<
>

Noble Indy edges Lone Sailor in $1 million Louisiana Derby

NEW ORLEANS -- Co-favorite Noble Indy settled near the front and held off a late charge by Lone Sailor to win the $1 million Louisiana Derby by a head at the Fair Grounds Race Course on Saturday.

Noble Indy and Bravazo both went off at 5-2 in what is one of the major prep races for the Kentucky Derby, but Bravazo faded after entering the final turn in third.

Trained by Todd Pletcher, Noble Indy earned 100 points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby, assuring qualification for the Triple Crown opener.

"This race was a big step in the right direction. I was pleased with the way he conducted himself," Pletcher said of his horse. "He seems to be maturing as he gets more experience."

Jockey John Velazquez steered Noble Indy into the lead entering the final turn and finished the 1 1/8-mile, Grade-2 stakes race in 1:50.28. He paid $7.40, $4.80 and $3.20.

"He's very talented, but he's very green," Velazquez said, adding that he didn't want Noble Indy to run near the front as long as he did. "I was a little afraid that he was a little too strong in the back stretch and not have anything down the lane."

But when Lone Sailor pulled alongside Noble Indy, who was wearing blinkers, Velazquez said his horse "starting putting a good bite on the rein. I was glad he did."

Lone Sailor was a sentimental favorite, racing one day after the jazz funeral of its owner, New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson. The Tom Amoss-trained colt, with James Graham aboard, earned 40 points -- likely enough to qualify for the Kentucky Derby -- and paid $7.80 and $4.20. Morning line favorite My Boy Jack finished third in the 10-horse field and paid $3.20.

Lone Sailor represented the lone Kentucky Derby hopeful for GMB Racing, the stable established by Benson and his wife, Gayle. But he ran poorly in the Grade-3 Lecomte Stakes at the Fair Grounds in January.

This time, Amoss asked Graham to lay back and try to close strong, which is precisely what he did with a horse that went off at 9-1.

"We had a good feeling about this race today. He ran great," Amoss said. "Look, the best horse probably won today. I won't deny that. But our boy really stepped up and ran a great race, and I'm very proud of him.

"I'm not going to get spiritual about this whole thing, but I will tell you this. I really felt like Mr. Benson was with us today."

My Boy Jack, trained by Keith Desormeaux, now has 32 points. Part owner Sol Kumin of Monomoy Stables said the horse could run in the Arkansas Derby if he needs more points to earn a start at Churchill Downs on May 5.

"We'll wait to see how he comes out and what Keith wants to do," Kumin said. "In Keith we trust."