Bravazo notched his first stakes win in the February 17 Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds and with the 50-point prize, the improving 3-year-old likely guaranteed himself a spot in the Kentucky Derby field.

The 1 1/16-mile race kicked off the Championship Series in the Road to the Kentucky Derby and Bravazo left the starting gate at 21-1 odds despite winning his 2018 debut over allowance foes at Oaklawn Park. Horseplayers had doubts given how Bravazo completed his juvenile season, but the son of Awesome Again has clearly turned things around at age 3 for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

Bravazo showed speed from the start of the Risen Star, closely chasing Snapper Sinclair and determinedly wore down the pacesetter in deep stretch to secure a nose win. Fair Grounds’ leading rider, Miguel Mena, picked the mount on the dark bay colt and Lukas indicated Bravazo would likely return to the New Orleans track for the $1 million TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) on March 24.

The Kentucky Derby is always more interesting when Lukas is involved. Tied for second all-time with four wins, the famed 82-year-old trainer is eager for another opportunity following a two-year absence on the first Saturday in May. And Bravazo races for Calumet Farm, who leads all owner with eight Kentucky Derby victories.

Bravazo recorded his first career tally under the Twin Spires, taking a one-mile maiden special weight at Churchill Downs last September, and jumped straight to stakes company with a respectable second in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland. However, he tailed off in his final two appearances last year, recording a weakening third in the Street Sense Stakes and a non-competitive 10th in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs.

His profile has risen significantly this year but Bravazo must keep improving to be rated among the best of his division. The competition promises to get stiffer and I would like to see him earn a triple-digit BRIS Speed rating next time.

But it’s easy to appreciate his progress and Bravazo remains eligible to keep moving forward for Lukas.

After a non-threatening third in the January 13 Lecomte (G3), Snapper Sinclair stepped up with an excellent runner-up effort for Steve Asmussen and the juvenile turf stakes winner has shown an affinity for the main track at age 3. He may continue to perform admirably in the 1 1/8-mile Louisiana Derby but the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby distance looks like a stretch given Snapper Sinclair’s speed-oriented pedigree.

Noble Indy came up a little short making his stakes debut, sustaining his first career setback finishing third. The stalker sat a good trip just off the early leaders but lacked the necessary late kick. He will get the opportunity to show more next time but Noble Indy doesn’t look like one of Todd Pletcher’s main Kentucky Derby contenders presently.

After romping in the Lecomte, Instilled Regard turned in an extremely disappointing performance as the 7-5 favorite. The Jerry Hollendorfer-trained colt appeared reluctant to settle during the early stages and had to be urged along early by jockey Javier Castellano before coming up empty in the stretch, checking in a neck back of Noble Indy in fourth.

Given the class displayed in his two previous outings, Instilled Regard can theoretically rebound from the unplaced effort but this wasn’t the performance one expects from a top Kentucky Derby contender.