SOUTH / PLETCHER’S DISCREETLY MINE HEADS BAKER’S DOZEN IN LOUISIANA DERBY – E. Paul Robsham’s Discreetly Mine, a front-running winner of Fair Grounds Risen Star (GII) on Feb. 20, figures to have more company on the front end Saturday has he faces a dozen foes in the 97th running of the $750,000 Louisiana Derby (Grade II) at the New Orleans track.

Trainer Todd Pletcher will have jockey Javier Castellano in the saddle aboard Discreetly Mine, the 7-2 morning line favorite for the New Orleans’ track’s major prep for the $2 million-guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) on May 1 at Churchill Downs.

Discreetly Mine will face several of the horses he dispatched in the Risen Star, a race in which the winner got away to an easy lead in soft fractions that compromised the late runners in that field.  That group includes Drosselmeyer, who finished fourth to Discreetly Mine; Stay Put, the fifth-place finisher; and Ron the Greek, the winner of the  Lecomte (GIII) who finished sixth in the Risen Star.

A new face to watch is Edward Evans’ A Little Warm, winner of the Spectacular Bid (GII) at Gulfstream Park for trainer Tony Dutrow.  A Little Warm, the 4-1 second choice in the Louisiana Derby   A Little Warm is coming off a runner-up finish to D’Funnybone in the seven-furlong Hutcheson (GII) at Gulfstream Park and will attempt to stretch his considerable speed around two turns for the first time.

Other intriguing candidates in the large Louisiana Derby field include the Nick Zito-trained Fly Down, who comes off back-to-back wins at two turn distances at Gulfstream Park and Churchill Downs, and The Program, who invades from Southern California for trainer Bob Baffert off a third-place finish in the Sham (GIII) at Santa Anita.  The Louisiana Derby will be The Program’s first race on traditional dirt.

KENTUCKY / CONNEMARA RETURNS TO TURFWAY FOR LANE’S END – Derrick Smith, Michael Tabor and Mrs. John Magnier’s Connemara scored the first win of his career in his racing debut last fall at Turfway Park.  He returns to the Northern Kentucky track on Saturday in search of his biggest career victory in the $500,000 Lane’s End Stakes (GII).

The Todd Pletcher-trained Connemara won the El Camino Real Derby (GII) over the synthetic footing at Northern California’s Golden Gate Fields.  He has won three of four races and all have been on synthetic footing similar to Turfway’s Polytrack surface.

Northern California riding king Russell Baze, the all-time win leader in Thoroughbred racing, flies in to ride Connemara.  Oddsmaker Mike Battaglia has installed Connemara as the 9-5 favorite in a field of 10 and Pletcher’s colt will break from the rail post.

Primary competition for the stretch-running Connemara figures to come from the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Northern Giant, who finished third in the Risen Star (GII) at Fair Groundslast time out; and Dean’s Kittten, who has been based at Turfway throughout the winter.

Other horses that could attract fan interest include California invader Kettle River, who was off the board last time out in the Sham at Santa Anita, and Ranger Heartley, who handed Connemara the only loss of his career in the California Derby.

LOUISIANA DERBY, LANE’S END FEATURED ON FIRST ‘ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY’ – The Louisiana Derby and Lane’s End Stakes will be featured on the first of NBC Sports and Churchill Downs’ trio of “Road to the Kentucky Derby” telecasts of Kentucky Derby prep races set for Saturday, March 27.

USA Network presents live coverage of the two important Kentucky Derby preps in a telecast scheduled for 5-6 p.m. (EDT).

Along with the races and handicapping segments, the hour-long telecasts will feature lifestyle elements designed to broaden the audience and appeal of the Kentucky Derby prep races and drive viewership of the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown races.

The remaining “Road to the Kentucky Derby” programs will be telecast on NBC Sports and will feature:

  • The Santa Anita Derby (GI) from Santa Anita Park and Wood Memorial (GI) at Aqueduct on Saturday, April 3.
  • The Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (GI) at Keeneland and Arkansas Derby (GI) from Oaklawn Park on Saturday, April 10.

WEST / UNBEATEN CONVEYANCE HEADS GRADED SUNLAND DERBY – Last year’s Sunland Derby (GIII)at New Mexico’s Sunland Park was an unlikely key prep for the Kentucky Derby as Mine That Bird, it’s fourth-place finisher, returned to score a shocking 50-1 victory in the Kentucky Derby.

But Mine That Bird’s exploits helped raise the profile of the 1 1/8-mile race, which is now a graded stakes event at 1 1/8 miles on dirt.  It carries $800,000 purse, which looms large in a Kentucky Derby field limited to 20 horses with preference to those with the highest earnings in graded stakes.

The star going into Sunday’s milestone running of the Sunland Derby is Zabeel Racing International’s unbeaten Conveyance, a gray son of Indian Charlie who won the one-mile Southwest (GIII) at Oaklawn Park last time out.  The Bob Baffert-trained Conveyance will face eight rivals.

Other contenders include East Coast invaders Tempted to Tapit, runner-up in the Risen Star (GII) at Fair Grounds, and Nacho Friend, who finished third in the Gotham (GIII) at Aqueduct.

BAFFERT TO MAKE CALL ON LOOKIN AT LUCKY ON SUNDAY – Reigning 2-year-old champion Lookin at Lucky is scheduled to work at Santa Anita on Sunday and trainer Bob Baffert said he would make a decision on the colt’s next start after that move.

Baffert has wavered between the Santa Anita Derby (GI) on April 3 and the Arkansas Derby (GI) the following week for his winner of the Rebel (GIII).  In recent days he has indicated the cold would likely stay home at Santa Anita for his final Kentucky Derby prep.

DUBAI / MENDIP CARRIES GODOLPHIN HOPES IN UAE DERBY – If Dubai-based racing powerhouse Godolphin is to continue its bid for a Kentucky Derby victory, it could be a colt named Mendip that carries the stable’s trademark solid blue silks to Churchill Downs.

The unbeaten colt could earn a trip to Louisville with a big run in Saturday’s $2 million UAE Derby at the sparkling new Meydan Race Course.  Mendip notched hi third career win in the Al Bastakiya on March 4, defeating a field that included Vale of York, Godophin’s upset winner of last fall’s Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) at Santa Anita.  The latter is now sidelined by a bout with colic.

DERBY NOTES – Trainer Tom Albertrani said Tampa Bay Derby (GII) winner Odysseus would have one more prep before the Kentucky Derby.  Options include the Toyota Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby …
Opal Heath, 92, died March 23 in Ocala, Fla.  She was the co-owner of 1956 Kentucky Derby winner Needles along with her husband, Bonnie, and Jack Dudley.