Our guide to the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby will make anyone an expert on the history of the state’s richest thoroughbred race, to be held for the 105th time on Saturday, March 24, 2018.
Post time for the Derby, which has been scheduled as race 11 on the 14-race card, is 5:21 p.m. CT.
1) Not only is the Grade II Louisiana Derby the state’s biggest race of the year with a $1 million purse, it’s also significant to the sport nationally, as one of seven Road to the Kentucky Derby races for 3-year-old horses that award a coveted 100 points to the first-place finisher, as well as 50, 20 and 10 points for second through fourth place. A tiered point system determines which 20 horses will gain a place in the starting gate in Kentucky for the Run for the Roses on the first Saturday in May, with the top finishers of a 36-race series accumulating points from September to April.
2) The first Derby in Louisiana wasn’t even called the Louisiana Derby. Its inaugural running was as the Crescent City Derby, hosted by the Crescent City Jockey Club at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans in March 1894. This one-mile race for 3-year-olds, with a $1,500 purse, was won by a colt named Buckwa, who also went on to win the first running of the Fair Grounds’ Thanksgiving Handicap the following year. The Derby would not be held again until 1897, when its purse was boosted to $2,500 and its distance was increased to 1 1/8 miles.
3) In its 104 runnings to date, the race has endured various adjustments to name, location, distance and purse size:
- The race was not run in years 1895-1896, 1909-1919 (during this period, the Locke Law prohibited bookmaking on horse races from 1909 to 1916), 1921-1922, 1940-1942 and 1945 (World War II), or 2006 (Hurricane Katrina rebuilding).
- Although Fair Grounds hoped to revive the Crescent City Derby following the repeal of the Locke Law, it was not held again until 1920 and, instead, was hosted at Jefferson Park racetrack, located in adjacent Jefferson Parish. A colt named Damask won this first running of the race known as the Louisiana Derby on March 17, 1920 (a Wednesday) and, aside from not being run in 1921 and 1922, the race continued at Jefferson Park through 1931.
- The race increased in distance from one mile to 1 1/8 miles beginning in 1897. From 1988 through 2009, the race was contested at 1 1/16 miles, but returned to 1 1/8 miles in 2010 — the longest distance of the Kentucky Derby prep and championship races in America.
- Its purse has ballooned to $1 million, with winnings distributed in the following manner: 60% ($600K) to the winner, 20% ($200k) to second, 10% ($100k) to third, 4% ($4k) to fourth, 2% ($2k) to fifth and $1,000 to the sixth through ninth-place finishers.
4) Notable winning Hall of Fame jockeys include Jimmy Winkfield, who won the Crescent City Derby aboard Lord Quex in 1902. Winkfield was the last African-American jockey to win the Kentucky Derby in the 20th century, with two back-to-back wins in 1901 (His Eminence) and 1902 (Alan-a-Dale); Lord Quex was not a contender in the 1902 Kentucky Derby’s four-horse field.
Jockey Eddie Arcaro, known as “The Master” and the only rider to have won the Triple Crown twice — in 1941 aboard Whirlaway and in 1948 with Citation — won the Louisiana Derby in 1939, piloting the colt Day Off.
5) The winner of the 1924 Louisiana Derby was Hall of Fame champion Black Gold, who was named for both his sire Black Toney and for his owner Rosa Hoots’ great luck in striking oil on her Oklahoma property. Black Gold was the first Louisiana Derby winner to be victorious in the Kentucky Derby, and he also won the Ohio State Derby and Chicago Derby that year.
Although he retired to stud at age four due to injury, he returned to racing two years later and tragically broke down while running in the Salome Stakes at Fair Grounds in 1928. He was euthanized and is buried in the track’s infield, where flowers are placed annually by the winning jockey of the Black Gold Overnight Stakes, a one-mile turf race for 3-year-olds. Fair Grounds also calls its 50-cent pick-5 the “Black Gold 5.”
6) Only two fillies have won the Louisiana Derby: Carolyn A. in 1947 over a muddy track, and Grecian Princess in 1964. In 1938, the filly Bunny Baby lost by a head to the colt Wise Fox after a thrilling stretch duel. No fillies have been entered for the race’s 105th running this year.
7) Thirty years ago, Risen Star triumphed in the 1988 Coors Louisiana Derby, the first year the race had a title sponsor and its first running at the 1 1/16-mile distance. Co-owned and trained by Fair Grounds track stakeholder Louie Roussel III, Risen Star finished third in the Kentucky Derby, but captured both the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, demolishing the Belmont field by 14 3/4 lengths, just like his daddy, Secretariat, did (Big Red won the 1973 Belmont by a record 31 lengths).
Risen Star was retired following his Belmont victory due to injury and received the 1988 Eclipse Award as that year’s champion 3-year-old male. He continues to be honored by Fair Grounds with the Grade II Risen Star Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds held every February that is part of the Kentucky Derby championship race series.
8) The second and last Louisiana Derby titleholder to win the Kentucky Derby was Grindstone in 1996 with Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey aboard the Overbrook Farm homebred in both races. Grindstone also holds the record for the fastest time in the Louisiana Derby at the 1 1/16-mile distance (1:42.3), which was matched the following year by Crypto Star, ridden by five-time Louisiana Derby-winning jockey and Hall of Famer Pat Day.
The fastest time for the LA Derby at the 1 1/8-mile distance is 1:48.4, set in 1977 by Clev Er Tell, who also won the Arkansas Derby with Louisiana jockey Ray Broussard aboard for both victories.
Twenty years after Grindstone, the 2016 Louisiana Derby winner Gun Runner finished third in the Kentucky Derby, but went on to capture six Grade I races in his career, including the Woodward, the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the Pegasus World Cup. Gun Runner earned 2017 American Horse of the Year honors and retired this year with nearly $16 million in earnings, ranking him as the second all-time leading money earner among North American thoroughbreds.
9) The 105th Louisiana Derby will feature, for the first time, a fashion contest hosted by Fashion at the Races. Ladies and gentlemen in their best race-day attire can compete in front of celebrity judges for prizes, including a shopping spree and a bottle of Woodford Reserve bourbon. Interested racing fans can learn more at the Fashion Tent on the track apron or by visiting the Fashion at the Races website. http://fashionattheraces.com/louisiana-derby.
10) Another first this year for Louisiana Derby festivities will be the Woodford Reserve tent on the track apron, which will offer Woodford Reserve neat and two signature drinks, the “Bramble On” and the “Uncle Si”. The first 400 guests to line up at the tent for wristbands starting at 1 p.m. will be eligible for free cocktail samples.
Annie Johnson writes about horse racing and history, contributing to outlets such as American Racehorse, Louisiana Cultural Vistas and Deep South Magazine. Follow her on Twitter at @AntebelTrfTimes and at www.antebellumturftimes.com.