If Instant Coffee is the most accomplished runner in next Saturday’s $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds, unbeaten Kingsbarns brings loads of potential into his first Road to the Kentucky Derby test.
The Louisiana Derby is one of three major scoring races on March 25 offering a bonanza of points – 100-40-30-20-10 – to the top five finishers. The UAE Derby (G2), earlier Saturday morning during the Dubai World Cup card, and the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) at Turfway Park, are likewise worth the maximum points structure. You can watch and wager on all three at TwinSpires.com.
As a 1 3/16-mile test, the Louisiana Derby is the longest points race on the stateside schedule. The UAE Derby is about that same distance at Meydan.
Here are five talking points for the Louisiana Derby, the 12th race with a post time of 6:42 p.m. (ET):
1. Four-time Louisiana Derby winner Todd Pletcher sends Kingsbarns on a mission for points.
An $800,000 purchase as a two-year-old in training at Fasig-Tipton’s Gulfstream Sale, Kingsbarns has won both starts so far. The well-bred son of champion Uncle Mo showed professionalism in his debut at Gulfstream Park, where he overcame a bit of traffic going a one-turn mile. Kingsbarns stretched out to two turns in a Tampa Bay Downs allowance and drew off by 7 3/4 lengths.
Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher has been known to use Tampa as a testing ground for his prospects, including Kentucky Derby winners Super Saver (2010) and Always Dreaming (2017). Tapit Trice just punched his Derby ticket in the Mar. 11 Tampa Bay Derby (G3), and Kingsbarns will try to join him – and their champion stablemate Forte – in the starting gate at Churchill Downs. He needs points now to get him there, and a top-two finish in the Louisiana Derby can keep the dream alive.
2. Instant Coffee’s trainer, Brad Cox, will try to sweep the Fair Grounds series of preps.
Trainer Brad Cox won the first three scoring races at Fair Grounds, all with different colts. Now he goes for a sweep of the New Orleans Road to the Kentucky Derby, with a trio of contenders in the Louisiana Derby.
Instant Coffee, the 2-1 morning-line favorite, sets a high standard as the winner of last fall’s Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) and the Jan. 21 Lecomte (G3) at Fair Grounds. Both times he’s uncorked a characteristically strong late rally, suggesting that the added ground of the Louisiana Derby should be within his scope.
Jace’s Road won the opener, the Dec. 26 Gun Runner S., in wire-to-wire fashion. Rerouted to Oaklawn Park for the Jan. 28 Southwest (G3), he threw in a clunker when fifth behind the now-sidelined Arabian Knight. But that came in the slop, as did Jace’s Road’s other subpar effort as a juvenile. If he gets a fast track back at Fair Grounds, Jace’s Road can perform a lot better.
Although Instant Coffee and Jace’s Road skipped the Feb. 18 Risen Star (G2) by design, Cox still captured that most recent Fair Grounds prep with another from his deep bench, Angel of Empire. He’s deliberately passing the Louisiana Derby to await another points race, likely the April 1 Arkansas Derby (G1). But Cox’s promising fourth in the Risen Star, Tapit’s Conquest, comes right back for more at Fair Grounds.
3. Four aim to improve from the Risen Star.
Even without Angel of Empire, the Risen Star is well represented with four graduates advancing to the Louisiana Derby – runner-up Sun Thunder, fourth Tapit’s Conquest, fifth Single Ruler, and eighth Curly Jack.
Sun Thunder, previously a belated fourth in the Southwest, took a big step forward in the 1 1/8-mile Risen Star for Ken McPeek. Staying on resolutely from far back, the son of leading sire Into Mischief aims to build upon that effort.
Tapit’s Conquest has an arguably better case to move forward. The promising Tapit colt steamed into the picture in the Risen Star before his momentum stalled, and it would be no surprise if he improves to pack a stronger punch. Single Ruler, a closing fifth, comes from the barn of Keith Desormeaux, who sent out Confidence Game to upset the Feb. 25 Rebel (G2).
While Curly Jack fared worst of the Risen Star returnees in a tiring eighth, he did not get the trip that trainer Tom Amoss wanted. Indeed, his proximity to a strong pace cost him. Curly Jack is clearly better than that, as proven by his victory in the Iroquois (G3) and good second to Instant Coffee in the Kentucky Jockey Club. With a different race shape likely in the Louisiana Derby, Curly Jack is eligible to do himself justice.
4. Steve Asmussen is double-handed in pursuit of his fifth Louisiana Derby.
Like Pletcher, fellow Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen has won this race four times. His past winners had all been battle-tested in New Orleans already, including future Horse of the Year Gun Runner (2016) and eventual divisional champion Epicenter (2022), who both turned the Risen Star/Louisiana Derby double.
In contrast, Asmussen’s current hopefuls, Disarm and Shopper’s Revenge, are lightly-raced types making their stakes debut in this spot. The duo are coming off runner-up efforts in allowances at Oaklawn.
Disarm, by Gun Runner, was a smashing maiden winner at Saratoga last summer. Not seen again until Feb. 19, the Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred was a solid second to Arkansas Derby-bound Two Eagles River. Disarm was playing catch-up after a slightly tardy start, which wasn’t his fault since the gate opened pretty fast once he stepped in. He should be ready to roll off that tightener.
Shopper’s Revenge, a son of Tapit and 2015 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) star Stopshoppingmaria, was likewise a late-running second in an Oaklawn allowance after missing the break. Two starts back, the Whisper Hill Farm and Three Chimneys homebred dominated a maiden on the front end. His tactical speed can carry him a long way on the Fair Grounds rail – if he breaks alertly.
5. Denington and Cagliostro ran one-two in a tough allowance on Risen Star Day.
Denington, on the trail longer than fellow McPeek trainee Sun Thunder, endured three stakes losses before rebounding in a Fair Grounds allowance. Although technically it was a drop in class, don’t interpret it too strictly as such.
That race on the Risen Star undercard was pretty salty, and Denington finally got the right set-up. Benefiting from taking blinkers off, and a patient ride from off a robust tempo, he finished fast to beat highly-regarded Cagliostro. Denington’s very close fifth to Instant Coffee in the Kentucky Jockey Club hints that he can go close again with a similar passage. Cagliostro ran a terrific race himself in that allowance, just collared late, and he brings an upwardly mobile profile for Cherie DeVaux.
Also in action earlier on Risen Star Day was Baseline Beater, who broke his maiden in his fifth try, but convincingly. The Neil Pessin pupil was second to Single Ruler in his prior start. Taking a substantial leap in class here, Baseline Beater is the only entrant who wasn’t nominated to the Triple Crown by the early deadline.