Head to Head: Handicapping the 2023 Louisiana Derby

Head to Head: Handicapping the 2023 Louisiana Derby
Photo: Carson Blevins / Eclipse Sportswire

The longest of the Kentucky Derby preps at the Preakness distance of 1 3/16 miles; the Grade 2, $1 million Louisiana Derby offers a qualifying points scale of 100-40-30-20-10.

The last two Louisiana Derby winners finished second in Kentucky, and in 2019, Country House was fourth in Louisiana and won the Kentucky Derby by disqualification.

A dozen 3-year-olds will enter the starting gate this year, including Risen Star (G2) runner-up Sun Thunder and Lecomte (G3) winner Instant Coffee.

Laurie Ross of Pedigree Power and Ashley Tamulonis of Coast To Coast dig into the past performances, examine pedigrees, speed ratings and race replays hunting for their top four contenders.



1. Shopper's Revenge 12-1

By Tapit and out of the multiple grade one winner Stopchargingmaria, Shopper’s Revenge ships in from Oaklawn for trainer Steve Asmussen. The gray colt is 3: 1-2-0, with his lone win coming in a 1 1/16-mile maiden event in January. That was the only race in which Shopper’s Revenge was on the lead; in his other two races he pressed the pace from seventh. The rail post is winning at a 20 percent clip, and Asmussen is winning at a 25 percent clip with beaten favorites. Shopper’s Revenge’s speed ratings are only mediocre, so he will need to rapidly improve and be quicker out of the gate to beat the favorites. His best chance is likely on the lead, so let me reiterate that he can’t stroll out of the gate this time. Contender.


Shopper's Revenge had a troubled trip against optional claimers in his first start against winners. The pretty gray colt walked out of the gate, giving the field a two-length advantage. Then, he settled into a smooth, relaxed rhythm until the top of the final turn, where Ricardo Santana Jr. was forced to take him seven wide. Shopper’s Revenge looked like a winner in mid-stretch but was caught by a horse that slipped up the rail. One of the most well-bred colts in the field, Shopper's Revenge is by Tapit out of Stopshoppingmaria, a multiple Grade 1 winner between a mile and 1 1/4 miles. No distance issues here. Contender.


2. Instant Coffee 2-1

I’ve been anxiously awaiting Instant Coffee’s second race of 2023, and it’s finally upon us. This well-traveled son of leading Freshman Sire Bolt d’Oro thundered to a 2 1/2-length triumph in the Lecomte but rested rather than run back in last month’s Risen Star (G2). He received a career-best 96 Brisnet speed rating, giving him the highest last-race speed rating (tie) and the best dirt speed (tie). I don’t love that he skipped the Risen Star, which has perhaps given some of his rivals a fitness edge, but he did run excellently off a similar layoff to win the Lecomte. Brad Cox is obviously a high percent trainer, and he and jockey Luis Saez have been winning at a 57 percent clip together (100 percent in the money). The one to beat.


The Lecomte winner skipped the Risen Star Stakes to aim for this spot. Instant Coffee lost only once in his career in last year’s Breeders’ Futurity, when he was a wide, but gaining fourth. By Bolt d’Oro, out of a stakes-placed daughter of Uncle Mo, and the stamina influence of Empire Maker as his second damsire, this Brad Cox trainee should handle the demanding distance. Contender.


3. Curly Jack 12-1

Curly Jack did not run back to his overall 2-year-old form in the Risen Star, finishing eighth, beaten 10 lengths. That was his first start off the bench and he played bumper cars, so I’m willing to be lenient. Trainer Thomas Amoss is 22 percent with horses second off the layoff (46 percent in the money) but just 9 percent in graded stakes (30 percent in the money). Amoss coupled with jockey Edgar Morales has been hot recently, winning at a 27 percent clip (65 percent in the money). With his speed ratings remaining consistently in the mid-80s, I do not expect a win, but he could pick up a minor award at a price. Use underneath.


The Iroquois (G3) winner must prove the victory wasn’t a fluke. Curly Jack was no match for Forte in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile or for Instant Coffee in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) last year. His 10 1/2-length defeat in the Risen Star was the worst finish of Curly Jack’s career without apparent excuse. The Tom Amoss trainee’s morning works have been on the average/slow side. Pass.


4. Sun Thunder 5-1

Sun Thunder came from the clouds and looked like a winner in the Risen Star only to be caught by Angel of Empire, having to settle for second. Like the winner, he was at double-digit odds having come off a fourth place in the Southwest (G3). He earned a 96 Brisnet Speed Rating for his Risen Star effort, one of the best figures in the field. The Into Mischief colt has so far shown a bad-good race cycle, and we’re on the downside if he stays true to form. I’m also just not sure how much stock to put into the Risen Star as it was just a weird race. Exotics.


I’m still scratching my head over Sun Thunder’s break-out performance in the Risen Star. Although he graduated with a 6 1/2-length victory in his second start, the Ken McPeek trainee didn’t show much enthusiasm in the Southwest. Into Mischief’s son has a grinding style, and in the Risen Star, Sun Thunder was focused on beating the tiring Harlocap and then Two Phil's. When Angel of Empire passed, Sun Thunder disengaged with Two Phil's and moved forward. Sun Thunder earned a career-best 96 Brisnet Speed Rating in the Risen Star, a 10-point leap from the Southwest Stakes. I’m not jumping on his bandwagon, but if he runs back to his Risen Star performance, Sun Thunder could figure in the exotics.


5. Disarm 10-1

Disarm ran a troubled second in an optional claimer last month at Oaklawn Park off a six-month layoff. He earned a 91 Brisnet Speed Rating, the same number he received when breaking his maiden at Saratoga before going on vacation. Steve Asmussen is 19 percent with horses second off the layoff (50 percent in the money), but Joel Rosario hops aboard for the first time. I’d like this son of Gun Runner a lot better with a different jockey, but it is what it is. Use underneath.


In his 3-year-old debut, the lightly raced Disarm was in a perfect stalking position on the rail but hesitated when asked to pick it up. The hesitation allowed the winner to spurt away to a four-length victory while Disarm chased. Gun Runner’s son graduated at Saratoga in his second start, beating a field that included Holy Bull (G3) winner Rocket Can. This half-brother to stakes-winner Tap Daddy should handle the extra distance and improve in his second off the layoff. The switch to Joel Rosario makes Disarm more attractive; Rosario is looking for the Louisiana Derby hat trick. He teamed with Asmussen and Epicenter last year and won with Hot Rod Charlie in 2021. Contender.


6. Kingsbarns 6-1

Undefeated Kingsbarns gets his first taste of stakes company off two facile scores in Florida. He earned a 95 speed rating on debut when winning a mile event by 1 3/4 lengths. He backed that up with a 91-earning performance in a one-mile, 40-yard event last month. By Uncle Mo and out of the Tapit mare Lady Tapit, Kingsbarn is bred to be a good one. Trainer Todd Pletcher wins at a 24 percent clip with last-race winners (57 percent in the money) and at a 25 percent clip with shippers (55 percent in the money). Despite his inexperience, you have to take a hard look at this one. Upset shot.


The undefeated Kingsbarns ships in after running away from an over-matched field of optional claimers at Tampa the day after the Sam F. Davis (G3). The runner-up was Mikey Bananas, who placed 10th in the Tampa Derby. The knock against Kingsbarns is that he’s still green. He’s a tail swisher and resents being tapped, not that I blame him. However, his speed ratings are some of the best in the field. Plus, he’s by Uncle Mo out of a stakes-placed daughter of Tapit and should handle the distance. Exotics.


7. Cagliostro 12-1

By Upstart, Cagliostro is a neck away from being undefeated at Fair Grounds. The colt broke his maiden in the bayou by 3 1/2 lengths in an 8.5-furlong event and most recently was a game second to Denington in an optional claimer of the same distance after having the lead in the stretch. That race was on the Risen Star undercard, and the top three easily could have started in that race had there been room. Trainer Cherie DeVaux is 21 percent with runners third off the layoff (54 percent in the money) but just 4 percent in graded stakes (35 percent in the money). The 94 speed rating he earned last out lands him squarely in the top tier of this field in terms of speed ratings, and his ratings have improved with each start. There’s definitely upside here. Live long shot.


Cagliostro graduated in his 3-year-old debut then returned to finish second by a neck to the more experienced stakes-placed Dennington. The finish wasn’t impressive, as Cagliostro struggled to disengage from the horses around him. Once Dennington surged forward, Cagliostro moved with him. Promising colt, and I look forward to seeing him in future stakes, but I think he’s over his head here. Pass.


8. Single Ruler 15-1

By Empire Maker and out of the Storm Cat mare Smara, Single Ruler finished 5th in the Risen Star after finally breaking his maiden two starts back in his fifth race. Along with the four colts that finished ahead of him, Single Ruler came from the back of the field to nab an award at 43-1. I do not foresee a similar occurrence here. Pass.


Single Ruler needed five tries to find the winner’s circle and beat a next-out maiden winner. The Keith Desormeaux trainee faced winners in the Risen Star and made up ground to place fifth. Although his speed figures improved, Single Ruler is a one-paced grinder. Maybe he can make up ground for a lower exotics placing, but I’d like to see what Empire Maker’s son could do on turf. Most of Single Ruler’s half-siblings and his distaff line prefer turf. Pass.


9. Tapit's Conquest 10-1

I really liked Tapit’s Conquest off his neck loss to Determinedly on the Lecomte (G3) undercard, and he ran back to form in the Risen Star (G2), getting up for fourth and earning a career-best (tie) 93 speed rating. He leveled off in the stretch last out, making me question if he will want that extra 1/16 mile this race offers. However, trainer Brad Cox is 22 percent with horses third off the layoff (56 percent in the money), 26 percent in routes (59 percent in the money), and 25 percent in graded stakes (59 percent in the money). Manuel Franco, who was aboard for his debut, hops back aboard as Florent Geroux reunites with Jace’s Road. Use underneath.


In his first start of the season, Florent Geroux reserved Tapit's Conquest at the back of the short five-horse field and asked him to make one run. Tapit’s Conquest responded with a lackluster grinding move up the rail to gain second place by a neck, beaten by Determinedly. Next out in the Risen Star, Tapit’s son gradually passed tired horses to finish fourth. The switch to Manny Franco hints at keeping the Brad Cox trainee closer to the pace. Exotics.


10. Denington 12-1

Denington took a class break after dropping three straight races in stakes/graded stakes company and came out with a neck victory over Cagliostro last out. With a confidence booster under his girth, we may see some improvement. His running style certainly suits the race if we see the same sort of set-up we saw in the Risen Star. The son of Gun Runner also will have an additional furlong with which to work, and the 94 speed rating he earned last out is one of the best in the field. He’s never beaten Instant Coffee, though, so it’s a pass from me.


Denington is an optional claiming level runner who was bested a combined 16 lengths in the Smarty Jones and Lecomte Stakes. He has one pace, and that pace is slow. Pass.


11. Jace's Road 12-1

Jace’s Road will be hoping for a fast track as his only two off-the-board finishes came over sloppy courses. On a fast track, the Quality Road colt is 3: 2-1-0, with both wins being by open lengths. The 96 Brisnet speed figure he earned in winning the Gun Runner over this track is a field best (tie). With a lack of significant speed, it’s also possible that Florent Geroux can hustle this colt to the lead and attempt to wire the field. Pass.


Toss Jace's Road’s performance in the Southwest Stakes. He clearly doesn’t like an off track. His best performance was a 5 1/2-length victory in the Gun Runner Stakes, beating nobody. The Cox trainee does his best work close to the pace, and Florent Geroux will have to expend the colt’s energy to get a good early position. Jace’s Road’s pedigree is iffy for 1 3/16 miles. Quality Road has one winner and six in the money from 16 starters at the distance. The stakes winners in Jace’s Road’s distaff line are turf sprinter/milers. Pass.


12. Baseline Beater 20-1

A 20-1 outlier, Baseline Beater enters off a maiden victory in his fifth outing. His last three races have been here at Fair Grounds, and he’s gone 3: 1-1-0 here. Trainer Neil Pessin is a surprising 21 percent in graded stakes (48 percent in the money), but this son of Flatter has speed ratings that leave something to be desired. Pass.


Baseline Beater discovered the winner’s circle in his fifth start, and none of his rivals hit the board in their next start. Further, he’s been bested twice by Single Ruler. By Flatter, out of a daughter of 2000 Canadian champion 3-year-old filly Catch the Ring, Baseline Beater should handle the distance, but most of the black-type earners in this family are best on the lawn. Pass.


Final thoughts

Laurie:  Nine of the last 15 Louisiana Derby winners prepped in the Risen Star, and eight finished in the top three. Only two winners were out of the money in their previous start. Favorites mostly live up to their billing, 10 finished first or second, and only two in 15 years placed worse than fourth.

Over the last five years, pacesetters and pressers ruled the Louisiana Derby. There are no confirmed pacesetters in this year’s edition, although Shopper’s Revenge and Jace’s Road have wired the field in past races.

Little early speed means the one-run closers will be up against it, although the longer distance might help one-paced types to pass tired horses for a piece of the Cajun Natchitoches meat pie.

Lecomte hero Instant Coffee and Risen Star winner Sun Thunder fit the profile of previous Louisiana Derby winners. I’ll take Instant Coffee on top. Disarm had an excuse in his last race and still earned a decent speed rating. Shopper’s Revenge has the best pedigree in the field and is bred for the distance. 

Ashley: Before y’all come for me, just know that this field is competitive as all get out. All it would take is a step forward for many in this field to get the job done, which is why a case can be made for so many of them. So now I just have to talk myself into a top four.

One of the biggest variables to figuring this race out is last month’s Risen Star. That was not a fast race by any means, but the top four runners at the half-mile call finished sixth, ninth, 10th and 14th (and last). The top five finishers came from the back of the field with the exception of Two Phil’s, who raced right behind the vanguard.

I anticipate a similar pace scenario because, as Laurie pointed out, there aren’t any real front-runners in this field. With Jace’s Road drawn wide, I suspect that Shopper’s Revenge will do the early leg work. Instant Coffee should sit a good trip right behind Shopper’s Revenge. Disarm, Kingsbarns and Cagliostro are interesting newcomers to this mix. I want to continue to like Tapit’s Conquest, but the colt lost ground in the stretch and this race is longer. I tried to get cute and beat the chalk in the Fountain of Youth (G2), but I’m not going to do that here.




2. Instant Coffee (2-1)

2. Instant Coffee (2-1)

5. Disarm (10-1)

1. Shopper’s Revenge (12-1)

9. Tapit's Conquest (10-1)

5. Disarm (10-1)

1. Shopper's Revenge (12-1)

7. Cagliostro (12-1)


Meet Ashley Tamulonis

Despite growing up in a non-horse racing state, Ashley has been a fan of the sport since a young age. Her love for horse racing was fostered through the kids’ book series Thoroughbred by Joanna Campbell, which led her to educate herself on the ins and outs of the sport. Since becoming actively involved in the industry just a few years ago, Ashley has had the opportunity to meet many important players in the industry, attend the Eclipse Awards, see personal favorite Mucho Macho Man race twice in person, and befriend many of the fantastic fans and horsemen involved in the sport.

Ashley began her time with Horse Racing Nation covering racing in South Florida but also blogged about nationwide racing, industry issues and, from time to time, offered her opinion on how various changes could be beneficial to the industry. A move North to New Hampshire began both a new chapter in both Ashley's personal life and professional life. She currently pens the From Coast to Coast blog for HRN. Ashley also participates as a voter in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Polls.

An alumni of Macon State College, Ashley is from Central Georgia but is currently living in New Hampshire with her husband, Chris, and their two sons Charlie and Michael. A stay-at-home mom, Ashley juggles parenting with blogging and her other passions. Aside from horse racing, Ashley is a fervent football fan, enjoys reading and studying history, and hopes to someday author a historical work covering the Tudor period as well as biographies of horse racing’s stars, equine and human alike.

Top Stories

Having long since eclipsed legendary Charlie Whitt...
The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Administratio...
Unbeaten since transferred to turf three starts ba...
Red Route One posted a half-mile breeze in 50.85 s...
Echo Zulu , the champion 2-year-old filly of 2021...