Mo Tom was about to make another of his extremely fast closing runs when another horse, Florida invader Bistraya, drifted in front, altering his path.
That led to a third-place finish in the Grade II, $400,000 Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 20, when it easily could have been Mo Tom’s fourth win in six starts. He closed strong to finish third.
Trainer Tom Amoss said he feels Mo Tom would have won that race, the last on the way to the Grade II, $1 million Louisiana Derby, set for Saturday at the Fair Grounds. With the Louisiana Derby being the final prep before the Kentucky Derby, Amoss would like Mo Tom, the 5-2 favorite, to win even more; Saturday’s winner gets 100 points toward consideration for the Derby.
“It would stamp him as a legitimate contender for the Kentucky Derby,” said Amoss, a top trainer seeking his first Louisiana Derby win in 10 tries. “We’re not thinking about points right now. We’re trying to see if we have a horse that’s a real (Kentucky) Derby contender. A win in this race certainly would speak to that.”
The Louisiana Derby has what Amoss said is “a cosmopolitan field” with a handful of top locals, out-of-town interests and some horses that were well thought of as 2-year-olds.
That makeup has Amoss feeling a little concerned. The Louisiana Derby has a much different complexion than the Risen Star, which also had top horse Airoforce.
“The Risen Star had quite a bit of speed in it, but we’re seeing in this race more horses that like to lay back and wait, and that could be a problem for Mo Tom,” Amoss said. “He likes to have a fast pace up front, and that makes his closing kick very good. My concern is that the race is not going to have a fast pace, and that the horses that are up front and close will have plenty of energy for the end of the race.”
The horses who lay back, like Mo Tom, could be compromised by that, Amoss said.
Among the field of 11 are Risen Star winner Gun Runner, the 3-1 second choice; Florida invader Greenpointcrusader, the 7-2 third choice; Forevamo (10-1), which finished second in the Risen Star; and Battery, trained by Todd Pletcher. Pletcher is vying to win a record fourth Louisiana Derby.
Gun Runner looked strong crossing the wire in the Risen Star, and Greenpointcrusader also has shown excellent closing speed. But Amoss said to assume they’ll lay back for a final finishing kick might be a mistake.
“This race becomes very tactical,” Amoss said. “All the jockeys have to look at it and decide what the best strategy is for their own horse.”
Greenpointcrusader, who was a $575,000 yearling purchase, is the only one in the field to win a Grade I race: the Champagne Stakes in October at Belmont. Perhaps more important, Battery (10-1) is the only one to have won at the 11/8th-mile distance of the Louisiana Derby.
In his last win in the Lecomte on Jan. 16, Mo Tom held off fellow Benson-owned Tom’s Ready. That race was at 1 mile and 70 yards.
“He is a different horse than what you saw in January,” Amoss said of Mo Tom, a tall, classic Kentucky Derby horse who also was a May foal as opposed to being born in January or February, like most race horses. “He’s training very well, and physically he’s becoming a much stronger horse than he was when he won the Lecomte.”
The performances of Gun Runner, trained by Steve Asmussen, once again will be one to bear watching. He won the first two races of his career at Churchill Downs and Keeneland. After finishing fourth, just behind Mo Tom, in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, he was rested to get ready for this stretch as a 3-year-old.
Strongly built, he has shown an adaptability in his races, trainers said, being able to race well in traffic as well as show speed on the outside and hug the rail.