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On Saturday, March 26, The Fair Grounds will host the biggest Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby prep races of the year to date in the form of the Fair Grounds Oaks and Louisiana Derby. Get my analysis and selections for each graded stakes race.

Saturday Fair Grounds Horse Racing Picks: Kentucky Derby Prep Louisiana Derby and More

The winners will receive 100 points toward qualifying for the big races the first weekend in May. In total, The Fair Grounds features four Grade II races on their Saturday card.

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Race 9

  • Distance: 1/18 miles
  • Name: The New Orleans Classic - Grade II
  • Age: 4-years-old and up
  • Surface: Dirt

The Grade II New Orleans Classic is a prime example of pacing making the race. In this six-horse field, no one is going to challenge favorite Olympiad (8-5) for the early lead. Olympiad, to his credit, has been stretching out the last few times out and doing so with class as he pulled away down the stretch to win the Grade III Mineshaft last time out. He has the best speed figures in the field and without anyone pushing him early, it seems unlikely that anyone will be able to make a run at him last as he’ll have been able to conserve plenty of energy before turning for home.

While it’s hard to go against the favorite up top, I do think you can find some value underneath. Chess Chief (8-1) was last seen finishing well behind Life is Good and Knicks Go at the Grade I Pegasus World Cup, but lucky for him the latter is running in Dubai this weekend and the former is retired. Chess Chief is a cut below the best horses in his division, but his victory two back at the Tenacious Stakes showed that he can be successful against the next tier of competition. Also, he loves Fair Grounds as all five of his career victories have come in his 10 races at the Lousiana track. The nine-furlong distance might be his maximum range, but the relatively easy pace upfront should allow him to have plenty in the tank coming for home.

Meanwhile, Promise Keeper (3-1) showed a lot in a strong fourth-place effort last time out at the Razorback Handicap, which was his first effort in nearly nine months. He overcame a poor start and finished well for a horse who had been on the bench for so long. He should be closer to the lead this time out and he’s two for three winning at this distance in his career. I do not think he has the class to push Olympiad, but he seems like a safe bet to hit the board.

A potential X-factor is Super Stock (8-1) who won last year’s Arkansas Derby and is also two for three winning races at this distance. While his 2021 Kentucky Derby was forgettable, he bounced back with some nice efforts at Ellis Park and Zia Park in stakes races. He faded a bit at the Razorback Handicap, but that was coming off a two-month break and he emerged from that race looking fresh. He could provide some additional value in what is shaping up to be a chalky graded stakes schedule.

Race 9 Picks

  • Win: Olympiad
  • Place: Chess Chief
  • Show: Promise Keeper

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Race 10

  • Distance: 1/18 miles
  • Name: Muniz Memorial Classic Stakes - Grade III
  • Age: 4-years-old and up
  • Surface: Turf

The lone turf race among the graded stakes offerings is a doozy with several horses coming back to face each other again after last month’s Grade III Fair Ground Stakes. The winner of that race, Calvary Charge (10-1), managed to wire the field while holding off three competitors by less than a neck. He’ll be lucky to be able to pull off such a feat again as he’ll be pressed for the lead by Two Emmys (15-1) and Forty Under (10-1). The three of them should set a hot pace, which will set things up for the deep closers.

Chad Brown has the two favorites, Sacred Life (2-1) and Devamani (5-2), both of which are deep closers and should welcome the setup of the race. Sacred Life has been a very consistent horse while running at the graded stakes level but reminds me a bit of Midnight Bourbon in that he rarely wins. While he hits the board often, he’s only gotten to the winner’s circle once in his last nine graded stakes races. Admittedly he’s 5-9 winning at this distance but has never run on the grass at the Fair Grounds. Meanwhile, Devamani is running for the second time since coming back from an eight-month layoff. His first race back, the Grade III Tampa Bay Stakes, was expectedly rusty, but may have been what he needed to get prepped for this effort. His jockey, Joel Rosario, is among the best on turf but, like his stablemate Sacred Life, he’s never traveled over the turf at Fair Grounds, and he’s been running less regularly as he’s gotten older.

All of this brings me to my pick, Santin (7-2). He’s also a deep closer who will like the hot pace up front, but unlike Sacred Life and Devamani, he’s just starting his career. He’s only raced four times and has seen his speed figures increase in each outing. He’s yet to reach his full potential and has already turned in some incredibly impressive performances such as a second place in the Grade I Hollywood Derby and finishing fourth by a neck to Calvary Charge at the Grade III Fair Grounds Stakes after a troubled trip. He’s also running for the second time back from a four-month layoff and has experience on the Fair Grounds turf. While he’s breaking from the far outside, he broke from the 14th post position at Del Mar for the Hollywood Derby.

While things will set up well for the closers, I do think Calvary Charge (10-1) provides nice value underneath as I believe he’s capable of holding on for a piece of the board. He often sets a strong pace, but his speed fractions stay strong turning for home and he’s proven that he can hold off a lot of runners in this group at this distance.

Race 10 Picks

  • Win: Santin
  • Place: Sacred Life
  • Show: Calvary Charge

Race 11 – Kentucky Oaks Prep Race (100 Points to Winner)

  • Distance: 1/16 miles
  • Name: Fair Grounds Oaks - Grade II
  • Age: 3-years-old (F)
  • Surface: Dirt

The Fair Grounds Oaks hails the return of Echo Zulu (4-5), the undefeated Gun Runner progeny, who was the dominant 2-year-old filly in 2021. The Steve Asmussen filly has not run since her victory at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies in November. While we have seen several 2021 juvenile standouts get lapped by their peers early in the 2022 campaign, Echo Zulu feels different. Her speed figures and fractions as a 2-year-old are still well ahead of anything her competitors have shown in their 3-year-old campaign. Therefore, it stands to reason that she can afford to be a little rusty and could still repel a career-best effort from her challengers.

As for the race, Echo Zulu will be breaking from the far inside post, which is always a dicey proposition, but her superior tactical speed should allow her to break to the lead, which is her preferred style. In terms of competition, Turnerloose (6-1) successfully made the transition from turf to dirt last time out and collected a victory over the dirt at the Fair Grounds in the Grade II Rachel Alexandra Stakes. As a juvenile, Turnerloose generally ran near the front, but her dirt victory showed her ability to come from off the pace, which would serve her well against Echo Zulu.

On the far outside post, you have Hidden Connection (5-1) who dazzled in her first two races at Colonial Downs and Churchill Downs before finishing a disappointing fourth at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. In her first action of 2022, she faded down the stretch before finishing fourth in the Grade II Rachel Alexandra Stakes, but she’s shown the ability to handle the distance in the past. At her best, she’s the prime candidate to challenge Echo Zulu. Breaking from the far outside should give her jockey, Reylu Gutierrez, the ability to place her right off the lead of Echo Zulu.

If you’re looking for some value, think about including Bernabreezy (8-1) in your exotic bets. She’s taking a big step up in class, but turned in a respectable third-place finish at the Silverbulletday Stakes at Fair Grounds in January and then backed that up with a victory over Sequist (8-1) in an allowance race last month. With all that said, it’s hard to get past the favorite as horse racing fans clamor to see if Echo Zulu can fulfill the promise of her 2021 campaign. I think she will.

Race 11 Picks

  • Win: Echo Zulu
  • Place: Hidden Connection
  • Show: Bernabreezy

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Race 12 – Kentucky Derby Prep Race (100 Points to Winner)

  • Distance: 1 3/16 miles
  • Name: Louisiana Derby - Grade II
  • Age: 3-years-old
  • Surface: Dirt

We finish off the card with an exciting Derby prep race. The favorite, Epicenter (7-5), is coming off a victory in the Grade II Risen Star in February but will look to avenge his loss at the Grade III Lecomte to Call Me Midnight (6-1). In that race, Call Me Midnight was able to track down Epicenter after some fast early fractions. However, it’s unlikely such a hot pace will play out this time as Epicenter should get a comfortable lead as he did at the Risen Star. He may get pushed slightly by Pioneer of Medina (5-1), but that horse does not have the same type of early tactical speed Epicenter does. Therefore, if Call Me Midnight stands a chance, he needs to make sure he stays closer to the pace rather than falling 12 lengths back like he did at the Lecomte.

If Epicenter can get a comfortable lead, then the only question remaining will be whether he can handle the slight stretch out to 9.5 furlongs. While his trainer, Steve Asmussen, has never won the Kentucky Derby, he’s won plenty of Derby prep races and is more than capable of preparing a horse for a new distance. Epicenter was able to get geared down at the Risen Star and has emerged from that race looking very fresh with his workouts. We’ve seen frontrunners have a great deal of success on the Derby Trail with White Abarrio (Holy Bull), Classic Causeway (Tampa Bay Derby), and Forbidden Kingdom (San Felipe) all winning Derby prep races.

There is some new competition for Epicenter with Brad Cox runner Zozos (8-1) entering the fray after only two career starts. His victory by over 10 lengths in an allowance race last month at Oaklawn raised eyebrows but I’m skeptical of how he’ll perform in this much tougher spot. The fractions of that allowance race were glacial compared to what several other horses have run in this field and he’s stretching out an extra furlong. I’m more interested in Kupuna (8-1) who lost to another Brad Cox Derby horse, Cyberknife, last time out. Kupuna is stretching out as well but has shown significant improvement. Despite stretching out to over a mile last time and running behind a hot pace, Kupuna has had very nice workouts for trainer Bret Calhoun. Like Call Me Midnight, Kupuna needs to make sure he doesn’t fall too far back early but I believe he will be able to hit the board by picking off some tiring horses down the stretch.

Pioneer of Medina (5-1) ran well last time out at the Risen Star but finished fourth behind Epicenter, Smile Happy, and Zandon. With the latter two not running, the door is certainly open for this colt from Pioneer of the Nile to improve. His trainer, Todd Pletcher, is as good as anyone in the country at stretching out horses and his pedigree should want more distance. If he tries to confront Epicenter too early it could spell defeat for both horses, but a stalking trip might be just what is needed.

Race 12 Picks

  • Win: Epicenter
  • Place: Pioneer of Medina
  • Show: Kupuna

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Article Author

Horse Racing

Matthew DeSantis is a horse racing handicapper with a fondness for lightly raced horses with improving speed figures. You can find him at the track playing surface changes and second off the layoff.


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