By Ed McNamara
Handicappers often make the mistake of overthinking the Kentucky Derby by ignoring the lessons of the recent past. To cash a win ticket in eight of the last 10, all you had to do was bet on the winner or runner-up of the Santa Anita Derby or Florida Derby. It was that simple.
And if Maximum Security hadn’t been disqualified for interference in the 2019 Run for the Roses, it would have been nine of 10. Medina Spirit, Authentic, Justify, California Chrome and I’ll Have Another each had his final tune-up in Southern California. Maximum Security, Always Dreaming, Nyquist and Orb prepped at Gulfstream Park. The only outlier was 2015 Triple Crown hero American Pharoah (Arkansas Derby).
Grindstone (1996) was the last to hit the Louisiana Derby-Kentucky Derby double, but things may be looking up way down yonder in New Orleans. Last year Mandaloun (sixth in the Fair Grounds’ marquee race) ran second to Medina Spirit at Churchill Downs, and Louisiana Derby winner Hot Rod Charlie was third. Runner-up Midnight Bourbon was a troubled sixth in Louisville before running second in the Preakness, Travers and Pennsylvania Derby.
Producing two-thirds of the Derby triple was a prestige boost for the 150-year-old track near the Mississippi River. Maybe it was a one-off, or perhaps the start of a trend. We’ll see.
The quality at the Fair Grounds meet is as good as it’s ever been. Saturday’s card features six stakes, two for 3-year-olds, the Lecomte and the Silverbulletday. I went 2-for-3 in last week’s column, and let’s see if I can smoke out a few more winners.
Just Might (5) is an in-form horse for course with three wins and two seconds at the Fair Grounds. He’s gone wire to wire twice on grass and could do it again.
Cowan (2) ran second to superstar Golden Pal in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, but he’s a teaser who usually looks better on paper than on the track. He’s 2-for-12 with six seconds, five at a short price. Could win but offers no value. Manny Wah (7) beat Just Might in this race last year but couldn’t do it the last two times they met.
Summer In Saratoga (5) is proven quality — 7-for-15 on grass, including 3-for-6 at the distance and 2-for-5 at the Fair Grounds. The wild card is undefeated mystery mare Janelle Monae (8), namesake of an actress/singer/rapper. She’s 4-for-4 in Brazil, two in Grade 1s, but hasn’t run since April and may need more distance in her debut for Brad Cox. Watch the board to see if she’s live or being prepared for bigger things.
Abscond (1) belongs in your trifectas. She lost her last 11 and is 2-for-14 on grass but has four seconds and three thirds.
La Crete (5) looks like a comer for the loaded Steve Asmussen barn. She takes a major class jump from maiden special weight in her second start, but the way she dominated her debut makes this Kentucky Oaks hopeful a serious contender.
Todd Pletcher ships Sweet As Pie (4) from Florida off an even fourth in the Tempted, a one-turn mile at Belmont. Fannie and Freddie (1) fell short by a neck at this level and distance at the Fair Grounds. She’s a contender, but don’t bet the mortgage.
I can’t remember the last time I saw a two-turn grass race with so much early speed. Halo Again, Two Emmys, Excess Magic, Bodecream, Dyn O Mite and Forty Under all have gone wire to wire, so it should be crowded up front.
The Fair Grounds course often is very kind to late runners in such pace scenarios, so my big bet for the day will be on deep closer Monarch’s Glen (8). His rally from ninth left him three-quarters of a length short last time in a course-and-distance prep. He’s 17-for-32 in the money (five wins) on turf. I’ll play him across the board, hoping to get 6-1 or better and rooting hard for a clean trip.
Logical Myth (1) is 5-for-10 in New Orleans and belongs on Pick 3, Pick 4 or Pick 5 tickets. Two Emmys (6) stole the race formerly known as the Arlington Million, edging odds-on Domestic Spending after crawling on the lead. I think he needs more distance to do his best.
$150,000 Louisiana Stakes (G3), 1 1/16 miles, 4-year-olds and up
It’s a two-horse race between familiar names. Mandaloun (2) still could be declared the Derby winner if the late Medina Spirit is disqualified. The jury has been out for more than eight months on his positive test for an overage of betamethasone, and no one knows when the verdict will come.
Midnight Bourbon (3) remains the best horse who’s never won a Grade 1. He’s 0-for-7 at the top level, including his last six races of 2020. He’s tormented his connections and win bettors by losing ground in the stretch of eight straight races. Steve Asmussen adds blinkers, which should enhance his speed. He’ll probably lead to mid-stretch again, where I expect Mandaloun to go past him and win for the fourth time in their five meetings.
Pappacap (3) is a deserving favorite off solid seconds behind presumptive 2-year-old champion Corniche in two Grade 1s, the American Pharoah and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He has the best speed figure and gets class relief. The main danger is Epicenter (5), who dominated the Gun Runner at the Fair Grounds in his stakes debut. He can lead or stalk from up close, and he’ll be a fair price. Use both in multiple-race wagers.
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.