Photo: Hodges Photography
A well matched field of ten will take to the Fair Grounds’ main track on Saturday for the 101st edition of the $1 million Louisiana Derby. To be televised nationally on the NBC Sports Network, the nine furlong test is likely to send more than one runner to Louisville for the Run for the Roses five weeks later. Headlining the event will be the top three finishers from last month’s Risen Star Stakes - Intense Holiday, Albano, and Vicar’s In Trouble, as well as the highly regarded New York invader, In Trouble. For Albano, and his trainer, Larry Jones, Saturday’s big race will be a chance for sweet redemption.
Not only will the son of Istan attempt to better his heartbreaking defeat in last month’s Risen Star, in which he led all the way before being caught right on the wire, but he will also be out to avenge a tough loss by his older brother in the Louisiana Derby two years ago.
When I asked Jones about the comparison between his current Louisiana Derby runner, and his older half-brother, Mark Valeski, who finished second in Fair Grounds’ signature race when upset by huge longshot, Hero of Order, Jones was quick to tell me he sees a lot of similarity between the two, with an important advantage going to the younger sibling.
“They’re very similar, but I think this one can get the distance,” said Jones. “He’s pretty nice and improving, but he’s not as beefy and stocky as Mark Valeski. That’s why he should be able to get the distance.”
As for the Derby, Jones is maintaining the same wait and see approach that he used with Mark Valeski in 2012.
“He will have to show me that he is doing well enough the week of the Derby,” said Jones. “If he does go, that means he’s got a whale of a chance.”
Before we can think about the 2014 Kentucky Derby, though, there is the not too small matter of Saturday’s Grade 2 affair in New Orleans. The ten-horse field consists of several stakes winners, and legitimate contenders for Louisville. Beginning with the 2-1 morning line favorite, Intense Holiday, here is the full field for the Louisiana Derby from the rail out: 1) Intense Holiday - The son of Harlan’s Holiday is improving with every start for Starlight Racing and trainer Todd Pletcher , culminating with his thrilling win in the Risen Star. Before that, he finished up fast to finish third in Cairo Prince’s Holy Bull. The rail draw is not ideal for the confirmed stretch runner, but he should get plenty of speed to run at approaching the long Fair Grounds’ stretch. Mike Smith returns in the saddle. 2) King Cyrus - The lesser known of the two Pletcher runners, he will be making only his fifth lifetime start on Saturday. A first-out winner at two, the son of Bellamy Road comes in off a second place showing in Calder’s Smooth Air Stakes on March 2. 3) Louies Flower - A surprise winner of the Remington Springboard Mile to close out his juvenile season, the Bret Calhoun charge will be looking to rebound from a disappointing and troubled run in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park in his only start as a three-year-old. 4) Flat Gone - The brothers Desormeaux, Keith and Kent will team up for the chance to pull off a Hero of Order type of upset with this one. The rank outsider, at 50-1 on the morning line, comes in off a well beaten 8th place performance in the Risen Star. 5) Gold Hawk - Already third in the Lecomte, and fifth in the Risen Star, on the New Orleans trail to Kentucky, this grand looking son of Belmont Stakes winner, Empire Maker, and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner, Caressing, gets another chance he can compete with the big boys. 6) Vicar’s In Trouble - Will the Ken and Sarah Ramsey show continue down in Louisiana? Vicar’s in Trouble is a good candidate to make it so. A romping winner of the Lecomte, the son of Into Mischief was hampered by an outside post when finishing third in the Risen Star. The Louisiana-bred gets a much better place to start on Saturday, and is pegged at 4-1, with Rosie Napravnik in the irons, to turn the tables on the top two from that one. 7) Commanding Curve - An impressive maiden winner at Churchill Downs last fall for West Point Thoroughbreds, this grandson of A.P. Indy had less than a favorable trip while finishing in mid-pack in the Risen Star, which was his only start to date as a three-year-old 8) Rise Up - A three -time stakes winner in 2013, including an impressive score in the rich Delta Jackpot, the Tom Amoss charge lost all chance after a bad break in the Risen Star. The fifth choice on the morning line at 10-1 certainly could be dangerous in here, especially if you believe that the last race, his only as a sophomore, is a throw-out. 9) In Trouble - While most of the field is familiar with each other from local racing, this 4-1 co-second choice on the morning line comes in as a talented new face. The winner of the Grade 2 Futurity Stakes last fall in New York, returned to the races with an ultra-game performance when finishing a close third in Aqueduct’s Gotham Stakes. He will at the very least prove to be a solid barometer in comparing the New York sophomores with their Louisiana counterparts.
10) Albano - After finishing third in his career debut, Albano has not run worse than second in his last four. Owned by the former governor of Kentucky, Brereton Jones, his last was clearly his best yet, and further improvement off that one puts him in with a big shot on Saturday.