(Noble Indy after winning the Louisiana Derby / Photo Courtesy of the Fair Grounds)

Well, to paraphrase the great Tennessee Ernie Ford (no, he wasn’t a jockey or a trainer; he was a country music singer of Grand Ole Opry fame):

“We are another day older and deeper in debt…”

And, we are another week closer to the 2018 Kentucky Derby — which is now only a month and just a few key prep races away. Last week, the Fair Grounds held the Louisiana Derby in New Orleans, and we managed to weed out a few more thistles; save a few more fledgling hopefuls; and find a few more potential late-bloomers in what may be one of the most wide-open, fun-filled, and potentially glamorous Kentucky Derby fields in history.

Here is a closer look at this week’s “Winners, Losers and In-Betweeners”:

Winners:

  1. Noble Indy: Undoubtedly, and obviously, the biggest winner this past week was the Take Charge Indy colt who ran, rallied, relinquished, re-rallied, regained, and reveled — all in the final 1/8th of a mile — to win the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds. In doing so, the talented — yet, tenuous — colt did three important things: One, he earned enough points to make the field for the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May. Two, he proved that while still a bit green around the gills, and quirky around other horses, he has a world of talent. And, three, he proved that he can get better, and he is nowhere near reaching his full potential — yet. Three important accomplishments and traits as he gears up over the next month for the biggest race of his young career — to date. Just about a month ago, Noble Indy was shipped over to New Orleans to run in the G2 Risen Star Stakes. He was fresh off a Maiden Special Weight win, over a rather suspect group, and an Allowance victory, over the very talented Mississippi. Yet, he had never faced a field full of Stakes-quality horses. And, he ran like it. After bumping around a bit at the break of that 11/16-mile event, Noble Indy ran a credible third all the way around the track. He beat a nice one in Instilled Regard, mind you. Check. But he never seriously challenged the two horses in front of him, Bravazo and Snapper Sinclair, either. Checkered. So after that race on Feb. 17, Pletcher and team went to work on the colt, and they decided to equip him with blinkers for the first time and return to the scene of his first loss — the Fair Grounds — and the Louisiana Derby. On Saturday, he wasn’t a totally different horse. He still showed a few signs of immaturity. But he was a willing horse. And, he was a winning horse. Despite hitting the gate at the start and a few bumps and bruises to show for it, Noble Indy moved up closer to the lead from the get-go. Head strong and determined, he drug Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez to the lead at the half mile pole, moved clear and then seemed to wait for some others to run with him. After the long shot Lone Sailor, and the horse-to-beat My Boy Jack did just that, Noble Indy came running again. And, again. And, again. He showed the three things that a young, 3YO must have to win the Kentucky Derby. Talent. Speed. And, guts. Watch out. This guy may be the real deal.
  2. Mississippi: This son of Pioneerof the Nile has not run since Feb. 4, and has never won anything but a Maiden Special Weight event, nor even run in a Stakes event yet. But…He may be one of the hottest, new things on the 3YO market these days. For the record, I’m bullish on him. In the allowance event on Feb. 4, he was beaten just a neck by a horse named Storm Runner — who was a troubled 7th to Promises Fulfilled in the Fountain of Youth Stakes in his next start. Before that one, Mississippi was second and beaten less than a length by Noble Indy. And, before that one, back in November of last year, Mississippi ran off to an easy and impressive win to break his maiden at, er, Churchill Downs. While he didn’t run this week to make any noise or music along the Road to the Kentucky Derby, the colt worked an eye-popping half mile at the Palm Meadows Training Center for conditioner Mark Casse. He went the distance in :49.45, which was the 4th best time out of 36 to go that day. The best time of the time belonged to his stablemate — Flameaway — who covered the distance in 48.95. Afterwards, there were as many people talking about Mississippi as the bullet worker and winner of the Sam F. Davis. Now, Mississippi may be pointed towards a major Kentucky Derby prep. He has some catching up to do, obviously. But stranger things have happened, right?
  3. Kent Desormeaux: One minute this veteran rider looks like a reincarnation of Eddie Delahoussaye, one of the greatest riders in the game’s history and winner of the Kentucky Derby . Another minute, Desormeaux reminds you of a kid picking daisies in the outfield during a t-ball game. In other words, when he is on his game, their are few better riders in the world. Just go take a look at the video of Exaggerator in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. The guy can ride. Last Saturday, he appeared to be on another Exaggerator in the likes of My Boy Jack. After laying well off the early pace, the duo made a run that looked to be a winning one. Sure, it was an impressive one. And, a similar one to the rail-skimming rally when they won the Southwest Stakes over at Oaklawn Park a month or so ago. But just when they were zooming, Noble Indy was zinging — back to the lead. After the race, Desormeaux did not shy away from the camera or the blame. He said:  “I was galloping. I moved too soon. When I asked him to go I said, ‘he can’t lose, there’s no reason to be cute.’ He went so fast from last to first that he couldn’t sustain that kick and the last hundred (yards) he faltered a little bit. I think that’s my fault, 100%.” Whether or not it was Desormeaux’s fault or not, truly doesn’t matter. It was a winning move. And, boy horse and rider may just turn the tide and a few heads before this Triple Crown trail comes to an end.

The In-Betweeners:

  1. Bravazo: I don’t know if anyone will truly know what happened to this awesome-looking son of Awesome Again in the Louisiana Derby. After all, he came into the race with two impressive victories in a row, including a gut-wrenching and gut-checking nose victory over Snapper Sinclair in the G2 Risen Star Stakes over the racetrack. In fact, he looked like an accomplished rising star, and a horse that could possibly carry trainer D. Wayne Lukas and rider Gary Stevens back to the promise land — that they tasted when winning the Kentucky Derby with both Winning Colors and Thunder Gulch. But something not-so-funny happened on Saturday. The colt nearly bolted going into the first turn and never appeared to be either comfortable, or interested in running a race. In fact, he looked like he was a stride away from putting on his best Thunder Snow imitation. Here’s what Stevens said afterwards: “He warmed up good, got away from there good. We were going fast and I eased into the three-path going into the first turn and all of a sudden he wanted to go straight. I didn’t make the turn, I had a steering malfunction for whatever reason. I just don’t know, but he was lugging out with me the entire trip and I had both hands on the inside rein, literally, trying to hold him in. I was breaking his momentum and he was fighting me and I was just trying to keep him on track but wasn’t really able to accomplish that. I can’t explain why. He was sound after the race, pulled up good, but he was mad. I don’t know what happened, I really don’t. Maybe they’ll find some cuts in his mouth or a bad tooth or something. That’s what he acted like, like he was really fighting the bit, and it all happened at once. I’ll talk with the Coach when I’m done here and he’ll figure it out but it was very disappointing.” I don’t know what, when, why either. But I am inclined to throw the race completely out, if no physical reason can be found after a full veterinarian inspection. The horse has run too good up to now. But it sure is puzzling.

Losers:

  1. Sunland Derby: A year ago, the brash and brawny media that descended upon Churchill Downs couldn’t stop talking about how the Sunland Derby had emerged as one of the leading prep races for the Kentucky Derby. It was to produce not one, but several key contenders for the Kentucky Derby. There was Hence, the people’s choice to upset the Run for the Roses. There was Irap, who had gone on to win the Blue Grass Stakes as a maiden. There was Hedge Fund and the ultra quick Conquest Mo Money. Well, the ill-fated Irap was 18th. The “Hot Horse” Hence was 11th. None of the others made it in the big race on the first Saturday in May. And, I think the 2018 version of the G3, $800,000 Stakes will have even less of an impact. Take nothing away from the winner, Runaway Ghost. He was the pick for both The Pressbox and our good, handicapping friend Ed DeRosa, in Sunday’s event. And, the colt is by Ghostzapper, a favorite sire of mine. And, despite being wide throughout the 11/8-mile event, he was plenty the best. And, the put up a game and fierce battle with Reride in the Mine That Bird Stakes in the previous race. But…As good as he might be, Runaway Ghost surely didn’t beat many other Derby contenders on Sunday. The second place finisher is another horse based in the great Southwest, and the shippers came in and left with more questions than answers. Runaway Ghost may be a very nice horse. In our opinion, though, not a Derby horse.