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Intense Holiday meets familiar foes in Louisiana Derby
The field for the Grade 2, $1 million Louisiana Derby looks very much like the one that contested last month's Risen Star, the main prep for Saturday's 1 1/8-mile signature event of the Fair Grounds meet.
In the 1 1/16-mile Risen Star, run on February 22, the Todd Pletcher-trained Intense Holiday flattered the form of the South Florida three-year-old contingent with a last-gasp victory over a loose-on-the-lead Albano, who is stabled at Fair Grounds with Larry Jones.
Those two, plus five other Risen Star participants, are joined in the Louisiana Derby cast by Grade 2 winner In Trouble, stakes winner Louies Flower, and the stakes-placed King Cyrus to form a field of 10 in the feature on a stakes-laden program.
The Risen Star was the first stakes victory for Intense Holiday, who had futilely chased top East Coast classic prospects Cairo Prince, Honor Code, and Havana since October. That score was preceded by a distant third-place effort in the January 25 Holy Bull behind Cairo Prince, the expected favorite in Saturday's Florida Derby.
Intense Holiday will break from post 1 and is the 2-1 morning line favorite under Mike Smith.
Albano, who inherited a lead no one wanted in the Risen Star and ultimately missed by a nose, might have a more difficult time replicating those tactics from post 10 in the Louisiana Derby. However, the Istan colt has maintained his form all winter, commencing with a victory in the six-furlong Sugar Bowl in December and a runner-up finish in the Lecomte prior to the Risen Star.
Vicar's in Trouble, the Louisiana-bred colt who blew the doors off his rivals in the Lecomte by 6 3/4 lengths, was hobbled with post 13, raced four wide around both turns and finished third, nearly five lengths behind the top pair, when favored in the Risen Star. The Mike Maker trainee could bounce back with a more ideal trip from post 6.
Among the Risen Star also-rans back to make amends are the Delta Downs Jackpot winner Rise Up, who made a quick retreat in the Risen Star after chasing Albano in second to the quarter pole. The Rockport Harbor colt adds blinkers and thus is expected to show early foot once more.
Gold Hawk, a son of classic winner Empire Maker and champion Caressing, was the beaten favorite when third in the Lecomte and then was a wide-trip fifth in the Risen Star. He will be the focus of intense scrutiny hailing from the barn of embattled trainer Steve Asmussen.
The other Risen Star also-rans in the Louisiana Derby lineup, maiden winners Flat Gone and Commanding Curve, would appear to have work to do to make an impact.
In Trouble is the leading newcomer on the scene. Undefeated in two starts last season, including the Futurity at Belmont Park, the Tiz Wonderful colt turned in a praiseworthy effort in the March 1 Gotham at Aqueduct, where he set a pressured pace and only yielded by a half-length at the finish to Samraat and Uncle Sigh, two rivals who held a fitness edge having competed throughout the winter.
The Louisiana Derby field is completed by Louies Flower, a narrow winner of the Springboard Mile at Remington two back but last of 12 in the Southwest at Oaklawn most recently, and King Cyrus, who steps up in class following a wide-trip second in a minor stakes at Calder.
The Louisiana Derby is worth 170 points -- 100 for first, 40 for second, 20 for third and 10 for fourth -- in the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series that determines qualifying for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 3.
Post time for the Louisiana Derby is approximately 6:10 p.m. (CDT) and the race will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network.