Triple Crown: Catching Freedom rallies to Louisiana Derby win

Settling back to last early on in the 111th $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2), Albaugh Family Stables’ Catching Freedom rallied down the center of the track and outkicked fellow closer Honor Marie by one length to earn 100 qualifying points and secure a birth in the $5 million Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve. 

Catching Freedom
Catching Freedom rallied to win the Louisiana Derby. Photo by Hodges Photography / Lou Hodges, Jr.

Trainer Brad Cox swept the Louisiana Derby Day prep races at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, as Tarifa was triumphant one race prior in the $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) presented by Fasig-Tipton. Cox achieved the same success in 2022 with Bonny South (Oaks) and Wells Bayou (Derby). The conditioner now boasts three Fair Grounds Oaks and two Louisiana Derby titles. 

Piloted by Flavien Prat, the bay Constitution colt completed the 1 3/16 miles in 1:56.16. Aboard for Kingsbarns’ wire-to-wire score in last year’s event, Prat now has two Louisiana Derby victories on his resume. 

Breaking from the far outside of eleven, the Lecomte and Gun Runner winner Track Phantom showed the way through most of the race, setting comfortable fractions of :23.49 and :48.33. With Common Defense applying pressure from his outside, soon Tuscan Gold established a tracking position in third and the trio marched in that order until the top of the stretch. Catching Freedom moved to the rear, not far behind fellow trailer Honor Maire. The two began inching up through the far turn and in tandem set down their runs at the top of the stretch. Common Defense bid gamely down the stretch but did not get by Track Phantom who dug in. However, the duo was soon overtaken by the late kick of Catching Freedom, who’s endurance held out over Honor Marie’s. Tuscan Gold flopped back to his left lead as he was overtaken by those two but securely finished third. 

“I didn’t know what to make of it early on, being so far back and with not much pace,” Cox said. “But Flavien (Prat) did a great job of letting him inch up. He needed pretty much the entire stretch to get there and I am very proud of the effort. We’ll make sure he is happy and healthy. We’ll ship him up to Churchill next week. He broke his maiden there so he knows the place. Hopefully he can have a great six weeks and a big run the first Saturday in May.”

With the Southwest Stakes victory and a third-place run in the Risen Star (G2), Catching Freedom now stands atop the Road to the Kentucky Derby Points Leaderboard with 125 points. Honor Marie had earned 5 in the Risen Star, 10 with his Kentucky Jockey Club win, and now totals 65 qualifying points. Tuscan Gold earned 25, the first leaderboard points for the last-out maiden winner. Track Phantom’s fourth-place finish padded his position to 70 points. Together with his success in Derby preps at Oaklawn, Common Defense adds 10 points for finishing fifth in the Louisiana Derby to total 37. Each of the top five 2023 Louisiana Derby finishers have either secured or have a fair shot of entering the starting gates the first Saturday in May.

Sent off as the 3-1 second choice, Catching Freedom’s backers cashed at $8.60, $4.40, and $3.20.

With only five career starts, Catching Freedom has racked up $877,350 in earnings through three wins and one third-place finish.

Fair Grounds closes the book on its 152nd meet tomorrow, Sunday, March 24. With 15 races carded, there is an early first post of 11 a.m. CT. The program includes the $100,000 Star Guitar Stakes, $100,000 Chantel Lanerie, and the $100,000 Page Cortez–all written for Louisiana-breds. 

NOTES In the day’s other 100-point race, the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park, 7-5 favorite Endlessly circled the field and drew away to a dominant four-length win to secure 100 Derby points. The Michael McCarthy trainee has made all six of his career starts on turf or synthetic and previously had won the El Camino Real Derby, which is a “win and in” for the Preakness and now has secured enough points to get entry in the Kentucky Derby. He was followed home by West Saratoga, who earned 50 points, Seize the Grey (25), Triple Espresso (15), and Lucky Jeremy (10). Umberto Rispoli was up. Endlessly is owned by Amerman Racing LLC.