2023 Louisiana Derby Recap

Kingsbarns strengthened trainer Todd Pletcher’s hand for the 2023 Kentucky Derby with an all-the-way victory in the Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds March 25.

Already set to be represented by leading fancies Forte and Tapit Trice, Pletcher let Kingsbarns loose for the first time in stakes company after victories in a maiden and an allowance. His efforts in those races were enough for him to start as the 9-2 second favorite behind Lecomte (G3) winner Instant Coffee.

Flavien Prat took Kingsbarns to the front soon after the start and dictated an extremely slow pace, running his first three-quarters in a pedestrian 1:14.69. It made it virtually impossible for back runners to make any headway, and Kingsbarns took advantage in style, sprinting clear in the stretch for a 3 12-length victory.

It earned the son of Uncle Mo 100 points on the Road to the 2023 Kentucky Derby series, enough to ensure he gets a start in the big race.

Disarm put in a great effort for second, rallying from more than four lengths off the pace. He earned his first 40 points of the Derby Road series, which could be enough to earn him a Derby start.

Gun Runner Stakes winner Jace’s Road, who had been with Kingsbarns at the head of the field in the early sections, earned points for the fourth time in the Derby Road series, this time 30 for finishing third. It took his tally to 45 points, most likely ensuring he has a start should connections choose.

Shopper’s Revenge stuck on from a forward position to finish fourth, earning his first 20 points in the Derby Road series, while Risen Star runner-up Sun Thunder made a little ground for fifth, earning 10 points and taking his overall tally to 34, probably not enough for a Derby start. The back-running Instant Coffee couldn’t make up the ground and finished sixth, keeping him stuck on 32 points and likely to need withdrawals to get a Derby run.

By Alastair Bull

Louisiana Derby History

You won’t find many Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races older than the Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds. The historic race dates back to 1894, which makes the Louisiana Derby almost as old as the Kentucky Derby itself.

The conditions of the Louisiana Derby have varied widely through the years. It’s been held over four different distances, most recently shifting to 1 316 miles in 2020. The purse has risen from a few thousand dollars all the way up $1 million beginning in 2011. And along the way, the race has been won by some unforgettable horses.

The first Louisiana Derby winner of note was Black Gold, who followed his success at Fair Grounds with a tenacious half-length score in the “Run for the Roses.” The Louisiana Derby subsequently underwent an extended drought, failing to produce another Derby winner until Grindstone replicated Black Gold’s elusive double in 1996.

But even during this lull period, the Louisiana Derby was slowly gaining in prominence and prestige. Master Derby parlayed a victory at Fair Grounds into glory in the 1975 Preakness (G1). No Le Hace (1972), Golden Act (1979), Woodchopper (1981), and Risen Star (1988) all placed in the Kentucky Derby after winning the Louisiana Derby, and Risen Star later dominated the Preakness and Belmont Stakes (G1) to secure champion 3-year-old male honors.

Upgraded from Grade 3 to Grade 2 status in 1999, the Louisiana Derby has continued to produce a steady stream of high-profile horses. Fan favorite Funny Cide used a beaten effort in the Louisiana Derby as a springboard to victory in the 2003 Kentucky Derby, a path replicated by Country House in 2019.

Indeed, as a lucrative Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race offering qualification points to the top five finishers on a 100-40-30-20-10 basis, the Louisiana Derby has cemented its position as a key steppingstone toward the first Saturday in May. During the 2010s, the Louisiana Derby churned out 29 Kentucky Derby starters (averaging nearly three per year), including 2013 Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice, 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner and 2019 Preakness winner War of Will.

Certainties are few and far between in horse racing, but with its rich purse and hefty offering of qualification points, it seems safe to assume the Louisiana Derby’s influence on the Kentucky Derby will only continue to grow.

By J. Keeler Johnson

Louisiana Derby Previews:

Rogers and Kerstein: Inside the Kentucky Derby Podcast: Massive Championship Series Stakes Race Previews

Mucciolo: Expert Pick of the Week: 2023 Louisiana Derby

Johnson: Study Guide: Louisiana Derby

Reilly: Instant Coffee, Kingsbarns square off in Louisiana Derby