03/30/2012 11:24AM

Rousing Sermon needs big effort in Louisiana Derby to make Kentucky Derby

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Rousing Sermon will try to earn a trip to the Kentucky Derby with a strong run in the Louisiana Derby.

Rousing Sermon, the champion 2-year-old California-bred male of 2011, needs a strong result in Sunday’s $1 million Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds to justify a start in the Kentucky Derby on May 5.

That’s the approach owners Larry and Marianne Williams are taking, according to their racing manager, Dan Kiser.

Going into the weekend, Rousing Sermon has $170,000 in graded stakes earnings, a sum that ranked him among the top 20 3-year-olds in the nation. The top 20 3-year-olds, ranked by graded stakes earnings, gain berths for the Kentucky Derby.

With several major prep races to be run nationwide in the next four weekends, the rankings are expected to change dramatically before the Kentucky Derby field is finalized. Bred by the Williamses, Rousing Sermon has every chance to earn a spot in the field, if he runs in the first three in the Louisiana Derby over 1 1/8 miles.

“I think we’re pretty close as far as earnings go,” Kiser said Thursday. “We don’t want to go to Kentucky, unless we have a good effort.”

Kiser said Rousing Sermon will not be sent to Churchill Downs just to give the Williams a starter in the Kentucky Derby. The colt must run an encouraging race in the Louisiana Derby. A top-three finish is a must, and Rousing Sermon must be closing with interest, he said.

“There is a good third and a bad third,” he said. “It’s how he runs, how he’s finishing.”

Rousing Sermon has won 2 of 8 starts and $304,000. He won the California Cup Juvenile over 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita last October and was second to Santa Anita Derby hopeful Liaison in two stakes at Hollywood Park last fall – the Real Quiet Stakes in November and the CashCall Futurity in December.

A half-length loss in the CashCall Futurity, after a seven-wide rally, put Rousing Sermon firmly in the preps for the Kentucky Derby. Two losses this year – a fourth in the Grade 2 Robert Lewis Stakes on Feb. 4 and a fifth in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes on March 10 – led trainer Jerry Hollendorfer to suggest a different venue for Rousing Sermon’s final start before a possible trip to the Kentucky Derby.

“He deserves the chance to run somewhere else,” Hollendorfer said March 22. “We think he’s a good horse. When he ran [at Santa Anita], it was too speed biased and didn’t fit him to a T.”

The lengthy stretch at Fair Grounds, more than a quarter-mile, should suit the late-running Rousing Sermon, Kiser said.

“When we looked at possible preps, that was a big consideration, the long lane,” Kiser said.

If Rousing Sermon does not run well, there is a backup plan – the $300,000 Snow Chief Stakes for California-breds as part of the California Gold Rush program at Hollywood Park on April 28.

Rousing Sermon is by Lucky Pulpit, a stallion the Williams campaigned during his career.

Lucky Pulpit, 11, was the leading freshman stallion in California in 2010. Standing at Harris Farms in Coalinga, Calif., for $2,500, Lucky Pulpit is expected to be bred to more than 100 mares for the second consecutive year this spring, Kiser said.

The number will certainly rise in April if Rousing Sermon runs well in the Louisiana Derby.

“We bred over 100 last year and that was our goal this year,” he said. “We are hoping for another good year with a good volume of mares.”