The Louisiana path to the 2021 Kentucky Derby concludes Saturday afternoon with the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby from Fair Grounds in New Orleans; and although the race only attracted a field of eight three-year-olds, there appears to be a great deal of quality signed on.
In recent years, the Fair Grounds path to Louisville has been subpar at best, with horses exiting New Orleans mustering no better than two runner-up finishes in the Kentucky Derby over the course of the past ten years (Commanding Curve in 2014, Golden Soul in 2013). As paltry as the results for horses exiting the Louisiana Derby have been over the past decade, there’s reason to believe this year’s running could produce horses that are viable threats to win the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May. With the top three finishers from the local prep race, the Risen Star Stakes, as well as a fresh face shipping in from Southern California, this year’s Louisiana Derby should be a fascinating renewal.
THE MOST-LIKELY WINNER
Given his progression to this point and the people involved with him, it is hard to argue against Mandaloun (#6, 8/5 morning line odds) being the deserving favorite and most likely winner of this year’s Louisiana Derby. Trainer Brad Cox had as good a 2020 season as any trainer in recent memory, winning four Breeders’ Cup races along with the 2020 Kentucky Oaks. For an encore, he is looking to earn his first victory in the Kentucky Derby.
While the star of his three-year-old males may indeed be the reigning Two-Year-Old Champion and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Essential Quality, Mandaloun should not be taken lightly when viewed as a Kentucky Derby prospect. Through four lifetime starts, Mandaloun has earned three victories and a third-place finish.
More importantly, he continues to progress when it comes to speed figures. To date, each of Mandaloun’s races have been faster than the race prior, culminating with a 98 Beyer Speed Figure earned in last month’s Risen Star, a race in which he defeated five common opponents he will face again on Saturday. Making his second start with blinkers, Mandaloun projects to race one-to-two lengths off the lead beneath jockey Florent Geroux, likely poised to make his run as the field rounds the second turn.
The morning line odds of 8/5 seem reasonable from a value standpoint; I would not bet him to win at anything short of that and would prefer odds closer to 2/1.
Value is in the eye of the beholder, but given the presence of west coast invader Hot Rod Charlie there is a chance Proxy (#4, 7/2 ML odds) goes off at an overlaid price. Trained by Michael Stidham, Proxy has always shown a great deal of potential, however his greenness and penchant for running erratically has prevented him from fully delivering.
Accordingly, Stidham will be equipping this colt with blinkers for the first time Saturday to get him to focus more on the task at hand and produce a more complete effort. Horses sporting blinkers for the first time often are more engaged throughout; if this ends up being the case with Proxy, there is no reason he cannot be involved in the pace scenario from the moment the gates open, figuring prominently throughout. Three-year-olds can improve by leaps and bounds at this time of year, and perhaps all Proxy has needed all along to unlock his untapped potential is the set of blinkers.
From a value perspective, the hope is that Hot Rod Charlie draws the public’s attention, leading to Proxy going off at odds of at least 7/2, if not closer to 4/1 (although that may be wishful thinking).
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It is never easy for a horse to exit a maiden victory and immediately win back in their first start against winners, but especially so against stakes-caliber company. Despite this, a horse like Run Classic (#3, 12/1 ML odds) warrants some consideration as an outside contender against more experienced rivals.
A son of 2015 Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Runhappy, Run Classic delivered a powerful performance when winning his most recent start, a race which happened to be his first try going two-turns. After stalking the pace while racing in the clear, jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. gave Run Classic his cue; the response was immediate, ultimately drawing off to break his maiden by more than three-lengths.
Visually the colt gives off the impression that additional distance will only be his friend, but the elephant in the room is the fact that he is considerably slower than his competition based on speed figures. The 85 Beyer Speed Figure earned by Run Classic pales in comparison to the 98 earned by Mandaloun in his Risen Star victory. As stated earlier, three-year-olds at this point in the season can improve dramatically from start to start but Run Classic would need to greatly improve and have the more experienced runners either plateau or regress.
Accordingly, Run Classic may be best considered underneath in exactas, trifectas or superfectas, finishing in the second, third or fourth slots of those wagers. If one is compelled to take a shot with him on the win end, odds of 10/1 or greater seem reasonable.