Since breaking his maiden in his fifth career start (first on dirt) last fall, War of Will has won two stakes races in a row – the Grade 3 LeComte Stakes and the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes, both at Fair Grounds, and will be attempting to win the Grade 2, $1 million Louisiana Derby to continue the streak.
Ten horses line up to face the likely betting favorite including Risen Star runner-up Country House. Finishing third at odds of 69 to 1 in the Risen Star was Roiland who is back for more, as is fourth place finisher Hog Creek Hustle, troubled fifth place finisher Limonite and seventh place finisher Mr. Money. Of that group, other than Risen Star runner-up Country House and third place finisher Roiland, Limonite has decent credentials as he is making his second start as a three year old and finished third in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes before a layoff.
Hog Creek Hustle also ran well previous to the Risen Star as he finished second in the LeComte in January behind War of Will. Another horse with a decent shot to post the mild upset is Sueno, who rallied from eighth to second, beaten less than a length, in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes last month. The third place finisher in that race (Long Range Toddy) returned to win one division of the Rebel Stakes last weekend. Bankit missed by a head in the Springboard Mile Stakes in December but has run poorly in two races since then.
By My Standards and Lemniscate both earned the first wins of their career in their most recent races and are stepping into stakes competition for the first time. Last but not least, Spinoff ships in from Florida for the barn of Todd Pletcher off a visually impressive win by more than 11 lengths and appears ready for stakes company.
Sueno is my top pick in the Louisiana Derby, but he is one of five who have the bulk of the probability to win in my opinion. Sueno earned a 98 Equibase Speed Figure when rallying from eighth with a quarter mile to go, four paths wide on the turn in the Southwest, eventually beaten three-quarters of a length for the win. Considering the horse Sueno beat for second, Long Range Toddy, improved to a 109 figure, Sueno should improve as well. Additionally, watching the replay of the Southwest (free via the Equibase Racing Yearbook), I note Sueno galloped out in front of the winner suggesting the added distance of the Louisiana Derby will benefit him very much.
Limonite is very likely to go to post as a longshot in the Louisiana Derby and I feel discounting his chances entirely may result in regret after the race. When stretched out to two-turns for the first time last fall, Limonite ran well when beaten a neck on the wire by Roiland after leading in the stretch. Limonite turned the tables on Roiland when they met next as he rallied from last of 14 to third in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, with Roiland checking in fifth. Rested three months and allowed to mature physically and mentally, Limonite ran better than it looked in the Risen Star (when fifth at the finish) as he was steadied in traffic as he rallied from 11th on the far turn, losing all momentum, before passing a few horses. Jockey Jose Ortiz, second only to his brother Irad Ortiz, Jr. in 2018, gets on Limonite for the first time. Although the 89 figure Limonite earned in his best effort when third in the Kentucky Jockey Club would likely not threaten the main contenders here, I believe he could have finished in a higher position if not for traffic trouble last month. Therefore I'm expecting Limonite to run a lot better than his high odds will suggest.
Country House finished well for second in the Risen Star after being as far back as 12th in the early stages. His three efforts at a mile or more on dirt have yielded figures of 94, 92 and 93 and except for the 104 figure War of Will earned in the LeComte, those numbers stack up very well in this field. After breaking slowly in the Risen Star, jockey Luis Saez didn't rush Country House one bit but when asked, the colt moved from ninth to be second with an eighth of a mile to go. Although he could not make any further progress on War of Will in the stretch, I expect Country House to improve at this mile and one-eighth distance and that could help him turn the tables on War of Will in the Louisiana Derby.
War of Will drew the highly disadvantageous 13 post for the Risen Star and overcame what could have been an obstacle with a great ride from Tyler Gaffalione, who got the colt to second before the turn to save ground. From there on out, War of Will always looked good, easing off to a two and one-quarter length margin he held the entire last eighth of a mile. With a much better post for the Louisiana Derby, War of Will could win his third straight graded stakes but there are a couple of things which may be against him as well. Per a STATS Race Lens query I ran, sire War Front's sons and daughters are 0 for 20 the last five years at distances of nine to ten furlongs on dirt. Secondly, although War of Will won the Risen Star easily, his 97 figure was a regression from the 107 he earned one month earlier in the LeComte and I have concerns when a horse on the Derby trail has a regression like that from one race to the next.
Spinoff rounds out a quintet that can win, as he's improved in each of two starts since his maiden-breaking debut last June. Earning a career-best and field high last race 101 figure in his most recent start, Spinoff was most impressive in drawing off to an 11 and three-quarter length win in his first two-turn race and first following six months off. Likely to be more physically fit in his second start off the layoff, the colt appears to have tactical speed not unlike that shown by War of Will in the Risen Star, so it could turn out jockey John Velazquez gets Spinoff near the inside before the turn to save ground. As a colt by Hard Spun out of the multiple stakes winning mare Zaftig, Spinoff can win just by logically improving off his last effort so must be considered a win contender in a very deep renewal of the Louisiana Derby.
The rest of the field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures, is Bankit (98), By My Standards (91), Hog Creek Hustle (100), Lemniscate (95), Mr. Money (92) and Roiland (91).
War of Will
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