NEW ORLEANS — As has been the case in recent years, the Louisiana Derby was a mixture of out-of-town contenders and local hopefuls.
And while import favorite Revolutionary won the 100th running of the Fair Grounds’ showcase event Saturday, it also was a big day for native-son trainers Tom Amoss and Al Stall Jr.
Amoss’ Mylute was a neck behind Revolutionary, and Stall’s Departing was third.
Mylute’s second-place finish probably punched his ticket to the Kentucky Derby — if Amoss so chooses — since it was worth 40 points in the new Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying system. (First place was worth 100.)
“We’ll let the chips fall where they may,” Amoss said. “Today was about the Louisiana Derby. Mylute ran a heck of a race today. He gave me a heck of a thrill inside the 1/16 pole.”
That was when Mylute made a bid to overtake Revolutionary going into the final furlong. While never actually pulling in front, Mylute extended Revolutionary, the Grade III Withers Stakes winner, to the max.
“He had to go hard down the stretch,” said Whit Beckman, Revolutionary’s assistant trainer. He was subbing for Todd Pletcher, who was at the Florida Derby. “But I think he has a little more distance in him.”
That will be determined in Louisville, Ky., where Revolutionary will be one of the favorites along with Florida Derby winner Orb.
Another highly regarded Pletcher-trained horse, Breeders Cup Juvenile winner Shanghai Bobby, finished fifth in the Florida Derby and may not qualify for the Kentucky Derby.
“That’s why we race horses,” Beckman said. “To see who’s best.”
Departing, making only his fourth start, earned 20 points for his third-place finish and likely will need another start to qualify. Stall, who has had two second-place finishes plus a third in previous Louisiana Derbies, was unavailable for comment after the race. On Thursday, he said he felt Departing, the co-fourth early choice had a chance.
Departing was among those going four-wide on the far turn, but he drifted right before making a final charge to finish 3½ lengths behind Revolutionary and Mylute and a length ahead of Golden Soul.
But in the end, the day belonged to Revolutionary, owned by WinStar Farms and a winner for the third straight time in six career starts.
“I think he’s got all of the experience he needs,” WinStar racing manager Elliott Walden said. “And it’s nice that he’s got the points. So now it’s on to Kentucky.”
He got off to a slow start but gained ground on the outside in the backstretch, continued that into the turn and then went into the lead in the upper stretch.
“He really showed people his talent,” jockey Javier Castellano said. “And the way he did it was phenomenal. This is a very smart horse. He ran like a 5- or 6-year-old in a big field.”
He’ll go against 19 others at Churchill Downs.
“Twenty’s only six more than 14,” Castellano said. “He’ll absolutely be ready for that.”
It was not such a good day for the other favorites.
Code West and Pletcher-trained Palace Malice, who were second and third behind 109-1 long-shot winner I’ve Struck A Nerve in the Risen Star Stakes, finished sixth and seventh Saturday, probably ending their Kentucky Derby hopes. Another Kentucky Derby hopeful, Paul Hornung-owned Titletown Five, was even farther back in ninth.
Stall’s other entry, Sunbean, was between Palace Malice and Titletown Five in eighth.
But it was a good day for Pletcher-trained horses. His Graydar won the $400,000 Grade II New Orleans Handicap, and unbeaten Unlimited Budget won the $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks, making her the leading contender for the Kentucky Oaks.
But, as Beckman said, that’s what racing is about. And it was why Amoss was almost as happy as if his horse had won.
“I’m so proud of what Mylute did today,” he said. “And one day, we’re going to leave the Louisiana Derby with our name on the trophy.”