The 100th anniversary edition of the $1 million Louisiana Derby (GII) for 3-year-olds with Triple Crown aspirations and the $500,000 Fair Grounds Oaks (GII), whose winners have gone on to win the Grade I Kentucky Oaks after five of its last eight renewals, take center stage on Louisiana Derby Day March 30 at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.
However, the $400,000 New Orleans Handicap (GII) for older horses on the main track and the $400,000 Mervin H. Muniz Memorial Handicap (GII) for older horses over the Stall-Wilson Turf Course are also showcased at the Crescent City oval on that day, and five-time Eclipse Award-winning conditioner and sure-fire future Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher is sending highly regarded contenders for all four of those Grade II stakes races.
In fact, a Pletcher sweep of those four stakes is a distinct possibility. The trainer’s duo of WinStar Farm’s Grade III Withers winner Revolutionary and Dogwood Stable’s Palace Malice, beaten a half-length in the Grade II Risen Star here Feb. 23, may vie for favoritism in the Louisiana Derby and his Repole Stable-owned filly Unlimited Budget will undoubtedly be the public’s choice in the Fair Grounds Oaks based on her Grade III Rachel Alexandra Stakes victory here Feb. 23.
The Pletcher-trained and Twin Creeks Racing Stable-owned Grade I Donn Handicap winner Graydar will probably be post-time favorite in the New Orleans Handicap and his WinStar Farm-owned turf-favoring 6-year-old Doubles Partner, winner of the Grade III Canadian Turf Handicap last year, must be given serious consideration in the Mervin Muniz Memorial.
Pletcher updated on the status of all five of his Louisiana Derby Day-bound quintet while speaking over the phone from South Florida Thursday morning.
“After that last race in New York (a win in Aqueduct’s Withers Feb. 2) we decided to ship Revolutionary to South Florida because of the better weather and the easier ship from South Florida to just about anywhere this time of year,” said Pletcher. “We decided awhile back that the Louisiana Derby would make the most sense for him because he has a tendency not to break real sharply and that the long stretch at Fair Grounds would help overcome that. He’s not a bad gate horse; he just doesn’t do it very quickly.
“Palace Malice is a horse we’ve always liked a lot,” said Pletcher. “We’ve had high hopes for him from the beginning, and hopefully there is more to come. He got a little further back than I would have liked in his first two-turn race (when he finished third beaten a half-length in the Risen Star), but we did finish in front of (Calumet Farm’s) Oxbow in that race, and he went on to run real well when a close second in Oaklawn’s (Grade II) Rebel the other day.
“Unlimited Budget has run really well in all three of her races,” Pletcher said, “and since that last race (heroine of the Rachel Alexandra by 3 3/4-lengths) she’s been training better than ever. Also, she showed us a new dimension when she handled that surface in New Orleans as well as she did.
“Graydar is a big colt who has always been very talented but has been sidelined by a lot of minor things that kept interrupting his training,” Pletcher said. “Over the years we’ve had a lot of luck in this race (winning the New Orleans Handicap four times) and after the Donn we wanted to keep him stretched out so this race made a lot of sense for us. Plus, his connections are from there (Louisiana).
“Doubles Partner has been a very consistent performer for us and when he brings his ‘A’ game he has always been capable of running a big one,” said Pletcher. “In the Sunshine Millions race he didn’t get away well (but finished second) and in that (Grade III) Tampa Bay race that last time (Feb. 16 when second by a half-length) he had some traffic problems in that one as well.”
One additional note about Pletcher is that he and the late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel are the only two horsemen to have won all four of Fair Grounds’ big four races.
It took Frankel 18 years to complete his sweep of the Crescent City oval’s Louisiana Derby Day foursome but Pletcher accomplished that same sweep in six years.
GOLDEN SOUL GETS FRIDAY WORK FOR UPCOMING LOUISIANA DERBY
Charles Fipke’s Louisiana Derby candidate Golden Soul, trained by Dallas Stewart, worked six furlongs in 1:12.60 Friday at about 6:30 a.m., timed from the 5 1/2-furlong pole to 7 1/2-pole. Fair Grounds clockers caught the seven-furlong gallop-out in 1:27.