War of Will’s arrival to Fair Grounds with only a wet dirt win on his resume intrigued Bret Calhoun who, as with the rest of us, noticed the colt’s turf breeding influences. Then the rival trainer Calhoun saw Mark Casse’s charge do some race.
“He stepped up and ran a huge race that day, then came back and repeated it,” Calhoun said of victories in January’s Lecomte Stakes (G3) and February’s Risen Star Stakes (G2).
“I think he’s definitely the standout,” Calhoun said, “and I don’t see a lot of holes in his armor. I think he’s the real deal.”
Calhoun and a number of others aren’t ducking a challenge with the Fair Grounds racing office expecting no fewer than 10 entrants in a race that offers Derby qualifying points on a 100-40-20-10 scale to the Top 4 finishers.
Looking to become the first to sweep the Lecomte, Risen Star and Louisiana Derby since International Star in 2015, War of Will could get a rematch with the next four behind him last time out. Country House (second in the Risen Star), Roiland (third), Hog Creek Hustle (fourth) and Limonite (fifth) are all probable along with a pair of locals trained by Calhoun.
Mr. Money ran seventh in the Risen Star but did so off a layoff dating back to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, in which the son of Goldencents ran fourth. Calhoun had intended to begin Mr. Money’s season in the Lecomte, but the colt scratched after coming up sick.
“Obviously he needed that race,” Calhoun said. “He had a good trip and ran well in the Risen Star but got short. We think he’ll improve off that.”
Calhoun’s new name to the trail, By My Standards, is one he’d always hoped could make it in this sort of spot. Another by Goldencents, he broke his maiden at fourth asking by 4 1/4 lengths on the Risen Star undercard.
“I lost a little confidence when he was third the first time down here,” Calhoun said. “I just didn’t understand how he got beat that day. I think it was more of a mental lapse. He just didn’t quite know how to finish the race off.
“He came back the next race, did everything right, finished them off and went on. He came out of that race with a tremendous amount of confidence and has moved forward a lot in my mind.”
Country House, who’s trained by Bill Mott and returned to Florida’s Payson Park Training Center between starts, will be accompanied by other shippers into New Orleans. Keith Desormeaux-trained Sueno traveled to finish second in the Southwest Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn Park, while Spinoff looks to follow 2018’s Noble Indy as a Todd Pletcher-trained winner of the Louisiana Derby.
Lemniscate rounds out a list of 10 probables provided by the Fair Grounds racing office. The Kenny McPeek trainee ran two dirt sprints before breaking his maiden March 3 going 1 1/16 miles on turf. That start, he said, gave the colt the ground he needed.
As many as 14 can head postward in the 1 1/8-mile Louisiana Derby, which leads a card also including the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) for 3-year-old fillies and New Orleans Handicap (G2) for older horses. The entire card draws Saturday, a week in advance of running.