Spring has sprung. And with the first 9-furlong Derby prep now in the books (with Collected defeating Gettysburg at Sunland Park), the real running has begun! On to The Fair Grounds this weekend, with a $50 bankroll profit in the pocket.

The Louisiana Derby:
Options, Options, Options!

Let’s start with a few key facts: the fastest horses and approximate odds.

Lazy Bettor Speed Figs  (Morning Line)

Greenpointcrusader…176  (7-2)
Battery……………………176  (10-1)
Gun Runner…………….172  (3-1)
Forevamo………………..172  (10-1)
Mo Tom…………………..171  (5-2)

These speed figures show Greenpointcrusader and Battery owning a 4-length advantage over the next-best horses. However, the reality might not be as clear cut as that.

Mo Tom, 5-2

Positives: He enters the race in top form and with one of the few graded stakes victories in the field. You’ll read much hoopla about his strong run in the Risen Star despite running into lots of trouble. His backers will tout his class and persistence as key attributes.

Negatives: At 5-2 or so, his odds don’t reflect his raft of slow final times. The low odds also ignore his penchant for running into trouble (3 times in 6 races). The race might shape up nicely for his closing kick, but there’s no evidence his late kick is much better than most other late runners in here.

Gun Runner, 3-1

Positives: His Risen Star victory is impressive. He showed he can stalk an honest pace and finish the job late. He’s lightly raced, so we probably haven’t seen his best. His sharp 5-furlong work shows he’s sharp and ready to roll.

Negatives: Again, the low odds might not justify the risk that he can’t improve by 3 or 4 lengths to challenge the Gulfstream Park shippers Greenpointcrusader and Battery. While it’s understandable that he failed to finish with a roar in the Risen Star, we might be seeing a pattern, with a few average to weak stretch runs logged already.

Greenpointcrusader, 7-2

Positives: He takes a big step down in class after losing back-to-back races against the 2 top Derby prospects this year: Mohaymen and Nyquist. By my calculations, he also shares the top speed rating in the field.

Negatives: I suspect he’ll be bet down to favoritism or to 2nd choice. He’s 0 for 2 running around 2 turns, with his stretch kick lacking the explosiveness we saw in his 1-turn efforts last year. And trainer Schettino is just 1 for 17 with horses in graded stakes races.

Forevamo, 10-1

Positives: The only bad race of his career was on a muddy track in the Grade 3 Delta Jackpot. If you like Gun Runner at 3-1, you should love this horse at 10-1 because he came within a half length of beating him. He showed improvement in his 2nd start this year and might improve again here.

Negatives: He repeatedly comes up short and now faces stronger competition.

Battery, 10-1

Positives: Options, options, options! Todd Pletcher always has many of them. February 27 was decision day for Pletcher, who worked Battery, Gettysburg and Destin all at 4 furlongs. Gettysburg ran 49.0 and was shipped to Sunland Park, where he ran 2nd in a $200,000 stakes. Destin ran 48.2 and was shipped to Tampa Bay Downs, where he won the $345,000 Tampa Bay Derby and set a track record. Battery ships here for the $750,000 big prize. Who do you think Pletcher was the most impressed with on February 27?

Battery enters this race off of an impressive allowance win in above-average time. Pletcher wins 33% of the time in dirt route races with Javier Castellano aboard and 34% of the time in graded stakes races with Castellano. Battery is the only entrant with a victory at today’s 9-furlong distance, and his odds will be very generous when considering these numerous and significant positives.

Negatives: He has never faced a really tough early pace, and it’s not clear if he’ll be able to handle that.

Other Considerations

Todd Pletcher has won 3 of the past 9 runnings of this race, and he has finished 2nd the past two years. He clearly points one of his top 3-year-olds toward this race every year. Michael Maker trainees defeated Pletcher’s horses the past two years. Both men are former D. Wayne Lukas assistants, and a rivalry is brewing here.

That leads me to betting both Battery and Uncle Walter. Most of my money will be on Battery. But I’ll also wager a few dollars on Uncle Walter, trained by Maker, even though he doesn’t seem to measure up figure-wise or performance-wise. After he flopped in his most recent race, Uncle Walter gets blinkers and a bullet 5-furlong work. At odds of 20-1 or higher, he’s worth a small wager.

THE BET:
$1 exacta wheel, Battery over All ($9)
$1 exacta part wheel/box Battery with Gun Runner, Greenpointcrusader, Mo Tom, Forevamo, Uncle Walter, Dazzling Gem ($12)
$3 Win on Uncle Walter

Roger LeBlanc