard in January. He’s another one that has enough tactical speed to possibly work out a favorable trip in this race. Cristian Torres, who has been dominating all meet long at Oaklawn Park this season, is coming to town for the first time this season to ride this Upstart colt for Cherie DeVaux. He’s a very talented rider, but he’s not yet a mainstream name, which could lead to him being overlooked by the betting public. I think he has just as much of a chance as Kingsbarns in this race and the price will likely be significantly better.
8 – Single Ruler (15-1 ML, 300-1 Circa): He defeated Baseline Beater to break his maiden in his 5th career start in January. Keith Desormeaux rolled the dice and entered him in the Risen Star Stakes where he had a favorable pace scenario to set up his late close. He didn’t get a great ride that afternoon as he moved a little too late and conceded valuable position to horses like Angel of Empire and Sun Thunder. He came with a wide bid off the turn, where he drifted out, widest of all. He was passing some tired horses, but he wasn’t as fast as the other closers. He comes back here in a race where things might not be as advantageous for him. Desormeaux turns to veteran rider David Cohen for the first time today. I prefer others in this spot.
9 – Tapit’s Conquest (10-1 ML, 45-1 Circa): Manny Franco rode this Tapit colt in his debut at Saratoga where he finished second. Florent Geroux rode him in his next three starts, which included a maiden breaking win, a narrow loss in allowance company, and a 4th place finish in the Risen Star. I thought his effort was strong two back, when racing at the back of a five horse field, and being forced to close into a slow pace. He was narrowly defeated by Determinedly, who had the run of that race that afternoon. He’s paired his first two Beyer Speed Figures this season, so he could be in line to take a step forward in the third race of his current form cycle. However, Florent Geroux ending up on Jace’s Road over him feels a little telling to me about his prospects in this race.
10 – Denington (12-1 ML, 225-1 Circa): After struggling to find his best form in three consecutive Derby points races, McPeek dropped this son of Gun Runner into allowance company last month, a move which paid instant dividends when he narrowly beat Cagliostro. His three starts in stakes company were not great though. He’s been beaten by three of his eleven rivals in this race thus far, and I’m a little concerned that his career top figure last month came in a race where he was allowed to compete with race day Lasix in his system. He won’t have that luxury today. I’m leaning toward some others in this race.
11 – Jace’s Road (12-1 ML, 110-1 Circa): The third member of the Brad Cox trio has five career starts, winning two of them. He’s coming off a dull 5th place finish in the Southwest Stakes in the slop at the end of January. His two worst performances came in the slop on days where he was unable to make the lead. He has more early speed than most in here and with the long run into the first turn. Florent Geroux might be well-served by hustling him out of the gate and trying to grab the lead before they bend into the first turn. His best efforts have been on fast tracks, which is what he’s likely going to be working with today. He was excellent in his lone start on this oval, dominating in the Gun Runner Stakes. I thought he was a horse to play against in Arkansas last time, but I think he could offer some value in this race.
12 – Baseline Beater (20-1 ML): The only runner in the field that has not been nominated to the Triple Crown is coming off a maiden score in his 5th career start. Neil Pessin trains this son of Flatter that seems to be completely devoid of any early speed. He has closed well in his last two starts, but those races came against maidens. His wide post doesn’t really affect the race that he wants to run, but the lack of any serious speed threat makes it very unlikely that he’ll be able to rally late to get a piece of the pie here.
The Verdict: 1-11-7
While I have a lot of respect for Instant Coffee, I think there’s value in trying to beat him once again today. While he has two consecutive graded stakes victories, in races that didn’t necessarily match his preferred running style, I don’t think there’s a ton that separates him from his rivals today. I’ll use him as a back up on deeper multi-race plays, but I’ll be trying to beat him in the vertical exotics.
Shopper’s Revenge ran a huge race two starts back at Oaklawn when breaking his maiden in his first career route. Things didn’t particularly go his way when facing winners for the last time at Oaklawn. He did still come with a strong run to grab the lead, only to be passed by a horse that saved significantly more ground than he did. He’s sired by Tapit, out of the champion mare Stopchargingmaria, so I don’t see the added ground as any type of concern.
Jace’s Road gets Florent Geroux, and I suspect he’s going to be asked to try to contend for the early lead. He’s a better runner on a fast course and there’s not much pace competition for him in the early stages, assuming that a wild card horse doesn’t go gunning for the early lead. Florent Geroux ending up riding him over Tapit’s Conquest, is interesting to me.
Cagliostro is making his first start in stakes company after a game finish at the N1X level last month. I think he might offer some significant value, with a new face riding for a barn that is looking for their 6th win at this meet. I think he’s as talented as several other rivals, but I think he’ll be overlooked in the wagering, making him a logical horse to use in most of the exotic wagers.
We’ll have coverage of every North American Derby Points Race, along with plenty of coverage leading up to the 149th Kentucky Derby on May 6th, 2023. Current futures odds from Circa or Caesars-William Hill will be provided as they are available. Feel free to reach out on Twitter @EricSolomon718.