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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, March 27, 2014 at 12:00 AM

Volume V…Number 12
Thursday, March 27, 2014

Double Trouble For Favored Intense Holiday In Grade II Louisiana Derby

The Grade II Louisiana Derby can only be described as the prototype for what any handicapper looks for in a field of top notch stakes horses…a number of solid speed horses drawn to the outside and guaranteeing an honest pace…the stalkers drawn inside so they can gain advantageous early position and the dependable closers drawn in the middle where the jockeys can position them where they want in order to decide when to make the best move.

Seven of the ten entrants to the mile and an eighth key Derby Prep (a very important 100 Derby qualifying points for the winner and possibly as important 40 points for the runner up are available) return to try each other again after meeting in the Grade II Risen Star 5 weeks ago.

In addition to the dynamics mentioned above regarding the running style breakdown, the current qualifying point rankings also come into play. Take for instance the ML favorite Intense Holiday. While it is usually taken that every trainer wants to win every race that is not necessarily the situation with Intense Holiday. The Todd Pletcher trained colt currently sits in fifth place with 53 points and is probably safe but would likely all but guarantee his spot with the 20 points given to the third place finisher. This gives Pletcher and jockey Mike Smith the luxury of winning the race if it is available without too much stress but just as well running well and keeping the eye of the tiger heading towards Louisville without over-taxing the colt.

That dynamic is not available, however, to legitimate contenders such as Albano (24 points), Vicar’s In Trouble (20 points) who would need at least a second place finish and those available 40 points as well as Rise Up (10 points) and In Trouble (10 points) who would perch precariously with a runner-up finish and whose connections are figuring they need to win.

Based on their current form, and the options available to Intense Holiday, backers of that ML favorite might find him in trouble indeed with the needs of big races from the likes of Vicar’s In Trouble and In Trouble and some of the others that are chasing Kentucky derby dreams.  

All of this demands even more handicapping expertise and is what makes these final preps so competitive, so difficult to decipher and so financially rewarding when you connect the right combos from the spread out pool money.

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Let’s take a look at the 10 Louisiana Derby contenders.

Intense Holiday (2-1)— Has been installed as the ML favorite after beating 13 rivals in the Grade II Risen Star here on February 22, 6 of whom return to attempt a reversal of their fortunes. Mike Smith, who will be in the saddle again after riding this Todd Pletcher trained son of Harlan’s Holiday said of the colt following the race, “There was a lot of room to improve there and a lot of room to grow. What I really liked at the end was galloping out. After I stopped him, you can tell when a 3-year-old has had enough. He took one breath and came back, so we did not get to the bottom of him."

There is no question this guy has determination. He was 3 wide on the first turn and swung 5 wide through the lane in the very crowded Risen Star and was able to continue coming despite Smith having to stop the colt’s early aggression and restart him more than once in the race. If Smith is right and there is still an upside then that combined with his earlier foundation…he has been competitive against many of the top Derby contenders in 5 straight Grade II and Grade I races should make him a major player again today.

King Cyrus (15-1)— The second of the uncoupled Todd Pletcher entrants this Winstar Farm colt is not nearly as far along as his stable mate. The son of Bellamy Road is still eligible for NW2L competition after running second in a one mile minor stakes at Calder 4 weeks ago in his first start since October. The colt has turned in a pair of half mile breezes at Palm Meadows since and Pletcher gets the services of local ace James Graham. The conditioner and Winstar are more likely using the race to find out just where their charge stands and at this point would be a considerable surprise.

Louie’s Flower (20-1)— If you only look at his last race then you might automatically toss him. But his last place performance in the Southwest might be a toss. The Bret Calhoun trainee was making his first start as a 3-year old following three straight wins to at Remington Park to end his juvenile campaign, the last of which was the somewhat influential Springboard Mile. The son of Flower Alley only knows one way to run and that is on the pace so when he was wrangled back and began pulling early in the Southwest he became rank and spit the bit. The colt has worked well since that failure, including a best of 43 bullet 5 furlongs in :59 2/5 on 3/7 at Oaklawn and a half mile here in :48 4/5 breezing last Saturday. Expect him to be part of a serious pace battle with the likes of Albano, In Trouble and Rise Up, who had a terrible trip in the Risen Star. Calhoun has given the assignment to Miguel Mena and the two have hooked up for 20% winners at the meet so while he has a tough hurdle to jump there have been worse 20-1 outsiders than Louie’s Flower.

Flat Gone (50-1)— Speaking of longshots, this Flatter colt from the Keith Desormeaux barn has certainly earned his status. After breaking his maiden in his 7th career start two races back he moved right up into graded stakes company here in the Risen Star. Sent off at 102-1 he did beat 5 of the 14 horse in the race but was never a factor and beaten 15 lengths. However, the trainer seems undismayed and maybe he knows something because following the Risen Star the colt has worked a pair of :59 4/5 five furlong drills here (3/15 and last Saturday) and the trainer is keeping it in the family as Kent Desormeaux will make the trip for the mount. This is the time of the year for turn-around performances…so who knows.

Gold Hawk (12-1)— After breaking his maiden in his career debut in late November at CD the son of Empire Maker was equally impressive in winning an entry level allowance in race number two. But in his last two tries the Steve Asmussen trainee has been a bit of a bad actor in the Grade III Lecomte and Grade II Risen Star here. In each race he was difficult to load and raced wide on the turns in each race while losing ground through the lane. Interestingly the conditioner has made no equipment changes and although the colt did turn in a sharp 6 furlong breeze in 1:12 flat on March 17 and a half mile breeze here this past Monday there were no works from the gate. He is another that has shown potential and on his best behavior would not be a big surprise. Shaun Bridgmohan will be in the irons.

Vicar’s In Trouble (4-1)— After dominating the Grade III Lecomte with a pace pressuring run that turned into a 6 ½ length romp the Into Mischief colt back-tracked to a third place finish, beaten 5 ½ lengths in the Risen Star. But one could argue that his race in the Risen Star was actually a better one. The Mike Maker trainee was certainly compromised by the 13 post in the mile and a sixteenth race and was forced to race 4 wide in mid-pack on both turns. After losing ground he advance as they straightened away into the lane and might have been, by necessity moved too early as he weekend inside the sixteenth pole. The still lightly raced colt will be making just his 5th career start and Maker might have considered the Florida derby as he shipped his charge there for two works following the Risen Star but has chosen to return here. With as much speed as is signed on here and the obviously better post position draw and additional ground it is very likely that Rosie Napravnik will have many more options this time around. He remains a major player in here.

Commanding Curve (20-1)— Another in this competitive field that can be forgiven his horrible trip from post 12 in the Risen Star and if he runs back to his CD races as a juvenile he could definitely outrun his ML odds. The Dallas Stewart trained son of Master Command was never able to get untracked in his return race and essentially ran even in a race he definitely needed. He has remained at the Fair Grounds since and continued with steady works…a solid 6 furlong breeze in 1:13 1/5 on March 7 followed by a pair of sharp 5 furlong breezes. If jockey Robbie Albarado can settle him in mid-pack early on and he benefits from the Risen Star (first since 11/22) he is another that might find the projected quick early pace to his liking.

Rise Up (10-1)— By all intents and purposes it is probably germane to look beyond this guy’s Risen Star performance. The well-regarded son of Rockport Harbor was making his first start of 2014 after ending his juvenile career with back-to-back pace pressuring and pace setting wins in the Jean Lafitte Stakes and Grade III Delta Jackpot at Delta Downs. In the Risen Star he was rank early while under pressure down on the inside, was briefly steadied then tried to chase before weakening. If works are any indication the colt is sitting on a big effort as his three drills since the Risen Star have been superb. Trainer Tom Amoss is having a great Fair Grounds meet and the addition of blinkers for this race has to indicate that regular jockey Gerard Melancon will be sending from this outside post, especially since the two horses to his outside also are more comfortable on or near the front end. If he can clear Louie’s Flower to his inside he may very well be the one to catch.

In Trouble (4-1)— In his last test he gave nothing away to a pair of established two turn Derby Road standard bearers in Samraat and Uncle Sigh when beaten just a neck and a neck by those two in the Grade III Gotham. What made that mile and a sixteenth effort even more impressive was that it was only the third race of his career, the first since winning the Grade II Futurity at Belmont back on September 29 and the first beyond 6 furlongs. There is little doubt the son of Tiz Wonderful is bred to continue going on with his speed and he figures to be in the thick of this throughout under regular rider Joe Rocco. Trainer Anthony Dutrow has obviously had to take his time with this guy but a solid performance here could put him right in the thick of Derby contention. If you are looking for a parallel you might want to consider the pattern of Chitu, who made his first two turn attempt in the Grade II Robert B. Lewis and gave Candy Boy everything that one wanted before returning to easily win the Sunland Derby last Sunday. It would not be a big surprise if he is in front at the furlong marker and tough to run down.

Albano (9-2)— After holding his speed well enough to fend off all competitors except Vicar’s In Trouble despite being 3-4 wide on both turns in the Grade III Lecomte this son of Istan still got no respect in the Risen Star and at 13-1 was neaten a nose by Intense Holiday. Trainer Larry Jones (Smarty Jones) doesn’t have the numbers on the Triple Crown trail that a Pletcher or Baffert does but with his lesser sample has been rather representative. At least the ML maker is giving the colt some respect this time around with a 9-2 opening number. Given the tough post, with two legitimate speed horse to his inside one would have to make a decision as to whether or not regular rider Kerwin Clark will bang heads into the first turn with Rise Up and In Trouble or tuck behind those two and try to clear the others behind him. One thing is for sure, the colt hasn’t lacked heart so if he can save ground early he becomes one more competitor that will be tough to ignore.

This is the third in the Fair Ground Derby Prep series and like the first two the racing officials are to be commended for drawing up another great betting race.

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