New Orleans (March 21, 2020) – As the world is in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fair Grounds’ signature race day unfolded in front of a vacant grandstand, with just horsemen and essential employees allowed on site, and keeping their distance from one another.
For trainer Brad Cox, the memories will reach far beyond the atmosphere. Just nine days short of his 40th birthday, the Louisville, Kentucky native won the final three stakes on the Louisiana Derby Day program, including the 107th edition of the $1 million Twin Spires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) with Clint Gasaway, Lance Gasaway, Madaket Stables, and Wonder Stables’ Wells Bayou. Cox, who won four races total on the day, also captured the Twinspires.com Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) with Bonny South and the Mervin Muniz Memorial Classic (G2) with Factor This.
Away alertly as the lukewarm 3-1 favorite, Wells Bayou set reasonable fractions of 23.56, 48.00 and 1:12.42. Never seriously menaced in the stretch, he held firm to win by 1 ½ lengths over Ny Traffic, who chased the winner throughout. It was 2 ¾ lengths back to Modernist, the winner of the second division of the Risen Star (G2) in third. The final time for 1 3/16ths-miles over a fast track was 1:56.47.
“He’s was great leaving the gate,” said jockey Florent Geroux, who won three of the eight stakes on the card. “He stands there perfectly and then breaks super sharp. After that, when he makes the lead, he relaxes very nicely. We took a few breathers around the turns and then when we turned down the lane, he didn’t lose his gear.”
After finishing second in the Southwest Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn Park, where he has been stabled most of the winter, Cox elected to pass on last weekend’s Rebel (G2) with the 3-year-old son of Lookin At Lucky, instead pointing to the Louisiana Derby, which was extended to 1 3/16ths-miles for the first time this year.
“The biggest reason why we chose the Louisiana Derby over the Rebel at Oaklawn is the distance,” Cox said earlier in the week. “I think the pace is going to be a little kinder in the Louisiana Derby opposed to the race at Oaklawn (the Rebel).”
Cox was right about the pace of both races, and about his horse.
“With this spot there was more ground which we thought he would enjoy and we thought he could establish the lead here,” Cox said post-Louisiana Derby. “We did some homework on the race to see who was going to be running. You try to put together a game plan and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. In horse racing a lot of times it doesn’t, but this time it did.”
By winning the Louisiana Derby, Wells Bayou earned 100 Kentucky Derby points, and he now is the leader in the clubhouse with 104. Despite all of his recent accomplishments, which include a win the 2018 Kentucky Oaks (G1) with Monomoy Girl, Cox has never started a horse in the Kentucky Derby.
“We just have to figure out how to get him to the first Saturday in September and not May,” Cox said of Churchill Downs’ recent announcement to push back the Run for the Roses. “It is uncharted territory and we will do the best we can.”
“Now he is prepping for the first Saturday in September so it’s a long way away and many things can happen,” Geroux added. “I am just hoping he comes back healthy and we’ll just go from there.”’
Cox also has Mr. Monomoy, Monomoy Girl’s half brother who won the first division of the Risen Star last month before going to the sidelines with a minor ankle injury. Perhaps with the Kentucky Derby being pushed back to September, perhaps he can rejoin the chase.
“I thought about that,” Cox said. “With it pushed back to the fall, we definitely have an opportunity to get back into the picture (with Mr. Monomoy). We will just have to wait and see.”
Ny Traffic, third to Modernist in the second division of the Risen Star last month, earned 40 Kentucky Derby points on Saturday and he now has a total of 50, ranking him fifth in the standings. When Luis Saez took off his Saturday mounts at Fair Grounds, Joe Bravo picked up mount on the eventual Louisiana Derby runner-up.
“This horse’s first couple races you would not think he was Louisiana Derby quality,” Bravo said. “The last couple races he really stepped up to the plate and the horse is just getting good. The thing that makes him so good is that he listens. He broke great, put himself towards the front and he relaxed off the other horse (winner Wells Bayou). He turned for home and my horse did not want to give up. He ran for me down the lane and that’s all you can ask for.”
Modernist, who earned 50 Kentucky Derby points for this victory in the second division of the Risen Star, tacked on 20 more on Saturday for a total of 70.
“Junior (jockey Alvarado) said he wished he was closer (early on), but the horse had no real excuse,” said Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who was in attendance on Saturday at Fair Grounds. “I thought he ran fine. Just hope he comes back okay and we will move forward.”
Second to Modernist in the first division of the Risen Star, Major Fed rallied from last to finish fourth in the Louisiana Derby. Unprepared at the start, he was climbing into the first turn and lost valuable ground. Four-wide, five-wide then eight wide off the second turn, he outfinished Lecomte (G3) winner and Risen Star first division runner-up Enforceable for fourth. He now has 30 Kentucky Derby points.
“He ran awesome,” said a bullish assistant trainer Travis Foley after the race. “I thought we would be fifth or sixth early on, but he got left (at the start) and I don’t know how he ended up where he did. It is kind of unexplainable as far as the trip we had. He was rolling and ran awesome. I honestly think we ran the best horse today.”
Earlier in the afternoon it was announced that in accordance with the “stay-home” order issued by New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, following public health concerns in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, Fair Grounds Race Course will suspend live racing operations effective immediately. The Fair Grounds Thoroughbred racing season was originally scheduled to run through March 29.