You can never relax in horse racing, but at least the pressure is off for Starlight Racing’s Intense Holiday today.
With plenty of Kentucky Derby qualifying points in the bank, it will be up to jockey Mike Smith to find a comfortable spot once the Fair Grounds gates open today, and get a productive race out of the son of Harlan’s Holiday, the beaten favorite in the 2002 Derby.
Intense Holiday is the 2-1 morning-line favorite for the Grade II Louisiana Derby, which carries a purse of $1 million, of which $600,000 will go to the winning connections.
Don Lucarelli of Duanesburg, Starlight co-managing partner with Jack Wolf, likes their spot.
“To keep the horse in the cycle, you have to keep running, and he’s doing so well, you just hope he puts in an effort like the last one,” Lucarelli said. “If he wins, fine. The key is you want to peak in the next one. But there’s nothing shabby about a million-dollar purse.”
Intense Holiday is coming off a late-rallying win in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds.
Despite the fact that he’s young — he’s officially a 3-year-old, but doesn’t actually turn 3 until April 20 — Intense Holiday has seven races and continues to figure things out.
“It’s really amazing. We’ve never had one mature as a 3-year-old at this stage like he has,” Lucarelli said. “So that part is exciting.”
Intense Holiday will break from post No. 1, and the speed horse he caught in the Risen Star — Albano — is on the outside of the 10-horse field, with another likely pacesetter, Vicar’s In Trouble, just to his inside.
The key for Intense Holiday will be for Smith to get Intense Holiday away from the rail early, Lucarelli said, because he seems to be a horse who doesn’t love being inside of horses.
“It’s not a race we need to win, but you still want to see him move forward,” he said.
The other big Derby prep today will take place at Gulfstream Park, where Cairo Prince is the 9-5 favorite for the Florida Derby off a dominating win in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream for a partnership that includes Godolphin Racing.
“There’s a lot of speed in there, so I think we’ll be coming from behind,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin told the Gulfstream press office.
Cairo Prince will have to contend with horse-for-the-course Wildcat Red, who will break from the rail and is 4-2-0 from six lifetime starts, all at Gulfstream.
His last two victories were in the Hutcheson and Fountain of Youth.
“He’s the speed of the race,” trainer Jose Garoffalo said. “He can go on the lead, and the post position will be in favor of him. He likes the inside. He likes to go inside horses. He’s got the ability and the versatility to rate. I’m not worried about the post position. This track, the No. 1 is favorable for a mile and an eighth.”
In the Fountain of Youth, Wildcat Red was a head better than General a Rod, who also comes back in the Florida Derby.
The race could turn into a cat-and-mouse game early, depending on who chooses to go after Wildcat Red.
“We’ve got to press him,” said General a Rod’s trainer, Mike Maker. “If Constitution chooses to do so, that would be fine, too. The speed’s to our inside, so it kind of gives us options, whereas everybody else might be forced to force their hand a little.”
Twin Creeks Racing Stables and WinStar Farm’s unbeaten Constitution will be making his stakes debut in the Florida Derby for trainer Todd Pletcher from the No. 4 post.
The Fair Grounds and Gulfstream undercards are both loaded with supporting stakes, most notable the New Orleans Handicap, which has drawn a great matchup between Palace Malice and Normandy Invasion in a field of eight older horses.
Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice is the 8-5 favorite after opening his 4-year-old season with a win in the Gulfstream Park Handicap on March 8.
After the Belmont, he won the Jim Dandy at Saratoga Race Course, was fourth in the Travers and runner-up in the Jockey Club Gold Cup before finishing sixth to Mucho Macho Man in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Normandy Invasion, trained by Mechanicville’s Chad Brown, appears to be back on form after foot problems waylaid most of his 3-year-old season.
He led the Kentucky Derby at the top of the stretch before finishing fourth and did not race again until five weeks ago, when he won an allowance at Gulfstream by 7 3⁄4 lengths as the 1-5 favorite.
The Fair Grounds card also includes the Fair Grounds Oaks, which has drawn 4-5 favorite Untapable.
The Grade III Rachel Alexandra winner is trainer by Steve Asmussen, who was the subject of a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals expose published in the New York Times last week that has the racing world buzzing.
Asmussen also has Gold Hawk entered in the Louisiana Derby.
Arlington Million winner Real Solution, trained by Brown, will make his 2014 debut in the Mervyn Muniz at Fair Grounds.
Today is Dubai World Cup Day at Meydan Racecourse.
The 9-2 favorite in the $10 million World Cup is 2013 Epsom Derby winner Ruler of the World, and the 5-1 second choice is Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Ron the Greek.
Magician, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Turf, is the 3-1 favorite in the Dubai Sheema Classic, and BC Turf runner-up The Fugue is 3-1 in the Dubai Duty Free, which has also drawn BC Filly and Mare Turf winner Dank (7-2).