TRC analyst James Willoughby, who is assessing the action on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, weighs up what happened in last Saturday’s Louisiana Derby.
ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY 2018
Episode 18: Louisiana Derby (March 24, Far Grounds, Grade 2, 9f)
Winner: Noble Indy
Jockey: John Velazquez (TRC Global Rank #15)
Owner: WinStar Farm Et Al (#8)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (#12)
Sire: Take Charge Indy (#283)
Video and result: click here
The first of the 100-point bonus races catapulted Noble Indy to the top of the Kentucky Derby point standings. The son of 2012 Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy – who had been exported to Chile by Noble Indy’s part-owners, WinStar Farm – strengthened Todd Pletcher’s Derby hand, headed by Holy Bull winner Audible and Rebel Stakes hero Magnum Moon, among others.
Noble Indy had played up in the paddock prior to his two-length third to the Wayne Lukas-trained Bravazo in the Risen Star last month. Fitted with blinkers, he responded well to get the better of a driving finish with Lone Sailor, the latter becoming just the latest runner to bolster the form of last year’s G2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, in which he finished fifth to Godolphin’s Enticed.
While Noble Indy deserved the win, he probably would not have got a shot at it had third-placed My Boy Jack saved ground.
We had raved about the Desormeaux brothers’ handling of the talented closer My Boy Jack after his win in the G3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn. This time, however, jockey Kent rather let trainer Keith down with a ride of notable profligacy on the son of Creative Cause, sweeping about as wide off the home turn as any contender for a Derby trial has in the last few years.
My Boy Jack was nearly upsides a furlong out, but the effort had to take its toll unless he was a superhorse, and he had nothing left to repel the first and second, who had raced along the rail.
This was in stark contrast to Desormeaux’s rail-skimming masterclass in the Southwest. But that kind of run simply wasn’t on this time. The geometry of the issue is clear: on a track like Fair Grounds, a horse loses about a length for every horse-width off the rail it races around a 180 degree turn.
The problem with simply deducting that from My Boy Jack’s finishing position is that he is likely to always lose more ground than rivals who race up with the pace – this is the trade-off the closer has to accept in exchange for an uninterrupted run and the chance to save energy early, if the race is a burn-up.
Higher early tempo
Furthermore, as we mentioned in the analysis of Magnum Moon’s Rebel win, it is often a mistake to factor ground loss into a performance abstracted from the pace of the race. On dirt, the tempo is higher early than late on 99 percent of occasions, so racing wide on the first turn always hurts, whereas racing wide on the second can less deleterious, especially to a closer who has set up far off the pace.
Following this theme, check out the fractions over the nine-furlong distance here from the Equibase chart: 22.97 – 23.64 – 24.86 – 25.82 – 12.99 (pro-rated 25.98). Sure enough, Noble Indy has to be credited with running his race far less efficiently than My Boy Jack purely in energetic terms. While there is no doubt the Desormeaux charge should have won on the day, it doesn’t mean he is necessarily the best horse by many lengths.
In summary, the form of this race is going to win none of the first three a Kentucky Derby. Improvement is necessary: the winner received a Racing Post Rating of just 111 and a Beyer Speed Figure of 95, neither of which usually sees a colt draped in a garland of roses on the first Saturday in May.
But some of the potential to bridge what is a five-length gap exists, especially in the case of the wide-running third-placed horse: we may not know if My Boy Jack has Derby class, but at least we can be sure that an extra furlong won’t be a problem – he tackled that already here.
Previously in this series
1. Sham Stakes (McKinzie)
2. Lecomte (Instilled Regard)
3. Jerome (Firenze Fire)
4. Smarty Jones (Mourinho)
5. Holy Bull (Audible)
6. Withers (Avery Island)
7. Robert B Lewis (Lombo)
8. Sam F Davis (Flameaway)
9. Risen Star (Bravazo)
10. Southwest (My Boy Jack)
11. Fountain of Youth (Promises Fulfilled)
12. Road to the Kentucky Derby Stakes (Gronkowski)
14. Fountain of Youth (Bolt D’Oro)
15. Gotham (Enticed)
16. Tampa Bay Derby (Quip)
17. Rebel (Magnum Moon)