Louisiana Derby Day features a solid favorite in the main event, War of Will, as well as a bevy of competitive stakes on the undercard. The G2 $400,000 New Orleans Handicap has a big field and lacks a standout on the toteboard. This makes for one of the weekend's most attractive betting races in the stakes ranks.
NOBLE INDY is a G2 winner of last year's Louisiana Derby and COPPER BULLET won the G2 Saratoga Special in 2017. G3 winners here include LONE SAILOR, CORE BELIEFS and SILVER DUST. There's not a wide swath here on class and a pretty even match-up.
The expected scratch of NOBLE COMMANDER certainly softens this tempo. The G3 Mineshalf, the local prep, was waltzed behind a quarter in 25-4/5 and 6 furlongs in 1:14-4/5. The new speed injection likely comes from MR. BUFF and COPPER BULLET. This race definitely can be controlled up front.
SILVER DUST scored the Mineshaft while sitting a few lengths off the dawdling pace. He will give 2-7 pounds under the handicap weights, which could be significant with a faster pace projected and longer distance. He has really come to hand of late for Bret Calhoun. You don't see many win 3 of 4 recent races at this level after starting a career 1-for-15. He's really on point now and expect SILVER DUST to have a major say in this. Among the other Mineshaft alumni in this race, LONE SAILOR no doubt was pace-compromised in that one and will appreciate more tempo and a 3-pound weight allowance. But he's just 2-for-16 lifetime and the Oklahoma Derby winner -- despite his running style -- isn't bred for longer trips.
NOBLE INDY returns to the scene of his career-defining score on this card a year ago. But have you ever seen a horse do such an about-face? Since then he's 0-for-4 by a whopping 141 lengths! With Todd Pletcher and John Velazquez, you're likely to get a shorter price on this horse people know than what his current form suggests. He's a tough underlay to approve in this spot.
Four newcomers to Fair Grounds really present the challenge to SILVER DUST.
No one enters hotter than MR. BUFF, the expected pacesetter who has won 4 straight, including a pair of minor stakes. But that he easily whipped Sunny Ridge last time is a feather in his cap, because that's a quality opponent for a $100,000 listed stakes. Junior Alvarado will be in to ride in search of the horse's fifth straight victory and first graded stakes tally. Despite a front-running style, MR. BUFF has posted 108 and 101 BRIS late pace figures in 2 of his last 3 starts. If allowed to relax, he finishes a deal.
COPPER BULLET has some pace ability and class about him that makes his dangerous here even if stretching out to his longest career test. HIs first try around 2 turns at Oaklawn, which can be a demanding surface, was awfully good in the G3 Razorback. Note that third-place finisher Rated R Superstar returned to win last week's Essex Handicap, and winner Coal Front is much stronger than a G3 sort. So COPPER BULLET was book-ended by positive opponents in that one. He stalked a fast pace and still finished up with a solid 95 BRIS late pace figure. This one could go slower early than the Razorback and give COPPER BULLET more late punch.
CORE BELIEFS comes east from California for a Peter Eurton barn that's been more apt to travel in recent seasons. This colt is a testament, having ventured to Belmont, Thistledown, Monmouth, Parx and now Fair Grounds in his last 5 starts. Yes, he's based at Santa Anita where things have been interrupted of late with training; but he's a road warrior who can be expected fit well here and not just being sent willy-nilly across the country because of a vacancy in the schedule.
BANDUA is G1-placed on turf in last year's Secretariat. Trainer Jack Sisterson brings the Irish import to the dirt for the first time, where he fired a local bullet workout earlier this month. By The Factor out of a Seattle Slew mare, there's reason to think dirt could work here. It will be interesting to see where he's placed pace-wise in this spot. If he can stay outside and near the front, he'll avoid the abrasive kickback that often deters turf horses when trying the dirt.
Most Certain Exotics Contender:
SILVER DUST has been on point at the meet and fits the pace scenario reasonably well.
Best Longshot Exotics Contender:
BANDUA has some class about him and just may take to the new surface change.
Sending it in ($100 bankroll):
I'm looking for one of the speed horses to hold off SILVER DUST. $50 exacta part-wheel MR. BUFF and COPPER BULLET over SILVER DUST.