Look out, Louisville!
Here comes Vicar’s in Trouble!
Louisiana’s faux-native son 3-year-old and its adopted favorite daughter punched their ticket for Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby on Saturday with an impressive 3½-length victory in the 101st Louisiana Derby before an approving crowd at the Fair Grounds.
“This is the race I wanted to win,” said jockey Rosie Napravnik, who wrapped up her fourth straight riding title by winning both the meet’s showcase event and the Fair Grounds Oaks, meaning she will have a busy day come May 3.
But she won’t be doing it alone.
Napravnik’s husband, Joe Sharp, is the assistant trainer for Mike Maker and has been handling Vicar’s in Trouble at the Fair Grounds this season.
Sharp and Napravnik even allowed themselves a rare display of public affection after Saturday’s victory.
“We’ve been talking about this being our first Derby horse together all winter,” Sharp said. “So this is very special for us.”
As it is for owners Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey, who may finally have a true Kentucky Derby contender. He’s at least the leader in the qualifying clubhouse with 120 points.
“That’s something they can engrave on my tombstone,” Kenneth Ramsey said. “But I’d like to see it happen while I’m still alive.”
And it’s very special for Vicar’s in Trouble, bred at Spendthrift Farms in Lexington, Ky., but foaled at Elite Thoroughbreds in Folsom to take advantage of a special incentive program designed to improve the state’s equine bloodline.
Vicar’s in Trouble, which may not look like much due to his smallish size and originally sold for $8,000, is easily the most accomplished product of that program — victory in a Grade II, $1 million stakes event.
He’s the first Louisiana-bred to win the Louisiana Derby since Heaven Again in 1990. But Heaven Again did not go on to the Kentucky Derby.
Vicar’s in Trouble will, becoming the first Louisiana-bred to do so since Zarby’s Magic in 1996.
That has been the intent all along.
The son of Into Mischief by Vibrant burst into the spotlight by winning the Lecomte in January but was third in the Risen Star last month after having to start from the No. 13 post position.
Vicar’s in Trouble was then sent to Florida for conditioning and to deal with an abscess.
He returned in good shape, drew the No. 6 spot Saturday and was in command all the way, drawing into the solo lead at the 5/8 pole and then, when challenged at the quarter pole, drew away as Napravnik switched from a right-hand to left-hand whip to win the mile and 1/8 race in 1 minute, 50.77 seconds.
Favored Intense Holiday, the Todd Pletcher-trained shipper who won the Risen Star, was second. Dallas Stewart’s Commanding Curve, with Robby Albarado, was third.
“You know, he’s a tiny horse, but he’s got a great big heart,” said Napravnik, who also won the Louisiana Derby aboard Pants on Fire in 2011. “I thought we would be on the outside, but he’s very comfortable in the lead. He was the best horse on the track today.”
Intense Holiday started from the No. 1 position, which both jockey Mike Smith and trainer Ginny DePasquale said would not be a problem.
But it turned out to be.
“He had a bit of a rough trip,” DePasquale said. “He got banged by the No. 3 horse (Louie’s Flower) a little bit, and then he hit the rail. To start at the No. 1 hole isn’t the best place in the world, but he ran hard, so we’re pleased with him. Obviously the mile and 1/8 isn’t a problem for it, so we’ll move forward.”
Smith praised Napravnik’s ride.
“She rode a great race,” he said. “A brilliant race, actually. For us, it was over when the inside horse jumped out right on me. But maybe with a better post position, next time it will be different.”
Commanding Curve’s 20 points earned Saturday probably won’t be enough to qualify him for the Kentucky Derby, But Albarado, who rode Stewart’s Golden Soul to a surprising second-place finish in the Derby last year, said he sees a bright future for the horse.
“He’s progressing every time,” Albarado said. “I got eliminated at the start, but he ran on so easily. There’s more there.”
Shipper In Trouble finished fourth but was disqualified, giving the final 10 qualifying points to Albano, which had previously earned 24 points for his runner-up finishes in both the Lecomte and Risen Star, putting him currently in 15th place.
Albano trainer Larry Jones said he hopes something can work out for his horse.
“When we tried to make our move, the No. 9 horse (In Trouble) came over and almost took our feet out from under us,” Jones said.
“We were lucky to finish where we did. But I know now we can compete against anybody.”
As for Vicar’s in Trouble, it’s now on to Kentucky, where he will get rest and conditioning while Sharp and Napravnik compete at Keeneland, where Vicar’s in Trouble began his career.
But Sharp said he won’t forget where he came from.
“Why should he?” he asked. “He’s proud of his roots.”