This Saturday’s card at Fair Grounds is absolutely stacked. There’s 14 races on the schedule, including the Grade 3 Louisiana Stakes, featuring a showdown between two of the most prominent names on last year’s Triple Crown trail.
Mandaloun and Midnight Bourbon faced off against each other three times at Fair Grounds last year, with Midnight Bourbon finishing ahead of Mandaloun twice. Mandaloun went on to finish second in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and won the TVG.com Haskell Stakes via disqualification. Midnight Bourbon finished second in the Preakness Stakes, the Runhappy Travers Stakes, and the Pennsylvania Derby. Both of them will make their 4-year-old debut in the Louisiana Stakes, and their connections hope to use the race as a springboard for big campaigns.
1. Chess Chief: Chess Chief was scratched on Wednesday afternoon. He’ll race in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational next week at Gulfstream Park instead.
2. Mandaloun: As noted above, Mandaloun had an excellent 3-year-old season last year. He won the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford by 1 ¼ lengths, avenging his third-place finish against Midnight Bourbon in the Lecomte Stakes in the race prior. Following a disappointing sixth-place finish in the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby, Mandaloun bounced back with a second-place effort in the Kentucky Derby, beaten just a half-length by Medina Spirit. He overcame a rough start to win the Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park next out (not to be confused with the Pegasus World Cup Invitational) and then finished second behind Hot Rod Charlie in the Haskell. However, he was elevated to victory via disqualification after the stewards ruled that Hot Rod Charlie had caused interference to Midnight Bourbon. After that race, Mandaloun went to the sidelines with an ankle injury. This will be his first start in more than six months and his first race while using Lasix. This race is clearly not the objective for Mandaloun; his connections have bigger prizes in mind. However, he showed a lot of talent and determination last year, and should be tough even if he isn’t fully cranked.
Trainer: Brad Cox; Jockey: Florent Geroux
3. Midnight Bourbon: He won his 3-year-old debut a little over a year ago, taking the Lecomte Stakes by a neck. He didn’t win another stakes race the rest of the year but finished second or third six times. Most notably, he was second in the Preakness Stakes after leading in the stretch. In the Haskell, he unseated his jockey in the stretch when Hot Rod Charlie veered in the front of him and caused him to clip heels. In his most recent start, he was third in the Clark Stakes Presented by Norton Healthcare. Like Mandaloun, he’ll race with Lasix for the first time and adds blinkers. He’s more recently raced than his top rival and has early speed and great determination. The problem is, he’s rarely able to get the job done, and will likely take a lot of money at the betting windows. He’s gone off at 5-1 or less in each of his last five starts, and has lost every time. Bet to win at your own risk.
Trainer: Steve Asmussen; Jockey: Joel Rosario
4. Sprawl: Last August, Sprawl earned the first graded stakes win of his career, taking the West Virginia Governor’s Stakes at Mountaineer by 1 ¾ lengths. Since then, he’s raced just once, turning in a dull effort in the Lukas Classic Stakes at Churchill Downs in early October. He’s been working steadily for his comeback, and should be on or near the early pace.
Trainer: Tom Drury; Jockey: Colby Hernandez
5. Pirate’s Punch: Since winning back-to-back graded stakes races in the summer of 2020, Pirate’s Punch has struggled to find his best form. He was winless in five races last year, usually showing speed and backing up. Last out in the Dec. 26 Tenacious Stakes at Fair Grounds, he led most of the way but tired and got caught late.
Trainer: Grant Forster; Jockey: Corey Lanerie
6. Warrant: Like Mandaloun, Warrant is trained by Brad Cox. He won two stakes races last year, the Texas Derby at Lone Star Park and the Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park. He hasn’t raced since late September and has been working well at Fair Grounds for this race. With a solid résumé of his own, Warrant may slide through the cracks a bit in the wagering and go off at decent odds.
Trainer: Brad Cox; Jockey: Brian Hernandez Jr.
7. Spa City: This marks the first graded stakes appearance for this 5-year-old gelding since March 2020. He’s won three times in his last five starts, including a victory in the Salute the Hero Stakes at Indiana Grand on Nov. 11. However, those wins were against significantly weaker competition than he’ll see Saturday, and he’ll have to improve a few speed figure points to seriously contend.
Trainer: Tom Amoss; Jockey: James Graham
The Pick: Mandaloun
Live Longshot: Warrant