Is the Battle of New Orleans All War of Will?

22 Mar

By Lucky Kalanges

While closing day is officially Sunday, the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) effectively puts the bow on the winter thoroughbred meeting at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. The 6/5 morning-line favorite, with good reason, is War of Will who enters his final Kentucky Derby prep coming off two strong performances over this track in the Lecomte and Risen Star Stakes, which he won by four and two and a quarter lengths, respectively.

Both efforts were picture perfect, trouble-free stalking trips, in which he used his natural early speed to establish a good stalking position, engaged the leaders without being asked while rounding the far turn, and drew away when he was finally asked for run in the stretch. He seems to fit the mold of the last five or six Kentucky Derby winners to a tee.

All that said, there are a couple of horses who could pull the upset, much like Long Range Toddy and Omaha Beach did in last week’s dual division of the Rebel Stakes. The one thing the competition doesn’t have going for it is War of Will isn’t coming in off a 90-day layoff, and shouldn’t be “short.”

To me, the two most logical horses to pull the upset are both 8/1 on the morning line. I’ll start with the horse I think has the best shot and that is #4 – Sueno. I liked his effort in the Southwest Stakes in which he was full of run early, had to check a little bit behind horses on the backstretch, sat patiently while horses moved all around him from the backstretch around the far turn, finally got clear and came running to grab second behind 62/1 winner Super Steed.

I think Sueno and his rider Corey Lanerie, showed a lot of poise in that race, and were flattered when third place finisher Long Range Toddy came back to upset Improbable in the Rebel Stakes. With an over abundance of deep closers signed on in this race, I think he’ll probably get a much cleaner trip and doesn’t have to improve much from the 89 Beyer Speed Figure he earned in the Southwest to match War of Will’s 92 last out. Finally, his last three starts in which he finished first, second and second came at three different tracks, so travelling doesn’t seem to be an issue.

The other contender I am interested in is Todd Pletcher’s Spinoff (8/1). The son of Hard Spun is bred to run early and showed it by romping over a short Optional Claiming field at Tampa by 11 lengths off a six month layoff. He gets the class test here, but does catch a field without a lot of early speed and shouldn’t have much trouble either securing the lead or sitting off potential pace-setter Lemniscate (15/1). From there, it will just be a matter of how slow he can go on the front end and how far he can carry his speed.


#7 – Mr. Money (20/1) moved with War of Will last time from about a length behind, was clobbered in the stretch by a fast closing Country House and faded to seventh. His Risen Star effort came off a three-month layoff, prior to which he had finished a respectable fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile behind Game Winner. He should get another mid-pack trip this time in which he’ll get another jump on the deep closers. He could make some noise if he can improve second off the layoff.

If you’re looking for horses to clunk up the Trifecta and Superfecta, I’d look at these three:

#3 Limonite (20/1) – second off a layoff for Asmussen at 20/1.
#9 Bankit (20/1) – Asmussen, Irad Ortiz at 20/1
#11 Hog Creek Hustle (12/1) – Had some trouble in the Risen Star, gets and outside post and possibly a cleaner trip.

I see absolutely no value in backing the deep closer, Country House (9/2), as the expected second choice in this race. Just too much has to go his way for him to win or even hit the board, and it’s just not worth swallowing a short price on a deep closer like him.

The verdict:

In the end, I don’t see much keeping War of Will from either winning for finishing second in this race. There isn’t much pace in here and he should be able to work out a decent stalking trip, perhaps even a better trip than last time from the six hole. I expect Lemniscate and/or Spinoff will be War of Will’s target on the front end.

If Spinoff is ready to make another nine-point Beyer leap, it’s quite possible he could run away with it. He should have every chance to win on the front end.

Sueno could be the “now” horse for the Keith Desormeaux barn. I expect him to be just off the pace and to be a factor when the real running begins around the far turn.

Since I don’t have a strong reason to stand against War of Will in this one, I’ll consider small Win bets on either Sueno or Spinoff should one of the two drift up to 10/1 or better. I think Spinoff could go off as low as 5/1, which might make Sueno drift up or vice-versa.

I will consider a $5 Trifecta on War of Will over Spinoff, Sueno (2nd) over Mr. Money (3rd) for $10 as a pure action bet.

With an extra day to look at Sunday’s Sunland Derby, I am going to take it and will see you back here Saturday night. Until then, best of luck with your bets.

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