Intense Holiday early favorite for Louisiana Derby

To Larry Jones, a rail’s a rail.

So when Albano drew the No. 10 outside post position for Saturday’s Louisiana Derby, he took it in stride.

“Look’s like I’m on the rail again, just on the other side,” Jones said. “Sometimes I think we like to talk about post positions just to keep it interesting, especially when it’s anything over a mile.

“I do like it better than the one we had last time, though.”

Last time would have been five weeks ago in the Risen Star when Albano started from the No. 1 spot and was nipped in the final stride by Intense Holiday after leading from the start.

“We didn’t want to get squeezed back, so we took advantage of his speed,” Jones said. “We can adapt to wherever we are.”

Intense Holiday is back on Saturday for the $1 million, Grade II race at the Fair Grounds, which also serves a major qualifying prep for the Kentucky Derby. The mile and 1/8 race drew a field of 10.

“The quality’s good,” Fair Grounds stakes director Scott Jones said. “We’d have liked to have had a few more horses, but these are really good 3-year-olds.”

Intense Holiday, trained by Todd Pletcher, is the 2-1 morning line favorite.

Lecompte winner Vicar’s in Trouble, which had to start from the No. 13 spot in the Risen Star, where he finished third, and In Trouble, being shipped in from New York by Anthony Dutrow, are the co-second choices at 4-1, followed by Albano at 9-2.

Intense Holiday is expected to arrive at the Fair Grounds on Thursday from Pletcher’s training center in Florida. Assistant trainer Ginny DePasquale will be handling Intense Holiday while Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith will travel from his home base, Santa Anita, to ride Intense Holiday for the second time.

Pletcher has another entry Saturday, King Cyrus, who is coming off a second-place in the Smooth Air Stakes at Calder two weeks ago.

Dallas Stewart, whose Golden Soul was second in last year’s Kentucky Derby, has a Louisiana Derby entry Saturday in Commanding Curse (20-1). And Tom Amoss, second in the Louisiana Derby last year with My Lute, is saddling Rise Up (10-1) this time.

Also in the field are Louie’s Flower (20-1), Flat Gone (50-1) and Gold Hawk (12-1).

Jack Wolf, managing partner of Starlight Racing, which owns Intense Holiday, said he naturally favors his horse but sees plenty of quality in the field.

“In Trouble looks like a very nice horse,” he said. “Of course, Albano is going to come back strong. We were very fortunate to beat him last time.

“Vicar’s in Trouble also jumps out at you.”

Vicar’s in Trouble spent time training in Florida after finishing third in the Risen Star, and Joe Sharp, assistant trainer for Mike Maker, said he believed it has helped the Louisiana bred.

“We heard he did very well down there,” Sharp said. “We’ll have to see about that.

“We’ve certainly got a better post position (No. 6) this time, and he’s been doing well since he got back.”

Vicar’s in Trouble’s jockey is Rosie Napravnik, who goes into the meet’s final weekend in the lead for her fourth straight title. Napravnik and Sharp are husband-and-wife, which would provide an intriguing storyline for the Kentucky Derby.

But first, a horse has to qualify to get there.

The Louisiana Derby is worth 100 points to the winner, 40 for second, 20 for third and 10 for fourth.

While last year, the first in which the points system was used, 10 was enough to make the 20-horse field because of dropouts, the number is expected to be higher this time.

The Louisiana Derby, along with the Florida Derby and Saturday’s UAE Derby in Dubai, are the first of the seven 170-point races to be held over the next three weekends.

Albano is tied for 11th place with 24 points, and a third- or even fourth-place finish Saturday might be enough.

But Jones, whose last Kentucky Derby entrant, Friesen Fire in 2009, finished 18th after sweeping the three Fair Grounds prep races, said it’s no sure thing.

“We’re not committed,” he said. “He’s going to have to show us where he is.

“We had that two years ago with Mark Valeski, but he just wasn’t what we wanted, So we opted out and a week later won the Peter Pan with him at Belmont. But if we run in the Derby, we think he’s got a whale of shot to win it.”

Veteran jockey Kerwin Clark, who will be riding Albano, certainly hopes the horse continues to progress.

“I’ve been in the Derby only once before (14th on long shot Decisive Moment), so it’s off my bucket list,” he said. “But this horse has been training awesome since his last race, and I think he’s ready to go.

“I didn’t sleep for three days after what happened at the end of the Risen Star. I know Albano’s capable of stepping up again and have a lot of run left in him.”