By Ed McNamara
Brad Cox never has run a horse in the Kentucky Derby, which seems destined to change May 1. Last year’s Eclipse Award-winning trainer has three prospects for the big race after Mandaloun rallied to take the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (G2) on Saturday at the Fair Grounds.
Mandaloun stalked in third behind front-running longshot Rightandjust and Lecomte Stakes (G3) winner Midnight Bourbon before taking the lead in mid-stretch and drawing off to a 1 1/4-length victory over Proxy. Midnight Bourbon tired but held on for third, half a length farther back.
Cox put blinkers on Mandaloun to improve his focus, and they did.
“It was a big difference today,” jockey Florent Geroux said. “We knew he’d be more professional with the blinkers, and he was.”
The son of hot sire Into Mischief joined stablemates Essential Quality, the undefeated winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and the 2-year-old champion, and Smarty Jones winner Caddo River as serious Derby contenders.
Mandaloun paid $6.20 on a $2 win bet for his third victory in four starts after running 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.39. He earned $240,000, raising his total to $351,252 for owner-breeder Juddmonte Farms, which never has won the Derby. More importantly, he earned 50 qualifying points for the classic. Proxy picked up 20 points, Midnight Bourbon 10, and fourth-place O Besos got five.
Elsewhere, Oaklawn Park announced it has moved its next Derby prep, the Southwest Stakes (G3), from next Saturday, Feb. 20, to Feb. 21 because of an extended forecast of inclement weather. The Southwest originally was scheduled for Monday, but bad weather forced Oaklawn to cancel it.
Clairiere went from last to first to narrowly win the $300,000 Rachel Alexandra Stakes (G3) for Steve Asmussen, who trained the Hall of Fame filly for whom the Kentucky Oaks (G1) prep is named. Asmussen also trained Clairiere’s sire, Curlin, for Stonestreet Stables, which bred and owns Clairiere.
Joe Talamo waited patiently and saved ground before asking Clairiere for her best entering the long Fair Grounds stretch. He split horses in the two-path before gradually wearing down even-money favorite Travel Column in the final 50 yards. The margin was a neck. Neither filly had run since Nov. 28, when Travel Column caught Clairiere late in the Golden Rod Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs.
“Clairiere has just matured beautifully,” Asmussen said. “Joe gave her a dream trip, but I think the filly showed her maturity and that she has a beautiful future.”
In the past 14 years, the Oaks winner competed in the Rachel Alexandra seven times.
The winner paid $6.60 after running 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.34 and earned 50 qualifying points for the Oaks. Travel Column was awarded 20, with 10 going to Moon Swag and five to Littlestitious. Moon Swag was 6 1/2 lengths behind Travel Column and a head in front of Littlestitious.
Ed McNamara is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about thoroughbred racing for 35 years. He has handicapped races for ESPN.com, Newsday and The Record of New Jersey. He is the author of “Cajun Racing: From the Bush Tracks to the Triple Crown” and co-author of “The Most Glorious Crown,” a chronicle of the first 12 Triple Crown champions.