The Derby dream lives on in Louisiana, New Mexico, and Kentucky this Saturday. Over these three states, a total of thirty-two horses will compete to bank the thousands of dollars in graded stakes earnings they need to reach the starting gates for the most prestigious race in America. This weekend will be the 97th running of the Louisiana Derby, set to go off with a full field of thirteen; New Mexico will see a competitive crowd knock heads in the Sunland Derby, which is graded this year for the first time and has tempted contenders from all over with its hefty $800,000 purse; and in Kentucky, Turfway Park will run the $500,000 Lane’s End Stakes over its artificial surface. Three very different tracks with three very different groups of horses, and only a few of these will rise from the fray and be able to dust themselves off to ride to a higher glory on the first Saturday in May.
Saturday’s Louisiana Derby will feature a rematch of the winners of the two key preps for Fair Grounds’ premiere 3-year-old race, Risen Star victor Discreetly Mine, and Lecomte winner Ron the Greek. After setting a crawling pace in the Grade II Risen Star, Todd Pletcher trainee Discreetly Mine stole the race in front-running fashion to stifle the chances of close-from-the-clouds runner, Ron the Greek. There should be a lot more pace in the Louisiana Derby, as Discreetly Mine will have to contend with Wow Wow Wow early. D. Wayne Lukas trainee Wow Wow Wow has only won when setting the pace and going two turns, but his draw of post 10 might compromise the dash to the first turn. Other hopefuls include Mission Impazible, a stalker, and Hotep, who is a closer.
The Grade II Lane’s End Stakes isn’t a traditional prep for the Kentucky Derby, but a few knock-out horses have emerged from this synthetic test to become Derby-placed, such as Hard Spun in 2007, who went on to finish second behind Street Sense in the run for the roses. The favorite for this year’s Lane’s End is Pletcher-trained Connemara, who broke his maiden at Turfway and has smelled victory over the artificial surfaces of California, as well. Last time out, Connemara won the Grade III El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields. Connemara is the lone graded stakes winner in the field of 10; those looking to upset the favorite is Ranger Heartly, who defeated Connemara in the California Derby at Golden Gate, and Doubles Partner, who has won two consecutive races on the turf. In his last start, Doubles Partner defeated Lentenor in a 9-furlong allowance at Gulfstream; Lentenor recently finished fourth in the Grade I Florida Derby in his first start over dirt. Northern Giant is also set to challenge, after a furious finish in the Grade II Risen Star at Fair Grounds, where he finished third by a nose to Tempted to Tapit; Northern Giant would be good bet if he can step up on the synthetic surface at Turfway.
The most intriguing of these three races will be at none other than the Grade III Sunland Derby on Sunday, which was barely registered as a legitimate prep on the road to the roses before Mine That Bird used it as a springboard to upset 18 horses and bring home the Kentucky Derby trophy to New Mexico (Notice he didn’t win that race, but the graded earnings from his fourth-place effort were enough that he was able to actually get into the Derby gates in the ninth hour). The favorite for the Sunland Derby will undoubtedly be the Bob Baffert-trainee, Conveyance. Unbeaten in four starts, all coming with a front-running effort, the gray son of Indian Charlie won the Grade III Southwest Stakes last time out at Oaklawn Park. Prior to that, Conveyance won the 1-mile Grade III San Rafael at Santa Anita. The Sunland Derby will be the longest race his connections have ever asked him to run, and the added distance may prove to be his downfall. Looking to pick up the pieces should Conveyance come up short is Tempted to Tapit, the runner-up in the Grade II Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds last month, and Nacho Friend, who was third in the Grade III Gotham at Aqueduct. Storming Saint is the colt with the homefield advantage, though only mildly so; Storming Saint was awarded the victory in the Borderland Derby at this track after the physical winner, Raise the Bridle, “interfered” in the stretch and was disqualified. Though this writer disagrees with that disqualification, Storming Saint is the best chance for on the home front to take the Sunland Derby.
In addition to all of the Kentucky Derby preps this weekend, Saturday will mark the running of the world’s richest race, the $10-million dollar Dubai World Cup at Meydan Racecourse. A full program of eight opulent races will be run in Dubai that day, featuring some of the biggest stars in racing, including dual-Eclipse winner and American turf hero Gio Ponti.
For approximate race post times and corresponding networks, please see the schedule at NTRA.com. The USA Network will be airing coverage of the Louisiana Derby and the Lane’s End Stakes on Saturday at 4:00pm CT. NTRA will also stream the Sunland Derby live this Sunday.