Valentine’s Day may be over, but according to the racing office, eight days from now Hall of Fame trainer Wayne Lukas will be loving the conditions of all four of the graded stakes being offered at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots on Louisiana Derby Preview Day Presented by Lamarque Ford Feb. 23.
Interestingly, the last time Lukas won the Grade II Louisiana Derby was in 1996 with Overbrook Farm’s Grindstone, and later that spring, that 3-year-old became the second horse in history to parlay that Louisiana Derby score to a victory in the Kentucky Derby some weeks later in the spring of that year.
In all, Lukas has saddled the winners of four Kentucky Derbys to date.
Next week, Lukas is expected to bring back Arkansas-based Grade III Lecomte winner Oxbow to New Orleans for the Grade II Risen Star Stakes as the final prep for the upcoming Louisiana Derby on March 30, and that son of Awesome Again, who won the Lecomte by 11 1/2-lengths under the banner of Bluegrass Hall, will be racing from now on as Calumet Farm, world-renowned for winning eight Kentucky Derbys.
Oxbow breezed five furlongs Wednesday at Oaklawn Park in 1:02.60 in preparation for the Risen Star Stakes, his second work back after his dominant performance in the Lecomte.
However, Lukas is also expected to bring Calumet’s Neith to New Orleans for the Grade III Rachel Alexandra Stakes on Louisiana Derby Preview Day, and the Rachel Alexandra serves as the Crescent City oval’s final tune-up for the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks March 30. Five of the last eight Fair Grounds Oaks winners have gone on to win the Kentucky Oaks.
Neith, fourth in Oaklawn’s $60,000 Dixie Belle following a troubled trip, breezed four furlongs last Monday at the Arkansas oval in 48.80.
The Lukas Louisiana Derby Preview Day bandwagon doesn’t stop there because Calumet’s Optimizer, already familiar to Fair Grounds fans for winning the Grade III Col. E.R. Bradley Handicap Jan. 26 over the Stall-Wilson Turf Course by 3 1/2-lengths when under the Bluegrass Hall banner, is expected to return for the Grade III Fair Grounds Handicap Feb. 23 to be run over that same local lawn. That race previews the upcoming Grade II Mervin Muniz Memorial Handicap on Louisiana Derby Day, and that $400,000 event serves as the top turf test of the winter racing season in New Orleans.
Optimizer breezed five-eighths at Oaklawn in 1:01.40 last Monday after going a half-mile there in 49.20 on Feb. 4.
Lastly, Lukas is expected to bring Calumet Farm’s Raison d’Etat from Hot Springs to Fair Grounds for the Grade III Mineshaft Handicap on Louisiana Derby Preview Day, and that 5-year-old son of A. P. Indy breezed five furlongs last Sunday over the sloppy Arkansas main track in 1:02.80.
The Mineshaft Handicap is Fair Grounds’ final prep for the Grade II New Orleans Handicap, main event for older horses on the main track here each season, and that race will also be run on Louisiana Derby Day.
DALLAS STEWART BREEZES GOLDEN SOUL SIX FURLONGS FRIDAY
Trainer Dallas Stewart breezed Charles Fipke’s Golden Soul three-quarters of a mile in 1:12.60 Friday morning in preparation for the Grade II Risen Star Stakes on Louisiana Derby Preview Day Feb. 23 at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.
The McComb, Mississippi-born Stewart also sent out Donarra Thoroughbreds’ Irish Lute five furlongs in 1:00.40 in preparation for the Grade III Rachel Alexandra Stakes on that same afternoon.
Golden Soul was runner-up in Fair Grounds’ Grade III Lecomte Stakes Jan 19, while Irish Lute ran fourth in the $125,000 Silverbulletday Stakes Jan. 19 after stumbling at the start.
Also on Friday, trainer Tom Amoss breezed GoldMark Farm’s Risen Star Stakes candidate Mylute five-eighths in 1:00.60 in advance of the final local prep race for the upcoming 100th running of the $1 million Louisiana Derby March 30.