The first post is at 3:38 pm EDT.
It seems weird, in the middle of a pandemic and with the world seeming to shift every few hours, to say that today is a big day in the racing world, but it is one. The Louisiana Derby will be run this afternoon, and while it won't be quite as important a Derby prep now that the Run for the Roses has been moved to September, it's a great race in its own right, and the Fair Grounds has put together a terrific 12-race card this afternoon, with seven on the undercard to support the main event. There are also a few other stakes around the country, and there is a terrific evening card at Sam Houston Race Park in Texas, Texas Champions Day, which will see state-breds compete in seven stakes races. Plus there are some good overnight races at Sha Tin in Hong Kong.
With the rest of the sporting world dark, we are working overtime to give you something to watch, and something to play, so we are going to divide the races into two posts. We'll run through the afternoon races here, and in a separate post, which should be posted early Saturday afternoon, we'll take a look at the evening races at Sam Houston, plus a race or two at Sha Tin.
New Orleans caught a break with the weather: it was fast and firm in the Big Easy yesterday, but a nasty looking line of rain mostly fell apart overnight, and other than an occasional shower, the Fair Grounds should be dry. The weather won't matter for the spectators, because there won't be any, but we always like to see good track conditions for the most important races, and that should be the case down on the bayou today. We've handicapped all these races for fast and firm. We also are going to go a bit out of order: we'll look at the Louisiana Derby first, the undercard races from the Fair Grounds next, and then the rest of the stakes racing from around the country last.
With that out of the way, let's go.
Fair Grounds, Race 12, 5:49 pm ET
Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, 1 3/16 miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Olds
The Louisiana Derby has drawn big fields in recent years, and today's edition is no exception: a full field of fourteen will go to the starting gate. The field lacks a clear favorite, a colt whose past races are much superior to his rivals, so it's pretty wide open, and therefore a good betting race.
Pace is important in every race, but it's even more important in races with fields this big. We are expecting a legitimate, but not suicidally fast, early pace in the Louisiana Derby, which will favor the mid-pack runners at the expense of the speed horses and the deep closers. We're also looking for a horse who is physically improving: handicapping 3-year-olds this year is more about projection than it is about analyzing their past races, because horses can jump forward significantly from one race to the next, and the goal is to identify a rapidly improving horse before he runs a giant race.
We have found a colt in the Louisiana Derby field that we think checks all our boxes: it's 1-Major Fed. His last start was in the second division of the Risen Star Stakes, run on February 15 at the Fair Grounds, a race in which he broke alertly, stalked the leaders, and made a pretty powerful late charge. He didn't win the race -- he finished second -- but we think his late move in the Risen star was better than it might have looked visually, as Major Fed made it into a slow pace, which meant the leaders were not slowing down the way they would have had the early pace been more robust. Major Fed could not quite catch the winner, 14-Modernist, who got a dream trip pressing the slow pace to win by a length; while Modernist is also entered in the Louisiana Derby field, he was marooned out in Post 14, which we think gives him little chance to win.
We think that the pace of the Louisiana Derby, the projected race shape, will favor Major Fed, but there are other things about him that we like. His pattern of speed figures is good, with steady improvement from race to race. Another is is that he seems to have come out of the Risen Star in good shape: he has worked well since, including an absolutely sensational workout on February 27, a four-furlong "bullet" that was the fastest of 107 works at that distance at the Fair Grounds that day. This is all good stuff, and he also gets an inside post that should allow him to get a good, ground-saving trip.
We have a rapidly-improving 3-year-old whose last race was better than it looks, who has a running style that the projected race shape should favor, and who has a post that should all but guarantee a good trip: Major Fed is our pick to win the Louisiana Derby. At 8-1, we will bet him to win. The bet: Louisiana Downs, Race 12, $50 to win on 1-Major Fed.
Fair Grounds, Race 8, 3:38 pm ET
$100,000 Tom Benson Memorial Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Turf, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up
Eleven drew into this turf stakes. We're expecting a hot pace, as a couple of these older females have a lot of speed, particularly the mare on the inside, 1-Dream Passage. We think the fast pace is going to favor the stretch runners, and the horse in the field with the best late kick is 2-Altea, who starts for trainer Chad Brown and who was last seen in the Grade 3 Endeavor at Tampa Bay Downs. She just missed that day, finishing second by a neck, but we think will not miss today. She may be last early, but she will be flying late, and we think she will pass them all down the long Fair Grounds stretch. We will bet her to win at 7/2. The bet: Fair Grounds, Race 8, $40 to win on 2-Altea.
Fair Grounds, Race 9, 4:10 pm ET
Grade 3 New Orleans Classic, 1 1/8 miles, Dirt, 4 & Up
Nine older horses will go to the post in the New Orleans Classic. The 2-1 morning line favorite is 6-Silver Dust, who has won a pair of Grade 3s at the Fair Grounds in his last two starts, but we give the edge to 3-Fearless, a Todd Pletcher trainee who is a fresh face in the handicap division, but whose potential seems almost limitless: he's a 4-year-old who is undefeated in two career starts, including a very fast win in an allowance at Gulfstream Park on February 1. He's by Ghostzapper, out of a Street Cry mare, so he should take going two turns on dirt the way a duck takes to water. We think that Fearless wins here, and stamps himself a force to be reckoned with the rest of the year. We're going to jump on his bandwagon early, and bet him to win; we hope that we get anything close to his 9/2 morning line odds. The bet: Fair Grounds, Race 9, $35 to win on 3-Fearless.
Fair Grounds, Race 10, 4:42 pm ET
Grade 2 Muniz Memorial Stakes, 1 1/8 miles, Turf, 4 & Up
The Muniz drew a deep and competitive field of 13. It's a good race. We're going with another Chad Brown runner here, 6-Instilled Regard. He won a Grade 2 race two back, and backed that up with a very good third in a Grade 1 last out. Both of those were at Gulfstream Park, but we do not think he will have any issue transferring his form to the Fair Grounds turf course. Look for him to be midpack early, and to win this with a strong stretch move. We will bet him to win at 5-1, and we will also play him in the exact with 8-Channel Maker, a classy Grade 1 who competed against some of the best grass races around last year, but who may have lost a step at age 6. The bets: Fair Grounds, Race 10, $35 to win on 6-Instilled Regard; $10 exacta, 6 (Instilled Regard) with 8 (Channel Maker).
Fair Grounds, Race 11, 5:15 pm ET
Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Old Fillies
The field of the Fair Grounds Oaks came up short, with only six runners, presumably because of the presence of 6-Finite, who starts for Steve Asmussen. She's 3/5 on the morning line due to five straight wins, and looks pretty tough to beat here. We will take a shot, albeit a small one, at beating her, and we will do so with the stretch-running 3-Tempers Rising. Trained by Dallas Stewart, this daughter of Bayern took a while to get going, breaking her maiden in her fifth career start, but since then has run some good races. She was beaten by Finite in each of her last two starts, but we think that Finite, who's a speedy filly, may get caught up in a pace that's a bit too fast early, leaving her vulnerable down the lane. We'll take a stab that Tempers Rising can run down the favorite; we will bet her to win at 9/2. The bet: Fair Grounds, Race 11, $10 to win on 3-Tempers Rising.
Gulfstream Park, Race 11, 5:52 pm ET
$75,00 Texas Glitters Stakes, 5 furlongs, Turf, 3-year-olds
The Gulfstream Park turf course, in its current configuration with the rails way out, has been very, very conducive to speed. We were tempted to make a speed play here, but there is so much early speed that we're looking for a colt coming from just off it. We think that is 4-Another Miracle, a son of American Pharoah who is coming off a layoff. He showed ability and precocity last year, including a very good third in the Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, and we think he will get an ideal trip here sitting just behind a very, very fast early pace. Horses cannot win on the Gulfstream grass right now coming from far back, but we think Another Miracle should be very close to the early leaders, close enough to seize control at the top of the stretch. We will bet him to win at 5/2. The bet: Gulfstream Park, Race 11, $25 to win on 4-Another Miracle.
Oaklawn Park, Race 9, 6:09 pm ET
$90,000 Gazebo Stakes, 6 furlongs, Dirt, 3-Year-Olds
Eight will go in the Gazebo, and we expect a very fast pace, as a couple of the runners are one-dimensional speedballs who only know one way to run: go to the front, and stay there for as long as they can. We want a stalker, a horse who can sit just off the pace and overtake the tiring pacesetters; we think that is 5-Little Menace, who starts for trainer Steve Asmussen. He won an allowance race last out pretty impressively, sitting just behind the leaders and holding off the closers; that's exactly what we think he will do today. At 5/2, he merits a play, and we will bet him to win. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 9, $30 to win on 5-Little Menace.
Santa Anita Park, Race 7, 6:35 pm ET
Grade 3 San Luis Rey Stakes, 1 1/2 miles, Turf, 4 & Up
Seven older horses go in the San Luis Rey, a 12-furlong marathon on the Santa Anita turf course. 4-Oscar Dominguez is a strong pick: most of the field looks to have little interest or ability in contesting a race this long, but it is probably the best distance for Oscar Dominguez, a 7-year-old Irish-bred gelding. He's run in some shorter races recently, presumably because mile and a half stakes races on the grass don't come up all that often in Southern California, but he seems to outclass this field, and should be able to take this. At 9/5, we will wager that he can, and will play him to win. The bet: Santa Anita Park, Race 7, $40 to win on 4-Oscar Dominguez.
That's all for now. Enjoy the racing, stay safe, and, as always, good luck at the windows.