HomeThe ShuffleKentucky Derby Preps Feature 3 Exciting Races

Kentucky Derby Preps Feature 3 Exciting Races

After a rare week off on the Kentucky Derby trail, the race to Churchill Downs returns with three Saturday preps, including the Louisiana Derby.

Horseplayers following the Kentucky Derby trail didn’t know what to do with themselves last week. A March week without a Derby prep to handicap and prospects to follow or forget about?

This week makes up for it. The Derby trail resumes with three races, with two of those offering 200 Derby points, via a 100-40-30-20-10 breakdown to the top five finishers. That’s enough to get the winner and likely the runner-up spots in the Churchill Downs gate May 6.

The first among non-equals here is the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, one of the marquee Grade 2 races on the Derby trail. This is a race won by the likes of Epicenter (2022) and Hot Rod Charlie (2021) the last two years. Both went on to hit the board in the Kentucky Derby. Epicenter finished second to 80-1 Rich Strike in last year’s freak-show Derby. Hot Rod Charlie was bumped to third after Medina Spirit’s disqualification the previous year.

Both showed the early tactical speed that plays well in the 1 3/16-mile race at Fair Grounds. Longtime handicapper J. Keeler Johnson pointed out that 10 of the last 12 Louisiana Derby winners were in the top four after the initial half-mile. Epicenter was third, Hot Rod Charlie was first. Take it back to 2020 and eventual winner Wells Bayou led at the half-mile mark.

This does not describe Instant Coffee, the 2-1 morning-line favorite. The Brad Cox charge comes into his first race in two months riding a two-graded stakes winning streak. He won both November’s Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes and January’s Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds from well off the pace.

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Instant Coffee Immediate Favorite

Instant Coffee is 3-for-4, tacking on a debut maiden special weight victory at Saratoga last summer that would have been the time to wager on the Bolt d’Oro colt. He won that seven-furlong trek at 14.90-1. Even a fourth in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity came via a furious stretch drive. He’s currently 14-1 on Caesars’ Derby Future board.

The second-favorite at 5-1 is another rally monster: Sun Thunder. The last time we saw this Kenny McPeek product, he was coming from eight lengths back to fall a length short in the Grade 2 Risen Star. He has the local experience this race rewards, with eight of the last 12 winners having one race at Fair Grounds on the resume.

The others to watch are Kingsbarns (6-1), Disarm (10-1) and Jace’s Road (12-1). Todd Pletcher makes a rare cameo at Fair Grounds with Kingsbarns. This immediately puts Kingsbarns as a must-use because while Pletcher rarely runs at Fair Grounds, when he does, good things happen. Since 2007, he has four wins and four seconds in this race. His early speed and Flavien Prat in the irons add to the appeal.

Jeff Ruby Steaks, Sunland Other Derby Preps

While the Louisiana Derby will suck most of the Derby trail oxygen, two more trail stops provide horseplayers with some reconnaissance. The first is the Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park. The 1 1/8-mile test on Turfway’s synthetic is that track’s marquee race. It may not feature many A-level Derby prospects, but it does offer 100-40-30-20-10 Derby points, enough to put the winner in the Derby.

Four starters from the John Battaglia Memorial, the Jeff Ruby’s prep, are expected to return, led by that race’s winner, Congruent. He came from nine lengths at the half-mile post to win by 3 ½. This will be the son of Tapit’s 10th career race, but he’s got a sixth and an eighth in his two graded stakes outings.

The other two to watch are Major Dude, and Two Phil’s, who finished third in the Risen Star last month. The month before, Two Phils finished second to Instant Coffee in the Lecomte. That, in turn, followed a win in the Street Sense last October.

We head west to New Mexico for the third Derby prep: Sunday’s Grade 3 Sunland Park Derby. That 1 1/8-mile race headlines the small New Mexico track’s season and is often a stop for Bob Baffert charges trying to find their level. And Baffert’s Hard to Figure is the 2-1 morning-line favorite. Because he’s still in Baffert’s barn, Hard to Figure isn’t eligible for the Derby. But he’s the one to watch after finishing second to stablemate Newgate in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita Park.

One former Baffert charge who is eligible for the 50-20-15-10-5 Derby points is Fort Bragg (4-1). Transferred to Tim Yakteen’s barn in time to finish fifth in the Grade 2 San Felipe earlier this month, Fort Bragg broke his maiden on third ask last November. He has that San Felipe fifth and a third in the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity.


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