Saturday’s $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (GII) at Fair Grounds drew a full field of 14 sophomores, which isn’t much of a surprise since it’s the first North American Kentucky Derby (GI) prep race this year offering 50 points to the winner.
Named for the much beloved Louisiana-based champion who went on to win the 1988 Preakness Stakes (GI) and Belmont Stakes (GI), the Risen Star is the required local prep to make Fair Grounds’ Louisiana Derby (GII) in five weeks.
Once known as the Louisiana Derby Trial Stakes, many good horses have used it to go on to exceptional careers, including last year’s hero Gun Runner, who also won last year’s Louisiana Derby before finishing third in the Run for the Roses. Gun Runner, who capped off 2016 with his initial Grade I score in the Clark Handicap last November, returned to action in 2017 to win last week’s Razorback Handicap (GIII).
Other standouts to have won the Risen Star include Mucho Macho Man, Lawyer Ron, Badge of Silver, Dollar Bill and Exchange Rate. This year, one of a probable field of 13 will take a stab at finally winning at least one jewel of the Triple Crown, after the likely scratch of California shipper So Conflated, who will run, instead, in next week’s Gotham Stakes (GIII) at Aqueduct.
Saturday’s weather in New Orleans is set to be sunny and warm with afternoon highs reaching the upper 60s. A fast main track and firm turf course can be expected all day.
Magnier, Tabor and Smith’s Mo Town is the early favorite, making his first start of the year and first since taking the Remsen Stakes (GII) in late November. The son of Uncle Mo has been training lights out at Payson Park, including three straight bullet works after receiving a brief freshening during the month of December. He can handle the distance, has a good trainer managing his career in Tony Dutrow and will have regular jockey John Velazquez aboard in search of their third consecutive win together. He’ll be a short price, but should be very tough from his preferred position stalking the early pace.
The well-bred Guest Suite returns to action after winning the LeComte Stakes (GIII) in the mud at a mile and 70 yards last month for trainer Neil Howard. The Will Farish and Lora Jean Kilroy homebred has never really run a bad race and the figures his last two wins indicate he’s a legitimate threat, as his speed numbers show a nice, steady improvement with each start. He’s been training well since his last over the local surface and drew a decent post position, which doesn’t make as much of a difference for him in that he is more of a closer or mid-pack runner than he is a frontrunner. Regular jockey Robby Albarado will be back aboard and though it’s the son of Quality Road’s first try at 8 ½ furlongs, handling added distance should not be a problem for him.
Local Hero makes his first start since breaking his maiden by 7 ¼ lengths in wire-to-wire fashion a month ago. The Steve Asmussen-trained son of Hard Spun seemed to finally put it all together when he stretched out around two turns. He’s absolutely bred to route and this $500,000 Fasig-Tipton 2-year-old-in-training purchase has done little wrong in the mornings. He drew post three, which will help with his frontrunning style, but he’s also going to have a lot of company, something he hasn’t dealt with before. He won’t need to improve much to be a factor in the top order of finish, so all jockey Florent Geroux may need to do on the E Five Racing Thoroughbreds’ colorbearer is conserve energy to hold off the closers in the stretch drive.
Untrapped finished behind Guest Suite last out in the LeComte in what was his stakes debut and, though he made a strong move down the lane from his early position mid-pack, he ran out of real estate and was 1 ¼ lengths back at the wire. He’s bred for a route, has some solid connections in trainer Steve Asmussen and regular jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. will be back aboard. He drew post position two and shouldn’t have trouble dropping back into his preferred spot mid-pack early, but he’s going to need to show more to defeat the top choices today.
Takeoff finished a game third in the LeComte Stakes last out in a pretty good effort off of his initial score prior to the New Year. The Mark Casse-trained son of Arch has shown steady improvement over his last three starts, but will he be able to catch up to the more seasoned and promising runners? It’s hard to tell if he’ll be part of the pace scenario. His only win came in frontrunning fashion, but, last time, he was taken off the pace. Julien Leparoux picks up the mount after a two-race absence.
Girvin broke his maiden at first asking and came back to finish a promising second in the Keith Gee Memorial Overnight Stakes on the turf just 10 days ago. This is a big step up in class for the Joe Sharp-trained son of Tale of Ekati, especially after seemingly finding a home on the grass. He has some decent figures, but this is a pretty solid jump in class.
Arklow was fourth in the LeComte last out in his stakes debut, but was right there at the wire with three others for second. He’s still a maiden and hasn’t figured out how to put it all together yet, but one thing’s for sure: he’ll be rolling at the end from the back of the pack.
Cool Arrow is a multiple stakes-winning former claimer who, with his best, may prove a bit of a challenge. He hasn’t raced since winning the Springboard Mile at Remington Park nearly three months ago, but the Into Mischief colt has been working well for trainer Joe Sharp for the past couple of months. He seems tenacious and loaded with heart, so his rivals better be ready to chase him and run him down from his preferred early position on the front end.
U S Officer finished third in the Springboard Mile last out and though this multiple stakes winner has some talent, he’s probably in over his head.
Shareholder Value was fifth in the LeComte after a troubled trip. He just seems like a smidge below the top runners.
It’s Your Nickel was second in an allowance/optional claimer last out and, while the son of leading first-crop sire Dialed In has shown some promise, he hasn’t shown the same class as his rivals here.
Horse Fly, from the stable of Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, just broke his maiden in his last start and while the Calumet Farm homebred is bred for the distance and the class level, he has some catching up to do.
Former claimer Sorry Erik makes his second start off the claim and a win in allowance/optional claiming company. This is a very, very tough spot and this horse would need to improve several lengths to defeat his chief rivals on Saturday — it’s hard to imagine it happening.