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Instant Coffee, Kingsbarns in the Louisiana Derby

Instant Coffee is the 2-1 favorite in the Louisiana Derby morning line (Photo by Jamie Newell/Hodges Photography)

If instant coffee is the top runner in next Saturday’s $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) at the Fairgrounds, undefeated royal barn brings a lot of potential to his first Road to the Kentucky Derby test.

One of three major staged races on March 25, the Louisiana Derby offers a bonanza of points – 100-40-30-20-10 – for the top five finishers. The UAE Derby (G2) early Saturday morning during the Dubai World Cup card and the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) at Turfway Park are also worth the maximum points structure. You can view and bet on all three at TwinSpires.com.

A 1 3/16 mile test, the Louisiana Derby is the longest points race on the states schedule. The UAE derby is about the same distance in Meydan.

Here are five talking points for the Louisiana Derby, scheduled for 6:46 p.m. ET:

1. Four-time Louisiana Derby winner Todd Pletcher sends Kingsbarns on a mission to score points.

Kingsbarns, an $800,000 purchase as a two-year-old in training at Fasig-Tipton’s Gulfstream Sale, has won both starts so far. The well-mannered son of champion Uncle Mo showed professionalism on his debut at Gulfstream Park, where he overcame traffic on a corner for a mile. Kingsbarns extended to two turns in a Tampa Bay Downs allowance and retired 7 3/4 lengths.

Hall of Fame coach Todd Pletcher is known for using Tampa as a proving ground for his prospects, including Kentucky Derby winners Super Saver (2010) and Always Dreaming (2017). Tapit Trice just redeemed his derby ticket in the Tampa Bay Derby (G3) on March 11, and the Kingsbarns will look to join him – and their champion stablemate Forte – in the starting gate at Churchill Downs. He needs points to get there now and a top 2 finish in the Louisiana Derby can keep the dream alive.

2. Instant Coffee coach Brad Cox will try to sweep the Fair Grounds series of preparations.

Trainer Brad Cox won the first three competitions at Fair Grounds, all with different stallions. Now he’s heading down New Orleans Road to the Kentucky Derby with a trio of contenders in the Louisiana Derby. Instant Coffee, the 2-1 morning favorite, sets a high standard as the winner of last fall’s Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) and January 21 Lecomte (G3) at the fairgrounds. Both times he uncorked a characteristically strong late rally, suggesting the additional terrain of the Louisiana Derby should be within his reach.Jace’s Road won the opener, December 26 Gun Runner S., in wire-to-wire fashion. He was diverted to Oaklawn Park for the Southwest on January 28 (G3) and threw in a clunker in fifth behind the now-paused Arabian Knight. But that hit the waters, as did Jace’s Road’s other underperforming as a youngster. If he gets a fast track back on Fair Grounds, Jace’s Road can do a lot better.

Though Instant Coffee and Jace’s Road skipped February 18’s Risen Star (G2), Cox still captured the recent Fair Grounds prep with another from his deep bank, Angel of Empire. He purposely overtakes the Louisiana Derby to await another points race, likely the Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 1st. But Cox’s promising fourth in the Risen Star, Tapit’s conquestcome right back for more at Fair Grounds.

3. Four aim to improve against the risen star.

Even without Angel of Empire, the Risen Star is well represented with four graduates progressing to the Louisiana Derby – runners-up sun thunder, fourth Tapit’s Conquest, fifth Single rulerand pay attention Curly Jack.

Sun Thunder, previously a late fourth in the Southwest, made a big step forward for Ken McPeek in the 1 1/8-mile Risen Star. Resolutely staying from far behind, the son of leading sire Into Mischief wants to build on that effort.

Tapit’s conquest arguably has a better reason to move forward. The promising Tapit colt steamed into the picture at the Risen Star before his momentum faltered and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he improves to land a stronger punch. Single Ruler, a final fifth, comes from the barn of Keith Desormeaux, who sent out Confidence Game to anger the 25th February (G2) Rebel.

While Curly Jack fared worst of the Risen Star returnees with a tiring eighth place finish, he didn’t get the journey that trainer Tom Amoss wanted. In fact, his proximity to a strong pace cost him. Curly Jack is clearly better than that, as evidenced by his win in the Iroquois (G3) and a solid second to Instant Coffee at the Kentucky Jockey Club. With another form of racing likely in the Louisiana Derby, Curly Jack is entitled to do justice to himself.

4. Steve Asmussen is chasing his fifth Louisiana Derby with two hands.

Like Pletcher, his colleague Steve Asmussen has won this race four times. His previous winners were all battle-hardened in New Orleans, including future Horse of the Year Gun Runner (2016) and eventual division champion Epicenter (2022), both of whom shot the Risen Star/Louisiana Derby Double.

In contrast, Asmussen’s current hopes are Disarm And The buyer’s revenge, are lightly driven guys making their debut here. The duo placed second in the allowances at Oaklawn.

Disarm, by Gun Runner, was an overwhelming first winner at Saratoga last summer. Not seen again until February 19, the home bred Winchell Thoroughbreds was a solid second to the Arkansas Derby-tied Two Eagles River. Disarm was playing to catch up from a slightly delayed start which wasn’t his fault as the gate opened fairly quickly as he entered. He should be ready to unroll that tightener.

Shopper’s Revenge, a son of Tapit and 2015 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) star Stopshoppingmaria, was also a late runner-up in an Oaklawn allowance after missing the break. Two starts back, Whisper Hill Farm and Three Chimneys Homebred dominated a dam at the front end. His tactical speed can carry him far on the fairground track – if he brakes carefully.

5. Denington and Cagliostro rode a one-two in a tough race on Risen Star Day.

Denington, who was on the lane longer than fellow McPeek Sun Thunder, suffered three stakes losses before bouncing back with a Fair Grounds allowance. While it was technically a class loss, don’t take it too harshly as such.

This race on the Risen Star undercard was pretty salty and Denington finally found the right setup. Benefiting from the blinders off and a patient ride from a robust pace, he finished the race quickly to beat in high regard Cagliostro. Denington’s very close fifth behind Instant Coffee at the Kentucky Jockey Club suggests he could be close with a similar passage. Cagliostro was a great race himself in this handicap, finishing late and he brings an emerging profile for Cherie DeVaux.

Was also in action earlier on Risen Star Day baseline bat, who broke his girl on the fifth try, but convincingly. The student of Neil Pessin was second to Single Ruler in his previous start. Taking a significant step in class here, Baseline Beater is the only competitor not to be nominated for the Triple Crown by the early closing date.

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