Bayou Road to the Derby Culminates Saturday
Whether it’s food or fun, New Orleans is a city famous for excess and it’s racetrack is no exception, as Fair Grounds blows out its entry box closing weekend with 30 – that’s right 30! – races this Saturday and Sunday. Naturally, Saturday takes precedence in the simulcast marketplace with the running of the 1,000,000 Louisiana Derby (G2). Worth 100 qualifying points, a victory over the Big Easy oval virtually guarantees the winner a place in the starting gate in Louisville come the first Saturday in May. Even second (40 points) or third (30 points) could make the difference for horses on the Derby bubble.
Among those vying for a Derby ticket are likely favorite, Instant Coffee, who returns after an impressive 2-1/2 length victory in the Lecomte (G3) over this oval on Jan. 21. The three-year-old son of Bolt D’ Oro, leads a trio of trainees for Brad Cox, who also saddles Tapit’s Conquest, fresh off a 4th place finish in the Risen Star (G2) here on Feb. 18, and Jace’s Road, who ships in off a 5th place finish in the Southwest (G3) at Oaklawn on Jan. 28.
While still just a maiden winner, potential second choice Sun Thunder seeks to improve off an impressive runner-up finish in the Risen Star for Kenny McPeek, who also saddles Dennington, who got back on track with an optional claiming victory here on Feb. 18. Potential upside also exists in Todd Pletcher’s unbeaten charge, Kingsbarns, who boasts a two-for-two record over two different tracks at distances of a mile or more and seeks to keep his record unblemished in this field of 12.
Carded at the 12th in a marathon 15-race program, the Louisiana Derby is the pay leg of a All Stakes Pick 5 with a guaranteed gross pool of $500,000. And believe it or not, that’s only the third of four Pick 5 pools on the card (1-5, 4-8, 8-12, 11-15). While hard to hit, all Pick 5 pools at Fair Grounds boast a 15% takeout. With a total of 8 stakes on the program, including four graded events, this Fair Grounds program demands its fair share of attention from horseplayers around the country this Saturday.
With post time scheduled for 10am Pacific Time, Pleasanton OTB offers full coverage of the 15-race program. The 12th and featured Louisiana Derby, the only stateside prep race contested at 1 3/16 miles, goes to post at approximately 3:42pm. A spectacular undercard also features the $500,000 New Orleans Classic (G2), $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks (G2), $300,000 Muniz Memorial Turf (G2-T), $100,000 Tom Benson Memorial, as well as the $100,000 Crescent City Derby and Oaks.
Jeff Ruby Steaks Sizzles at Turfway
Owning the distinction of being the only horse race in the nation named after beef, the $700,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks (G2) also awards 100 Derby qualifying points, virtually assuring its winner a place in the starting gate at Churchill Downs on Saturday, May 6. Similar to the Louisiana Derby, the Jeff Ruby has drawn a competitive field of 12 colts and geldings, seeking to parlay a poly-track victory to the Kentucky Derby.
Chief among them is Two Phils, who has run third or better in his last three races, all of which have been graded stakes affairs. His daddy, Hard Spun, won this race in 2007 and parlayed it into a second place finish to Street Sense in that year’s Derby. Impressive John Battaglia Memorial winner, Congruent, is also expected to take serious action given his strong come-from-behind performance over this surface just three weeks ago. The fact Congruent’s winning performance came after several starts over Gulfstream Park’s turf course also bodes well for the Todd Pletcher-trained, Major Dude, who was last seen winning the Kitten’s Joy (G3) over the Hallandale Beach lawn. Coming off back-to-back victories over this strip is the Brad Cox-trained, Wadsworth, who has beaten sizable fields twice in both wire-to-wire and pace-stalking fashion, hinting at some versatility on or near the pace.
Set to battle it out over nine furlongs, the field of 12 in the 12th and featured Jeff Ruby faces the gate at approximately 3:25pm Pacific Time. The solid 13-race card also features the $300,000 Bourbonette Oaks, $300,000 Kentucky Cup Classic, $250,000 Latonia, $250,000 Rushaway, and $250,000 Animal Kingdom Stakes.
Sunland Park Derby Highlights Sunday Action
Often used as a cheat code to get second stringers into the Kentucky Derby field, the $600,000 Sunland Park Derby (G3) draws an expected field of seven, including Southern California invaders, Hard to Figure and Fort Bragg, out of the barns of Bob Baffert and Tim Yakteen. Last seen running second in the All-Baffert Robert Lewis Stakes on Feb. 4, Hard to Figure figures to be the betting favorite when the gates open. Also keep a eye out for Henry Q. who posted an impressive victory over this oval in the Mine That Bird Stakes here on Feb. 28.
Carded as the 10th of 11 races, the Sunland Derby is one of seven stakes on Sunday’s program, which also includes the $300,000 Sunland Park Oaks. The Derby goes to the gate at approximately 3:45pm. First post at Sunland is 11:25am Pacific Time.
We hope to see you at Pleasanton OTB this weekend!
Click here for the full daytime simulcast schedule.
Click here for a full listing of all stakes races this weekend.
Subject to change.