Louisiana Derby Winner Wells Bayou Makes Long-Awaited Return At Fair Grounds

It’s been a long road back but Clint and Lance Gasaway, Madaket Stables, and Wonder Stables’ Wells Bayou, who won last year’s Louisiana Derby (G2), makes his much-anticipated return in Saturday’s $125,000 Louisiana Stakes (G3) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots IN New Orleans, La. The 1 1/16-mile race is a key supporting feature on the six-stakes Road to the Derby card and could prove the pivotal comeback race in a 2021 handicap division lacking any true standouts.

Carded as race 10, the Louisiana is the second leg of the $100,000 guaranteed “All Stakes Pick Five” and the first leg of the $150,000 guaranteed “All Stakes Pick Four”. Both sequences conclude with the Lecomte Stakes (G3), which is carded as the finale on a 13-race extravaganza.

Wells Bayou, who drew post 8-of-9, was installed by Mike Diliberto as the lukewarm 3-1 morning line favorite with regular rider Florent Geroux in tow. The 4-year-old son of Lookin At Lucky stamped himself as a legitimate Kentucky Derby (G1) contender for trainer Brad Cox when he won the local Derby in gate-to-wire fashion last March. Things didn’t go accordingly to plan from there, however, as Wells Bayou was a distant fifth after dueling on the lead in the May 2 Arkansas Derby (G1) and hasn’t been seen since.

“We worked him a time or two after the Arkansas Derby and we weren’t happy with the works,” Cox said. “We sent him off for a bone scan. There was nothing major going on, just a little bone remodeling and young horse stuff, you know, some wear and tear. He just needed some time off and he got that.”

Should he rediscover his form, Wells Bayou, who is 3-for-6 lifetime, would be a major addition to a handicap division there for the taking at the start of 2021. The Louisiana is clearly just a start to what Cox hopes is a serious campaign, which is why he may not be at his absolute best Saturday.

“He’s been a little slow to get back on track,” Cox said. “He was very heavy when he came in. His last few works at Oaklawn have been really sharp. The race (Louisiana) was there so we would enter and take a good look at it and it looks like a really good comeback spot for him.”

Calumet Farm’s homebred Blackberry Wine (post 4 at 9-2 with Adam Beschizza), was an easy 5 ½-length winner of a local December 13 optional-claimer for trainer Joe Sharp. The 4-year-old son of Oxbow has long been held in high regard by his connections in a Jekyll and Hyde career that has seen some big wins and disappointing efforts as well. Blackberry Wine is 2-for-11 lifetime, which includes a distant seventh in the Risen Star here last February, but Sharp believes the arrow is pointing up leading into the Louisiana after such a dominant win.

“We felt really good coming into the Fair Grounds race last time,” Sharp said. “That was the old Blackberry Wine and numbers-wise, it was even better than the old Blackberry Wine. The timing is good. He’s had a few good works since then. It doesn’t look like there is a lot of speed in the race, which plays into our hand. He doesn’t have to be on the lead, but he likes to be close early, that’s for sure.”

Charles Fipke’s homebred Title Ready (post 6 at 6-1 with Brian Hernandez Jr.) has been knocking heads with some of the best horses in the country the past few years for trainer Dallas Stewart. He enters Saturday’s assignment off a seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Classic November 7 at Keeneland in November and a 10th in the Clark at Churchill Downs 20 days later. The 6-year-old son of More Than Ready is 4-for-24 lifetime and has hit the board in seven stakes, including a third in the Fayette (G2) at Keeneland in October. There’s little doubt Title Ready gets a decided drop in class in the Louisiana, which could result in a long-awaited initial stakes win.

“I think the company will be a little lighter for him and he tries hard every time he runs,” Stewart said. “That’s the type of horse you want to be around.”

Courtlandt Farms’ Sonneman (post 9 at 4-1 with James Graham) was a closing second to heavyweight Maxfield in the local December 19 Tenacious for trainer Steve Asmussen. The 4-year-old son of Curlin was making his first start against older horses and was much farther back than usual, yet he rallied nicely for the place spot and was well clear of third. Sonneman was second in Churchill’s Pat Day Mile (G2) in September and is another who could be a big player in the older horse division this year.

Completing the Louisiana field from the rail out: trainer Gerard Perron’s Grand Luwegee (20-1 with Colby Hernandez), who shocked the local December 12 Louisiana Classic over state breds; Lothenbach Stables’ Captivating Moon (post 2 at 6-1 with Shaun Bridgmohan), fifth in the Tenacious for trainer Chris Block and also cross-entered in the Colonel E.R. Bradley in R11; Ed and Susie Orr’s Silver Prospector (post 3 at 5-1 with Ricardo Santana Jr.), who drops in class after running sixth in Churchill’s November 27 Clark (G1) for Asmussen;; Lea Farms’ Indimaaj (post 5 at 12-1 with Joe Talamo), who enters off two straight dominant optional-claiming wins at Tampa Bay Downs for trainer Jeff Engler; and Don’t Tell MY Wife Stables, Monomoy Stables, and West Point Thoroughbreds’ My Boy Jack (post 7 at 12-1 with Gabriel Saez), a multiple graded stakes winning 3-year-old in 2018 who goes second-off a 13-month layoff and is also entered in the Bradley for trainer Keith Desormeaux.

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