The Road to the Kentucky Derby rolls through the Fair Grounds this Saturday afternoon
The G2 Louisiana Derby is the marquee attraction on Saturday's program at Fair Grounds, which features four graded stakes races and eight stakes in all. For the special occasion, our in-house handicapper has provided detailed analysis of the All-Stakes Pick 5 sequence that begins in Race 9 and ends with the Louisiana Derby, and he has additionally made picks for the entire card.
If you're looking for picks elsewhere around the country this Saturday, be sure to check out our Free Horse Racing Picks via the gold button below.
The Tom Benson Memorial, for filly and mare turfers at 1 1/16 miles, is easily the most wide-open stakes race on the program. The race is ostensibly led by Dalika (#3), who exits a win in the Al Stall Memorial, but I want nothing to do with her here as the favorite. It makes for a nice story that she won the race for its namesake’s son, but Dalika got a perfect trip and was hardly convincing.
If you’re taking anyone out of the Al Stall, I think Joy Epifora (#7) is far and away the one you want. This Argentinian mare has been on an odd trajectory since shipping to the U.S. last year, switching between turf and dirt racing at a few different venues, but I think she showed last out that she belongs on this surface. After breaking well and being taken off the pace in the Al Stall, Joy Epifora appeared to be making a winning move in the stretch before steadying sharply at the eighth pole. She stayed on fairly well from there, but lost all chance at making an impact on the race. I’m a little skeptical of the Al Stall as a whole, however I believe this mare was going to win and she’s listed at 15-1 on the morning line, whereas Dalika is 3-1. Those odds are incredibly enticing, and as such she’s my ‘Best Value’ play of the day.
Also coming out of the Al Stall, I wouldn’t discount the chances of Temple City Terror (#6), who had to wait to make her run and did so through some traffic in the stretch behind a dawdling pace. She can be a bit pace dependent, but she has a potent late kick and should get the requisite speed in front of her in this spot.
Finally, I can’t resist a Brad Cox runner that could be double-digit odds in Dreamalildreamofu (#11). It’s unclear if this filly just hasn’t improved at all since her 3-year-old season, but I do think she’s more of a turf runner and could move forward off her 4-year-old bow, a 9 ¼-length romp in an off-the-turf race at Fair Grounds. If she improves at all on her turf races from last year she’s going to be a major player.
Main: 6,7,11 Backup (priority): 2,12
Order of preference: 7-6-11-12
With Maxfield out of the picture, the handicap division at Fair Grounds leaves much to be desired since the horse to beat in this race is Owendale (#2). Don’t get me wrong, Owendale is a fine runner, and at one point early last year I even declared him to be my 2020 Breeders’ Cup Classic pick (an infamously horrible take), but he’s no superstar, either. He did run a pretty good third in the G1 Clark to close out 2020, but I don’t think that’s really a representative effort for him. The highest level of competition he’s won at is G3 and he’s been extremely disappointing at times in what appear to be winnable races. Part of the problem with him is that he has very little early speed, so he’s dependent on getting some pace in front of him, which could be especially problematic in this race. As is almost always the case with Owendale, he can win but is going to be too short a price.
You might be tempted to go with new face Roadster (#1) as an alternative to the favorite, however I’m very much against him here as he makes his first start with trainer Mike Stidham off a long layoff. This former G1 winner has on occasion run well around two turns, but it’s clear from his more recent races for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffer that he’s more effective going one turn. That fact, coupled with the trainer change, extended absence, and likelihood he takes significant money, have me staying completely away.
Since I couldn’t possibly take either of these horses on top, I’m instead going with the mercurial Chess Chief (#6). This guy can be a little hit or miss, and like Owendale has a tendency to disappoint, but I think he ran much better than it looks last out in the G3 Mineshaft and I’m confident he does his best running over this track. His trip in the Mineshaft wasn’t extraordinarily bad, but he was shuffled substantially leaving the far turn and came with a belated run to get third, finishing just a half-length behind Sonneman (#8). I think he was easily the best of those coming out of the Mineshaft, which was won by top older horse Maxfield, and he seems well positioned to take advantage of a race that’s completely devoid of early speed. He may not be super trustworthy, but I believe the price is going to be inviting enough to take a shot.
Main: 2,6 Backup: 8
Order of preference: 6-2-8-1
Me and Factor This (#1) have just never got our timing down. Despite being a win machine on turf and a top older horse I haven’t cashed a single bet on him, though every time I play against him he beats me. So when I tell you he’s my top pick in the G2 Muniz Memorial, take that with a rather large grain of salt.
The recent results may be frustrating after picking Factor This in his last three races, but I’m willing to keep the faith one more time as he catches a field without much early speed, which has been his undoing lately. He’s gotten caught up battling through monstrous splits in his last two races in particular, and prior to that he ran a decent race in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Mile even though it’s doubtful a mile is his best distance. The biggest thing with Factor This, in my opinion, is being able to dictate the pace. He’s also able to press the pace and win, but when allowed to set it, which should be the case here, he can get very brave on the lead. Four of his last five wins have come under such circumstances, and two of those occurred over this turf course last year. I don’t think there’s anyone in this field that’s capable of keeping up with him early, and if he is left to his own devices on the front end that’s going to spell trouble for the rest of this group.
A big reason Factor This may actually offer some value in this race, aside from his lackluster recent form, is the presence of Colonel Liam (#5). This horse is by no means a bum, but I do think his quality is going to be greatly exaggerated by his last out G1 win in the Pegasus Turf Cup at Gulfstream. Despite its designation the Pegasus Turf Cup was a far cry from a true G1, and even if Colonel Liam runs back to that effort (which I’m a little skeptical of in the first place), I don’t think he has to win this race. Due to his puffed up resume I believe he’s going to be a pretty big underlay.
Main: 1 Backup (priority): 4,5,6
Order of preference: 1-6-5-4
Following their strong performances in the G2 Rachel Alexandra a month ago, the G2 Fair Grounds Oaks appears to be a two-horse race between Clariere (#6) and Travel Column (#8), especially considering the fact none of the new shooters are terribly intriguing. While Clariere got the better of Travel Column in the Rachel Alexandra, I’m firmly in the camp of the latter, who I believe may have needed the race and should improve in her second start of the year.
It’s possible that Clariere is just developing faster than her main rival, but I thought there was no comparison between these two when they met in their 2-year-old finales in the G2 Golden Rod at Churchill Downs. Even with heaps of trouble in that race, Travel Column made short work of Clariere and was much the best — way better than her margin of victory would indicate. Based on the Golden Rod I couldn’t help but love Travel Column in the Rachel Alexandra, however after chasing a fast pace she came up a little short in the end as Clariere, who sat a perfect trip, inched by her in the final strides. Just a neck separated them in that race, though, and I do think Travel Column may have been given a race by her trainer Brad Cox, who similarly had Louisiana Derby contender Mandaloun primed for a top effort in his second start at the meet. If Travel Column gets back to the kind of effort she delivered in the Golden Rod, I don’t think Clariere has a prayer.
Although I think the two local fillies are the ones you want, I’d be remiss to not mention Obligatory (#5), who improved by leaps and bounds in her 3-year-old debut last out at Gulfstream, earning a competitive 82 Beyer Speed Figure in her maiden breaker. I’m very interested to see how she runs here since her trainer Bill Mott has been crushing it at Gulfstream but hasn’t been having as much success elsewhere during the winter. For now, I’m taking a wait-and-see approach.
Main: 8 Backup (priority): 6
Order of preference: 8-6-5-4
The G2 Louisiana Derby essentially boils down to the local contingent — chiefly Proxy (#4), Mandaloun (#6), and Midnight Bourbon (#7) — vs. the California invader Hot Rod Charlie (#5). While I do believe the G2 Risen Star won by Mandaloun was a legitimately fast race, I’m staying true to my Kentucky Derby Top 10 list and picking Hot Rod Charlie.
The big three Fair Grounds runners have traded decisions so far at the meet, with Midnight Bourbon winning the G3 Lecomte and Mandaloun most recently taking the Risen Star, while Proxy finished second both times. I’m expecting this merry-go-round to continue here, and the horse I like most of this trio is actually Proxy. I can’t say he’s gotten poor trips in either the Risen Star or the Lecomte, but he feels like the horse with the most upside still, and the addition of blinkers could be enough for him to close the gap on his rivals.
Although all three of these horses are coming off Beyer Speed Figures in the high 90’s, I have some nagging doubts about the true quality of these runners since going into the year I didn’t think much of any of them. Obviously they’ve improved over the winter, but to what extent is debatable. That’s why I’m sticking with Hot Rod Charlie, currently No. 5 on my list of Derby contenders. He’s coming off what appears to be the slowest race of all the main players in this spot, a third-place finish behind Medina Spirit in the G3 Robert B. Lewis that netted him a 91 Beyer, however I think there’s reason to believe he’s much better than that number suggests. For starters, the Robert B. Lewis was his first start of the year, so it was just a race to set him up for bigger and better things, and I thought he battled gamely to the wire between horses, missing by just a neck to Medina Spirit (currently No. 2 on my Derby list). While it’s certainly an advantage to be based at Fair Grounds, part of the reason I’m so high on Hot Rod Charlie is because of how well he ran in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year when he shipped to Keeneland and ran a lights-out race to just get beat by Essential Quality, another elite 3-year-old. The numbers may not bear it out yet, but I believe Hot Rod Charlie is better than his competition in the Louisiana Derby, and if he moves forward in his second start of the year as I’m anticipating he should win.
Main: 4,5 Backup (priority): 6
Order of preference: 5-4-6-7
Most Likely Winner: Travel Column (Race 13)
Best Value: Joy Epifora (Race 10)
*If you're interested in seeing payouts for these races, you can find them on our Results page linked to below*