Fair Grounds’ path to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve reaches its end Saturday with the $1 million, Grade 2 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby. The field will travel 1 3/16 miles on dirt in this race, making the Louisiana Derby the longest Derby prep.
The Louisiana Derby is one of the oldest Derby prep races, first held back in 1894. The race has not been held consecutively during that stretch; it was not contested from 1895-’97, 1909-’19, 1921-’22, and 1940-’42. It was also not held in 1945, when the United States government suspended racing because of World War II, and again in 2006, when Hurricane Katrina caused the cancellation of the Fair Grounds meet.
Since 1973, the race has been run as a Grade 2, with the exceptions of the years between 1985 and 1998 when it was a Grade 3 race. It has been held at 1 ⅛ miles for a majority of its history, having been extended to 1 3/16 miles for the first time in 2020.
Let’s take a look back at some of the best winners of the Louisiana Derby.
BLACK GOLD (1924)
CAREER RECORD: 35 starts, 18 wins, 5 seconds, 4 thirds
CAREER EARNINGS: $111,553
This coal-black colt was owned by Rosa Hoots, who was one of the most prominent owners on the midwestern racing circuit at the time. Hoots and her husband, Al, also owned Black Gold’s dam, U-See-It, who was a popular sprinter in the mid-1910s. She won 34 of her 122 career starts.
Black Gold began his career in January 1923 at Fair Grounds, and won eight of 19 starts in his freshman campaign. The headliner was the Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill Downs.
Black Gold started his 3-year-old season with two victories, which had his connections seriously considering the Kentucky Derby. As a prep he was entered in the Louisiana Derby and he went off as the 9-5 favorite. He lived up to expectations, opening up a clear lead early and never relinquishing it. Black Gold crossed the finish line six lengths in front under jockey J.D. Mooney. The final time for the 1 ⅛ mile race was 1:57 ⅗.
Following a win in the Derby Trial Stakes, Black Gold was the favorite in the Kentucky Derby. That year’s Derby marked the 50th edition of that race, and the occasion attracted a record crowd to Churchill Downs. Black Gold put on a show for fans as, despite a rough trip, he rallied for the victory in 2:05 ⅕. He became the first Louisiana Derby winner to also win the Kentucky Derby, and the first “western” horse to win since Behave Yourself in 1921.
Black Gold added two more stakes wins to his résumé that year, taking the Ohio Derby and the Chicago Derby. He became the first horse to win the Derbys of four different states.
Following Black Gold’s death in 1928, he was buried in the infield at Fair Grounds. He was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1989.
CAREER RECORD: 107 starts, 17 wins, 14 seconds, 16 thirds
CAREER EARNINGS: $47,540
Rushaway was bred by Joseph Widener, the builder of Hialeah Park and the man considered responsible for launching that track to prominence. Rushaway’s sire, Haste, finished third in the 1926 Belmont Stakes, while his dam, Roseway, won the 1919 British One Thousand Guineas and finished second in the Epsom Oaks later that year.
After showing some promise early in his 3-year-old season, Rushaway burst on the national scene with his win in the Louisiana Derby. Sent off as the 2-5 favorite, Rushaway won by a length, setting a new track record for 1 ⅛ miles. He covered the distance in 1:50 ⅘.
Rushaway’s greatest accomplishment came later that year. On May 22, Rushaway won the Illinois Derby at Aurora Downs by 1 ½ lengths. That night, owner-trainer Alfred Tam put him on a train and shipped him to Latonia (now known as Turfway Park) for the Latonia Derby. The very next day, Rushaway won that race by six lengths, stunning racing fans across the country.
Although Rushaway won only one more stakes race in the rest of his career, his marvelous accomplishment resonates to this day. The Rushaway Stakes at Turfway Park is named in his honor.
NO LE HACE (1972)
CAREER RECORD: 34 starts, 9 wins, 8 seconds, 4 thirds
CAREER EARNINGS: $239,752
No Le Hace first showed promise near the end of his 2-year-old season, when he won the Sugar Bowl Handicap at Fair Grounds. He began to hit his best stride as a 3-year-old, taking the Lecomte Handicap early in his campaign.
On the strength of that win No Le Hace was made the heavy 1-2 favorite in the Louisiana Derby. Jockey Phil Rubbicco kept his mount in midpack in the early stages, while Fame and Power opened up a clear lead up the backstretch. As they turned for home, Fame and Power began to fade but Feloniously got the jump on No Le Hace and struck the front, while the favorite continued to gain on the inside. In the last sixteenth of a mile, Rubbicco switched his mount wide and surged at the leader. No Le Hace pushed his nose in front in the last jump to win.
Following an Arkansas Derby win, No Le Hace went into the Kentucky Derby as one of the favorites. Despite a strong closing rally, he finished second, beaten 3 ¼ lengths by Riva Ridge. No Le Hace was once again second in the Preakness Stakes, defeated by upset winner Bee Bee Bee as Riva Ridge ran fourth.
MASTER DERBY (1975)
CAREER RECORD: 33 starts, 16 wins, 8 seconds, 4 thirds
CAREER EARNINGS: $698,624
Master Derby went into the 1975 Derby trail looking to carry on a legacy. Five years prior, owner-breeder Robert Lehmann won the Kentucky Derby with homebred Dust Commander. Lehmann died in 1974, but his widow, Verna, elected to hold on to their horses, including Master Derby.
As a 2-year-old, Master Derby won two stakes races at Liberty Bell Park in Pennsylvania and finished in the top four in four more. With aspirations of a second Kentucky Derby win on their minds, Verna Lehmann and trainer Smiley Adams sent their horse to Louisiana to begin his 3-year-old season.
Off a victory in the Louisiana Derby Trial Stakes, Master Derby was sent to the Louisiana Derby for his next start. Despite three stakes victories on the track, Master Derby was not the favorite for the centerpiece of the Fair Grounds season. He went off at 4.30-1 while Somethingfabulous – a half-brother to Secretariat – was the 9-5 favorite.
Somethingfabulous made a menacing move turning for home but flattened out and finished seventh. Meanwhile, Darrell McHargue kept Master Derby out of trouble and then made his move toward the inside at the five-sixteenths pole. He kicked by his rivals in the stretch to win by a length. Eddie Delahoussaye, who rode third-place finisher Honey Mark, claimed foul against Master Derby, but the result was allowed to stand.
After a win in the Blue Grass Stakes Master Derby went into the Kentucky Derby as one of the favorites. However, he finished a disappointing fourth, and was almost totally ignored for the Preakness Stakes as a result. In the Preakness, Master Derby bounced back, springing a 23.40-1 upset over Derby winner Foolish Pleasure.
RISEN STAR (1988)
CAREER RECORD: 11 starts, 8 wins, 2 seconds, 1 third
CAREER EARNINGS: $2,029,845
Risen Star looked the part of a major Kentucky Derby contender going into the 1988 Louisiana Derby. He was coming off a dramatic come-from-behind win in the Louisiana Derby Trial Stakes in the race before, which he won by a length as the favorite.
There was some drama the day before the race. After a routine morning gallop, Risen Star reared up and fell on his right side. He was examined by a veterinarian that day and again on the morning of the race, and there was some doubt as to if he would be able to compete. The vets cleared him to race, but the episode was cause for concern in the minds of bettors. He went off at 2.60-1 odds, the second choice in the field of seven behind Jim’s Orbit.
Risen Star looked good as new on Louisiana Derby day. Much like he did in the Louisiana Derby Trial, he rated well behind early and then launched a rally down Fair Grounds’s long stretch. Under urging from jockey Shane Romero, Risen Star surged to win by 1 ¾ lengths, with Jim’s Orbit finishing a nonthreatening fourth.
After a win in the Lexington Stakes, Risen Star was sent off at 5.50-1 in the Kentucky Derby. Under Louisiana native Eddie Delahoussaye, Risen Star had a brutal trip in Louisville, racing wide on both turns. Although he closed admirably, he checked in third behind the filly Winning Colors.
Risen Star bounced back in his next two races. In the Preakness Stakes, he enjoyed a much better trip and drew off to a 1 ¼-length win at 6.80-1 odds, defeating Winning Colors by 2 1/2 lengths. As the favorite in the Belmont Stakes, he won in a dominating performance, prevailing by 14 ¾ lengths. His time of 2:26 ⅖ was the fastest since his sire, Secretariat, won in 2:24 in 1973, 15 years prior.
Although an injury prevented him from racing again, Risen Star’s Preakness and Belmont wins carried enough weight with voters that he won the Eclipse as champion 3-year-old male.
CAREER RECORD: 6 starts, 3 wins, 2 seconds, 0 thirds
CAREER EARNINGS: $1,224,510
Grindstone was part of a massive Kentucky Derby contingent for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. At the Derby that year, Lukas would saddle five horses, establishing a record that has been tied but not broken.
Grindstone started twice as a 2-year-old, breaking his maiden at Belmont Park and then finishing fourth in the Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill Downs. He then went to the sidelines, returning for a first-level allowance race at Santa Anita Park on Feb. 16. He finished second chasing future graded stakes winner Budroyale, who led from start to finish.
Undeterred, Lukas sent him to Fair Grounds for the Louisiana Derby, a race Lukas had previously won with Balboa Native in 1983. Grindstone was the 2.40-1 second choice in the field of eight and Louisiana-bred Zarb’s Magic was the 3-2 favorite. Zarb’s Magic went out and set the pace, while Jerry Bailey rated Grindstone just off the pace.
Turning for home, Bailey angled Grindstone three wide and took his shot at the leaders. In the last eighth of a mile, Grindstone took control and drew off to a 3 ½-length win with Zarb’s Magic finishing second, four lengths clear of the rest.
Zarb’s Magic turned the tables on Grindstone in the Arkansas Derby, beating him by a neck in an 11.20-1 upset. Both traveled to Louisville on the first Saturday in May and, while Zarb’s Magic was considered a longshot, Grindstone received plenty of wagering action. Coupled in the betting with Editor’s Note – also owned by William T. Young’s Overbrook Farm and trained by Lukas – they were the 5.90-1 third choice.
In one of the most dramatic editions of the Derby, Grindstone came from 15th to roar down the stretch and chase after leader Cavonnier. The two hit the wire together, with the photo finish camera revealing a nose victory for Grindstone. That gave Lukas his sixth consecutive win in a Triple Crown race and Bailey his second Derby win.
The Derby proved the final start in Grindstone’s career. He was retired a week later with a bone chip in his right knee.
PEACE RULES (2003)
CAREER RECORD: 19 starts, 9 wins, 2 seconds, 2 thirds
CAREER EARNINGS: $3,084,278
Peace Rules began his career as a turf horse. After an impressive maiden win at Belmont Park in September 2002, he was privately purchased by Edmund Gann, who transferred him to trainer Bobby Frankel. Peace Rules won two stakes races on the turf for them and lost a third by a head.
For his 3-year-old debut, Peace Rules made his first start in a dirt stakes in the Louisiana Derby. Bettors were skeptical and sent the colt off at 9.40-1. All the attention went to Risen Star winner Badge of Silver, who was the 6-5 favorite, and Bob Baffert-trained Kafwain, the 7-5 second choice.
Edgar Prado gave Peace Rules a fantastic trip. He rated just off pace-setting Funny Cide and drew alongside that rival as they turned for home. In the stretch, Peace Rules drew clear by 2 ¼ lengths. Kafwain rallied to finish second, Funny Cide held on for third, and Badge of Silver was a flat sixth. That win gave Frankel another serious 2003 Derby contender in addition to Empire Maker.
Peace Rules followed up his Louisiana Derby victory with an impressive front-running triumph in the Blue Grass Stakes. He was the 6.30-1 second choice on Derby day behind stablemate Empire Maker, who was the 5-2 favorite. Peace Rules stalked front-running Brancusi and then made his move on the turn. Although he briefly led in the stretch, he was outkicked by Funny Cide, who had been defeated by both Peace Rules and Empire Maker on the Derby trail. The New York-bred gelding won by 1 ¾ lengths, with Peace Rules losing a photo for second to Empire Maker.
In the Preakness Stakes, Peace Rules was the second betting choice but was once again defeated by Funny Cide. Peace Rules ended up winning four more graded stakes in his career, including the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational and the Grade 1 Suburban Handicap.
FRIESAN FIRE (2009)
CAREER RECORD: 18 starts, 5 wins, 1 seconds, 3 thirds
CAREER EARNINGS: $679,356
Friesan Fire had a chance to make history in the 2009 Louisiana Derby. No horse had ever swept their way through all three major Derby preps at Fair Grounds, but Friesan Fire had a chance to accomplish that feat. The Larry Jones trainee won the Lecomte Stakes by 1 ½ lengths and then took the Risen Star Stakes by two lengths. Bettors gave him his due for the Louisiana Derby, sending him off as the 2.20-1 favorite on a sloppy track.
Like he had in his prior two wins, Friesan Fire enjoyed a great stalking trip in the Louisiana Derby. Gabriel Saez rated him in third off loose early leader Papa Clem. When that rival began to tire, Friesan Fire made his move, seizing command and drawing off at the top of the stretch. He won by 7 ¼ lengths, establishing himself as one of the Derby favorites.
Friesan Fire ended up going off as the 3.80-1 favorite in a competitive Kentucky Derby, but he had some traffic trouble in the early stages and finished 18th in a race won by longshot Mine That Bird. After a similarly disappointing Preakness Stakes, he disappeared for a few months. Friesan Fire returned in December of his 3-year-old season and went on to win the Louisiana Handicap as a 4-year-old.
GUN RUNNER (2016)
CAREER RECORD: 19 starts, 12 wins, 3 seconds, 2 thirds
CAREER EARNINGS: $15,988,500
Gun Runner appeared on the Derby scene in the Risen Star Stakes. He made a solid move for the lead and then held off the late rally of longshot Forevamo for a half-length win. Off that effort, he was the 3.90-1 third betting choice in the Louisiana Derby.
Although there may have been doubters going into the race, there weren’t many left after Gun Runner’s big win. He saved ground under Florent Geroux early on and then moved to the leaders on the turn. He drew away at the eighth pole to win by 4 ½ lengths. That win gave Steve Asmussen his third Louisiana Derby triumph following Fifty Stars in 2001 and Pyro in 2008.
Gun Runner finished third in the Kentucky Derby and then added two more graded stakes wins to his résumé that year. It was as a 4-year-old, however, that he truly shined. He won five graded stakes races in 2017, including four Grade 1s in a row. After his front-running win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, he was a near-unanimous choice for Horse of the Year. Gun Runner finished his career with a win in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational in January 2018.
BY MY STANDARDS (2019)
CAREER RECORD: 14 starts, 6 wins, 4 seconds, 1 thirds
CAREER EARNINGS: $1,829,430
Although he had shown some promise, By My Standards was very raw entering the 2019 Louisiana Derby. He had broken his maiden in his fourth try one race before, winning by 4 ¼ lengths at 3.90-1. Bettors were not convinced on Louisiana Derby Day and sent him off at 22.50-1 for his stakes debut.
By My Standards stepped up in a big way for the Louisiana Derby. Gabriel Saez rated him just off the leaders on the outside, then moved as they entered the long Fair Grounds stretch. In the last sixteenth of a mile, Saez went to work and managed to chase down Spinoff and pull off the upset.
Although he made only one more start as a 3-year-old – a disappointing 11th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby – By My Standards blossomed as a 4-year-old. He won Grade 2 stakes at Fair Grounds, Oaklawn Park, and Churchill Downs and finished second in two more graded stakes.
HOT ROD CHARLIE (2021)
CAREER RECORD: 14 starts, 4 wins, 3 seconds, 3 thirds
CAREER EARNINGS: $2,721,200
Hot Rod Charlie carried an impressive resume into the 2021 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby, but had yet to win a stakes race. He capped off his 2-year-old season with a second–place finish in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance. In his 3-year-old debut, he finished third in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, beaten by a neck by Medina Spirit.
For his final Derby prep, trainer Doug O’Neill decided to send him to Louisiana. He faced a tough field that day, including Risen Star Stakes winner Mandaloun and Lecomte Stakes winner Midnight Bourbon. The former went off as the 13-10 favorite, while Hot Rod Charlie was sent off as the 2.90-1 second choice.
Breaking from post-position five, Hot Rod Charlie got to the rail and the early lead by the time the runners reached the first turn. With Midnight Bourbon pressing him on the outside, Hot Rod Charlie set honest fractions but continued to hold firm to the lead. He dueled with Midnight Bourbon through the stretch, but shook him off in the last sixteenth of a mile and pulled clear to win by two lengths. He ran 1 3/16 miles in 1:55.06 to set a new track record.
Hot Rod Charlie enjoyed success for the rest of his 3-year-old season. He finished second behind Essential Quality in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets, then crossed the finish line first in the TVG.com Haskell Stakes, but was disqualified for interference. Undeterred, he bounced back with an impressive 2 ¼-length win in the Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing. This Saturday, Hot Rod Charlie aims for the biggest win in his career, when he runs in the Dubai World Cup at Meydan Racecourse.
CAREER RECORD: 11 starts – 6 wins, 3 seconds, 0 thirds
CAREER EARNINGS: $2,940,639
Epicenter’s road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve went entirely through Fair Grounds with preps in the Gun Runner Stakes on Dec. 26, 2021 (win), the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes on Jan. 22, 2022 (second by a nose), and in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford on Feb. 19 (won). Next up was the Grade 2 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby.
In his final prep for the Kentucky Derby, Epicenter made a change of tactics from his usual style, rating off the early lead and making his move on the turn. The strategy worked like a charm, as he took the lead entering the stretch and won by 2 1/2 lengths. That race earned him 100 more Derby qualifying points, making him a leading point earner going into the Kentucky Derby.
Epicenter later went off as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby on May 7. He rated off a fast pace and struck the front at the top of the stretch and looked primed to give his trainer Steve Asmussen his first-ever Kentucky Derby win until longshot Rich Strike came up the inside and pulled off a shocking upset. Epicenter finished second. Two weeks later, Epicenter was sent off as the heavy favorite in the Preaklness in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown but again had to settle for second, this time beaten by Early Voting.
Later in the season, Epicenter earned another headline victory when he won the $1.25 million Grade 1 Runhappy Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course on Aug. 27. The “Mid-Summer Derby” had been the goal for Epicenter since his Triple Crown disappointments, and this time Epicenter came through to earn the first Grade 1 win of his career. Ridden to perfection by regular jockey Joel Rosario, Epicenter stalked the pace set by Cyberknife and Ain’t Life Grand and was never more than three lengths off the pace before making his move on the turn and overtaking Cyberknife at the top of the stretch. Epicenter extended his lead through the lane and won under wraps at the finish by a comfortable 5 1/4-length margin.
For his overall season’s worth of accomplishments, Epicenter received the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male of 2022.