Wells Bayou crossed the wire unchallenged to take the 2020 $1m Louisiana Derby on March 21 at Fair Grounds. Trained by Brad Cox and ridden by Florent Geroux, Wells Bayou started as the 3/1 favorite and won in the style of a 1/3 shot. He finished without a spot of dirt on his white bridle and flicked his ears forward in the manner of a horse who had not had to try too hard to get the job done.
A couple of hours before the race this son of Lookin at Lucky out of a Hard Spun mare was available at odds of 8/1 (+800). The race was run without spectators at the track to comply with Covid-19 restrictions but someone somewhere knew Wells Bayou was in with a great chance and must have spread the word.
Wells Bayou beat Saffie Joseph Jr’s longshot Ny Traffic ridden by Joe Bravo more easily than the winning distance of a length and a half suggests. Geroux won from the front and rode his colt all the way to the line but pushed less insistently on the gas pedal when he sensed he had his rivals beat halfway up the stretch. Crucially, Wells Bayou seemed to relish every yard of the slightly increased distance of 1 3/16 miles this year. It was the reason Cox chose the race for him.
Bill Mott’s Modernist took third under Junior Alvarado finishing over four lengths behind the winner with Gregory D Foley’s Major Fed half a length further back. The long-term favorite in the build-up to the Louisiana Derby, Mark Casse’s Enforceable 4/1, finished fifth under Julien Leparoux beaten nearly six lengths.
On paper Enforceable looked a sensible pick as he won a Grade 3 at the track in January after finishing second in the Grade 2 Risen Star over marginally shorter distances. Being drawn in stall 10 did not help his cause and he was never close to the pace. Enforceable had to run wide round the final turn to get anywhere near it and showed his great attitude to achieve fifth place.
A large number of experts thought that Steve Asmussen’s Chestertown could step up to the plate after his second place in an allowance race. There were a multitude of excuses for him in that run as he encountered serious traffic problems and had to make up ground late. He failed to show significant improvement in this race and was beaten 12 lengths finishing eighth.
The race was probably won soon after the gates opened and Geroux went for the lead from gate three. Wells Bayou proved the more robust colt in what was initially a contact sport as he was bumped by Mailman Money drawn in stall two. The lead was secured by the first turn and the chasing pack never looked likely to threaten him.
Cox praised the ride Geroux gave his colt and, while Wells Bayou is not the soundest horse in his barn, he apparently has a great mind and is easy to deal with. He was untroubled by the early skirmishing and immediately relaxed.
A Great Day for Cox
Wells Bayou was not the only Cox trainee to triumph on Louisiana Derby day which was also the last day of racing at the track following increased anti Covid-19 measures. In the previous race, the $388,000 Fair Grounds Oaks, a Grade 2 for 3yo fillies, Bonny South won for him in a very different style. This time Geroux sat patiently off the pace allowing the five fillies in front of him to waste energy when it did not matter. Run over 1 1/16 miles, Bonny South was not asked any questions until she approached the final turn. Geroux pulled her wide and she gradually obliged for him, taking the lead close to the wire beating Tempers Rising and Julien Leparoux by two lengths.
Owned and bred by Juddmonte Farms, this daughter of Munnings out of a Tapit mare was not expected to win. Bonny South was a 6/1 shot and thought to be no match for Steve Asmussen’s Finite, the 1/5 favorite, another filly by Munnings out of a Tapit mare. Finite took the lead in the stretch but weakened to finish fourth.
Ironically Finite had romped home in the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra Stakes at the same track on February 15, beating Cox’s 9/10 favorite and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner British Idiom by almost five lengths.
Cox’s afternoon was already going well as his five-year-old Factor This was the runaway winner of the Grade 2 $300,000 Muniz Memorial Handicap on turf an hour before the Derby. Owned by the appropriately named Gaining Ground Racing, this gelding proved his previous win in the Fair Grounds Stakes was no fluke and broke his own record-setting time.
Factor This was ridden positively by his regular jockey, Shaun Bridgmohan and soon took the lead. Anyone who backed him at 9/1 had no concerns at any point that he would be beaten. Factor This confirmed his appreciation of the track and the distance of nine furlongs. He loved leading the pack, striding along in his comfort zone often with his ears pricked, and easily beat Norm Casse’s Dontblamerocket three lengths.
Bridgmohan was elated after the win, thanking his horse for making life so easy. Chad Brown’s Instilled Regard, the 2/1 favorite, never looked likely to reward his followers and finished sixth beaten six lengths. Florent Geroux partnered Cox’s other trainee, the 11/1 shot Dot Matrix, who was unable to capitalize on his draw from the inside gate. Dot Matrix fell asleep in the stalls and totally missed the break, he was beaten 12 lengths and finished with only one horse behind him.
Cox plans to give Factor This a good rest before his next run and is hoping that he can keep the more fragile Wells Bayou sound long enough for him to make use of his Kentucky Derby points. The Run for the Roses is now scheduled for September.