The road to the 2014 Kentucky Derby continues at Fair Grounds Race Course on Saturday with the latest edition of the Louisiana Derby. The Grade II prep race is one of the final stops for horses making their bid to reach Churchill Downs on May 3.
Revolutionary won the race, which checks in at 1 1/8 miles, last year. The colt proceeded to finish third in the Kentucky Derby behind Orb and Golden Soul. Grindstone was the last horse to win both races back in 1996.
There's a reasonable chance that streak will come to an end this year. Intense Holiday, the morning-line favorite for the 101st Louisiana Derby, is a serious Kentucky Derby contender and can further solidify that status with a win on Saturday.
Here's a look at how Intense Holiday and all of his rivals will head to post at the Fair Grounds, courtesy of the track's official site:
|1||Intense Holiday||Mike E. Smith||2-1|
|2||King Cyrus||James Graham||15-1|
|3||Louies Flower||Miguel Mena||20-1|
|4||Flat Gone||Kent Desormeaux||50-1|
|5||Gold Hawk||Shaun Bridgmohan||12-1|
|6||Vicar's in Trouble||Rosie Napravnik||4-1|
|7||Commanding Curve||Robby Albarado||20-1|
|8||Rise Up||Gerard Melancon||10-1|
|9||In Trouble||Joseph Rocco Jr.||4-1|
Intense Holiday is an interesting case. He showcased a lot of talent right out of the gate, winning his second career race to break his maiden. The colt was then immediately pushed into graded stakes competition, and the results were mixed.
After failing to finish in the money in his first three races at the high levels, he was able to secure third in the Holy Bull Stakes. He backed it up with a victory in the Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds, which really put him on the map in terms of being a top Kentucky Derby contender.
He edged Albano and Vicar's In Trouble in that race and will face off with them again on Saturday. It should give an indication if he's truly a step above the rest at this level.
Albano stayed with Intense Holiday right down to the wire in that previous meeting despite breaking from the undesirable No. 1 post. Ted Lewis of The New Orleans Advocate passed along comments from trainer Larry Jones, who doesn't think moving outside is a major factor, but it should help:
Looks like I'm on the rail again, just on the other side. Sometimes I think we like to talk about post positions just to keep it interesting, especially when it's anything over a mile.
I do like it better than the one we had last time, though.
Outside of that rival trio that battled to the finish in the Risen Star, the other horse to keep a close eye on is In Trouble.
Which horse will win the Louisiana Derby?
He won the first two races of his career, including the Grade II Futurity back in September. After an extended layoff, he returned to the track for the Grade III Gotham Stakes and looked a bit rusty en route to a third-place showing.
It will be interesting to see if In Trouble can bounce back and showcase some of that earlier form now that he's racing for the second time in March.
As for a potential long shot, Louies Flower presents good value. He won his first career race, the Remington Springboard Mile, but followed it up with a forgettable Southwest Stakes. So this is one of those turning-point races in his career.
J.J. Hysell of InTheMoneyPost.com also notes he had some strong workouts in sloppy conditions at Oaklawn Park, which could come in handy with an uncertain weather forecast:
If the track comes up wet/sloppy in the Louisiana Derby, keep an eye on Louies Flower, who worked well in slop at Oaklawn.— J.J. Hysell (@trifectabox) March 28, 2014
Ultimately, it's up to Intense Holiday to build off his performance the last time out. If he does, there's no doubt it's his race to lose. A convincing victory could even be enough to bring him into the conversation about potential Kentucky Derby favorites.
Should he falter it would seem Albano has the best opportunity to capitalize. That said, expect a strong showing from Intense Holiday to pick up his second straight win and third overall.
Prediction: Intense Holiday