Not long after the Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 20 at the Fair Grounds, speculation began that an invader from Florida, Greenpointcrusader, would be among the field for Saturday’s Grade II, $1 million Louisiana Derby.
When it became clear that Greenpointcrusader was coming to the Fair Grounds, along with another Florida horse, Todd Pletcher-trained Battery, it added to the top end of the competition and served to put other trainers on notice.
“Greenpointcrusader was impressive as a 2-year-old,” local trainer Al Stall said. “He’s definitely a nice horse that’s in the talks for the Kentucky Derby.”
At 7-2 odds of winning the Louisiana Derby, Greenpointcrusader, trained by New Yorker Dominick Schettino, is the third favorite behind locals Mo Tom, at 5-2, and Gun Runner, 3-1, the winner of the Risen Star.
However, Greenpointcrusader is the only one in the field with a Grace I stakes win, having won the $500,000 Champagne Stakes for top 2-year-olds on Oct. 3 at Belmont Park. He won in impressive fashion, blowing away the field by 4½ lengths on a sloppy surface after stumbling out of the gate.
“He came out of that break and settled nicely off the pace,” Schettino said. “Then he made a big run wide, and when he got to the stretch, just opened up on the field. He ran a bang-up race that day.”
That put the industry on notice and qualified him for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Oct. 31 at Keeneland. Jockey Joe Bravo said he expected a performance that would be impressively “sick.”
Greenpointcrusader finished a disappointing seventh, going eight wide after being caught in traffic. He was found to have an ulcer in his left eye and didn’t race for the rest of 2015.
“It was a blessing that there was nothing seriously wrong with him,” Schettino said. “But we were going to give him a break after the Juvenile to give him time to get over his 2-year-old campaign and give him time to develop and mature.”
Greenpointcrusader didn’t race again until Jan. 30 in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park. With Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez up, he finished second to Mohaymen, widely considered the best 3-year-old on the East Coast. It was a performance that put Greenpointcrusader back on track and reaffirmed what Schettino knew — that this horse can win the Kentucky Derby.
“He had a chance to mature and develop,” Schettino said. “He always showed me he had that kind of ability early in his career. To me, he’s bred to go the distance. He is build like a horse to go the distance.”
Like Tom Amoss-trained Mo Tom, owned by GMB Racing, Greenpointcrusader, a Bernardini colt out of Cryptoclearance mare Ava Knowsthecode, was a May foal. He is also a tall, light horse, part of the reason for his troubles in traffic.
“He is maturing now, muscle-wise, body-wise, which he was not like during his 2-year-old year,” Schettino said.
Greenpointcrusader is a 30-1 shot to win the May 7 Kentucky Derby, relatively high odds. However, his limited experience and accomplishments as a 3-year-old have him needing a big performance six weeks before the first Triple Crown race.
Schettino had many options for Greenpointcrusader. He could have stayed home and run in the Florida Derby, or gone to Oaklawn Park in Arkansas and run in the Rebel Stakes. Or, waited two weeks and raced him in the Blue Grass in Kentucky, at Keeneland.
However, with what’s at stake, the Fair Grounds stood out. Schettino is optimistic for another performance like that in the Champagne. Velazquez, whom Schettino says now has a feel for Greenpointcrusader, will be aboard again.
“The Fair Grounds has that long stretch, and he likes to make that big run,” Schettino said. “He won at Belmont, on the Champagne, like that. That big long stretch run gives him time to make up ground with his running style.”