On Track With Johnny D: Where There’s a ‘Will’ There’s a ‘War’: Johnny D.’s Louisiana Derby Picks and Plays

Last week, we agreed with the masses that Bob Baffert’s dynamic duo of Improbable and Game Winner would be tough in respective divisions of the Rebel Stakes. We liked the former a bit more than the latter but figured both would win. We were a quarter–right. They were hickory, but both lost in close finishes. We gave pre-race props to Long Range Toddy, winner of the first division, but misfired in the second with fellow California invader Omaha Beach coming off a sloppy maiden score. And we definitely didn’t see second-division, third-place finisher Market King hanging on for show—sabotaging a suggested trifecta play.

This week, in the Louisiana Derby, War of Will is strictly the one to beat. He likes the track (2-2), is in great form–won Lecomte and Risen Star–leaves from a solid post, has stalking speed in a race void of early pace and is trained and ridden by a successful team. However, to twist a popular term, ‘Where there’s a will there’s a war.’ Foes will need to bring the army to defeat him Saturday. If they don’t, based on facile sophomore domination, War of Will may share the local moniker as ‘The Big Easy.’

While War of Will checks all the handicapping boxes, he still will need to race a mile and one-eighth, which he’s never done before, and he’s going to be an extremely short price—6-5 to start and less at the break–to defeat improving foes. Taking a firm stand against him is not advised. Using him also in the two-hole of exotics in case he stubs his toe is.

Here’s one man’s opinion of the Louisiana Derby field:

  1. Roiland 12-1     Amoss                        Graham

Really like the way this guy tries. He has no speed and that’s always going to present him with an uphill battle. He’s going to find this pace-less group particularly challenging. He’s rallied from dead last of 14, 12 and 14 in his previous three races to be 5th, 7th and 3rd. The last two efforts came in the Lecomte and Risen Star, respectively, against favored War of Will and others in here, so the chances of him turning the tables to win here are slim, but he might be able to pick up a minor award. He’s currently under early consideration as a possible superfecta bomb in the Kentucky Derby. But first he’s going to have to earn points to get in that race—he currently has 10.

  1. Lemniscate 15-1     McPeek          J. Hernandez, Jr.

This son of Exchange Rate is fresh off a Gulfstream wire-to-wire, mile and one-sixteenth turf victory. He had two state-bred sprints before that. Trainer McPeek is known to score at a price and this one has inside speed in a race that seems void of early pace. The colt also has a Gulfstream best-of-7 work at 5/8 of a mile since the race. He should be around for a while, just not sure how we’ll he’ll route on dirt.

  1. Limonite 20-1     Asmussen     Ortiz

He hasn’t run a poor race yet, although he’s got just one win in five starts. The son of Lemon Drop Kid has no speed, and also will be compromised by what appears as a soft early pace in here. In November, he moved in tandem with #1 Roiland, from last and next-to-last, in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs. Both runners made up ground along the rail until Limonite angled outside for clear stretch running and Roiland remained inside waiting behind a wall of horses. Limonite outfinished #1 Roiland through the lane—losing by two lengths to winner Signalman. #1 Roiland finished nearly 6 lengths back. The jockey-trainer combo of Jose Oritz and Steve Asmussen help the cause and a March 4 Fair Grounds bullet 5/8, plus a 1:12 2/5 breeze March 11, suggest good things are in the cards for this one. Has to be used in exotics at anywhere near his 20-1 morning line.

  1. Sueno 8-1 Desormeaux Lanerie

He’s made the rounds a bit this year with 3 starts—one each at Golden Gate (Gold Rush, Santa Anita (Sham) and Oaklawn (Southwest)—all stakes—with in a win and two close seconds, respectively. He’s never been worse than third in 5 starts. Last out in the Southwest, he finished second, sandwiched between winner Super Steed and eventual Rebel winner Long Range Toddy. He figures mid-pack early and has a nice finish—a handy style. He’s also improved Beyer and Thoro-Graph figures in with each race, a positive sign for a 3-year-old. Usually overlooked in the wagering, he’s never been less than 6-1 and is 8-1 on this morning line this.

  1. By My Standards 12-1                 Calhoun         Saez

Look for this guy to be racing about mid-pack early. He scored an easy maiden win last out here at the Fair Grounds. He has 2 seconds and a third from three other starts. Note that he has 2 bullet works—at FG, March 2, 4 furlongs in :47 1/5, best of 87 and March 9, :59 breezing, best of 48. He needs to go a bit faster to hit the exotics scramble in here, but he’s always around.

  1. War of Will 6-5       Casse Gafflione

This son of War Front began his career on the grass—at Woodbine, Keeneland and Churchill—with a second, third, fourth and fifth. Switched to a sloppy Churchill surface, he broke his maiden by 5 lengths in November. He 2-for-2 this year—Grade 3 Lecomte and Grade 2 Risen star—both by more than 2 lengths. In each case he comfortably stalked early pacesetters, took control at will and held sway. He’s got a great style that should fit well in this race. The mile and one-eighth distance is a minor concern, but he’s fit, strong, favored and impossible to ignore. He’s so much faster than any of his foes and proved that by beating nearly all of them solidly before. Here’ the rub: has he done too much, too soon? He’s the only runner in the field to have cleared 90 on the Beyer scale and he’s done it the last two outs! According to Thoro-Graph figures, he’s also posted two last-out figures that are 3 points better than those produced by anyone else. As they say, he could fire his ‘B’ shot and still win this race, but some of these foes are improving and could be bringing new ‘A’ games to this party.

  1. Money 20-1     Calhoun         Beschizza

This colt broke maiden routing at Churchill in his third start and then was a respectable fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He had a nearly perfect trip in the Risen Star, just off eventual winner #6 War of Will, and faded in the lane. He was forced to check in the stretch but wasn’t moving forward at the time. It takes some further digging to like him off that effort. Jockey Gabe Saez, who’s ridden him in all five starts, is aboard #5 By My Standards (for same trainer Brett Calhoun) and Beschizza replaces him in the irons. Mr. Money will need to step up his game to cash here, but that’s not impossible. His BC Juvenile fourth off a mere maiden win was decent and he may have needed his last race. If that’s the case, he could improve and hit the exotics here at a big price.

  1. Country House 9-2       Mott    Saez

Broke his maiden routing at Gulfstream and parlayed that score into a runner-up effort to #6 War of Will in the Risen Star. He was lugging-in through the lane then and that’s never a good sign. The son of Lookin At Lucky doesn’t have much speed, so he’s another that will have to close from behind into what seems like a ‘soft’ early pace. At less than 5-1 odds he seems a poor investment.

  1. Bankit 20-1                 Asmussen     Ortiz

This New York-bred has made the most starts of any soph in the field with 8—2 wins and 3 seconds. His past performance running lines are a bit unusual. Originally, he showed good speed against fellow 2-year-old, state-bred, stakes sprinters. However, in his last four starts he’s come from well off the pace to win the Sleepy Hollow (Aqu), finish second by a head in the Springboard Mile (RP), 6th and 5th in the Smarty Jones and Southwest, respectively, at Oaklawn. This might be an opportune moment for him to revive his speed from this outside post because there isn’t much gas in here. Of course, his best efforts have come lately when lagging early, so it’s not likely they’ll shift tactics here.

  1. Spinoff 8-1                   Pletcher         Velaquez

Trainer Todd Pletcher runners must always be respected in Kentucky Derby prep races. Spinoff returns following a massive 11 ¾-lengths allowance win at Tampa Bay—third start of his career and first since Saratoga. He has a bullet 1:00 2/5 at Palm Beach Downs in preparation for this. He broke maiden first out at Gulfstream over a ‘good’ surface in June. He waited until August to be third in the Saratoga Special. He’s got speed and seems to have quality. He’s also a decent price and might stay that way until post time.

  1. Hog Creek Hustle 12-1     Foley  Mena

Solidly defeated by #6 War of Will in both the Lecomte and Risen Star, respectively, this guy would need help to reverse things and win the Louisiana Derby. He’s got a difficult outside post, has no speed in a race with no pace and hasn’t won since taking a 7-furlong Churchill allowance race in November. He made a nice, wide closing run in the Risen Star, but flattened out in the stretch and was out-finished by Country House and Roiland. While he would be a big surprise in the ‘win’ slot, an in-the-money finish isn’t impossible.

Bottom Line:

Make no mistake War of Will probably will win. Handicappers shouldn’t spend too much time trying to defeat him. What’s really interesting, though, is attempting to figuring out which horses might finish second, third and perhaps fourth in exotic wagers. Also, if War of Will should stumble just a bit, which horses are likely to take advantage? Several of these are compromised by closing styles but are real triers with improving patterns at big prices. They could fill underneath slots.

Strictly One to Beat: #6 War of Will

Improving Types: #4 Sueno, #10 Spinoff, #1 Roiland

Price Exotics: #7 Mr. Money, #5 By My Standards, #2 Limonite

Suggested $2 Trifecta ($30)


1, 4, 10

1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 10

$1 Trifecta ($15)

1, 4, 10


1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 10

Race On!

On Track With Johnny D: Where There’s a ‘Will’ There’s a ‘War’: Johnny D.’s Louisiana Derby Picks and Plays

On Track with Johnny D |