By Ed McNamara
Not so long ago, the Fair Grounds was considered an unproductive outpost on the Kentucky Derby trail. Not anymore, because last year the winners of the Derby (Country House) and Kentucky Oaks (Serengeti Empress) raced during the winter in New Orleans. So did Preakness winner War of Will, who swept the Lecomte Stakes and the Risen Star.
Country House finished second in the Risen Star, fourth in the Louisiana Derby and third in the Arkansas Derby before being awarded the Derby at odds of 65-1 on the disqualification of first-place finisher Maximum Security. Serengeti Empress, an all-or-nothing type, led throughout the Rachel Alexandra before bleeding, stopping and being vanned off in the Fair Grounds Oaks. Then she wired the Kentucky Oaks at 13-1.
The 3-year-old spotlight shifts to the Big Easy this weekend when the Fair Grounds presents Louisiana Derby Preview Day. The first-class card includes six stakes, including the Rachel Alexandra for 3-year-old fillies and split divisions of the Risen Star for the boys. Those races comprise the late Pick 3, races 11-13, for which I’ll try to provide some pari-mutuel guidance. My best bet comes in the sixth race, the Colonel Power, a grass sprint.
Here are the numbers for the Pick 3, a $32 investment on a 50-cent base bet: 2, 5, 6, 7 with 2, 8, 9, 11 with 7, 8, 9, 12.
And good luck.
I like Chaos Theory, a powerful closer who’s 3-for-4 on the Fair Grounds’ lawn. He hasn’t raced since May, when he ran third behind the brilliant World of Trouble in the Churchill Downs Turf Sprint on Derby Day. The 5-year-old gelding has been working steadily since mid-December for trainer Brendan Walsh, who’s strong off the layoff. There’s enough cheap speed to set up his late move for Joel Rosario, probably the best finisher in the country.
I’ll play Chaos Theory (2) to win and place and key him in exacta boxes with Fast Boat (1), 2-for-3 on Fair Grounds turf, and Blind Ambition (10), training well off a layoff for Mark Casse.
The marquee runners are unbeaten 2-year-old champion British Idiom (6), who’s been off since the Breeders’ Cup, and Finite (7), who’s won four in a row, including the Silverbulletday Stakes last month at the Fair Grounds. I’ll throw in Ursula (2) and Tempers Rising (5), both of whom almost beat Finite last time.
The obvious horses are Enforceable (8), Silver State (2) and Mr. Monomoy (9), who ran 1-2-3, respectively, last month in the 1 1/16-mile Lecomte. All three have the pedigree to handle the extra sixteenth of a mile, but so does Scabbard (11), who’s 0-for-4 in stakes but did run a solid second last fall to the talented Dennis’ Moment. Scabbard was the 3-1 favorite in the Lecomte, where he didn’t have the best of trips, and should be an overlay here. I’ll use them all in the Pick 3 and in a four-horse exacta box (2,8,9,11).
Anneau d’Or (8), runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, looks like the lone speed and will be a deserving favorite in the Risen Star’s weaker division. He also was second to subsequent stakes winner Thousand Words, one of Bob Baffert’s stronger 3-year-olds. He’s also training brilliantly, so if you singled him, I’d understand. But he hasn’t run since December, might need a race and ships all the way from Northern California.
I’ll throw in possible upsetters Lynn’s Map (9), Major Fed (7) and Ny Traffic (12).
Ed McNamara is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about thoroughbred racing for 35 years. He has handicapped races for ESPN.com, Newsday and The Record of New Jersey. He is the author of “Cajun Racing: From the Bush Tracks to the Triple Crown” and co-author of “The Most Glorious Crown,” a chronicle of the first 12 Triple Crown champions.