Risen Star Stakes Rich in Louisiana, Kentucky Derby History

Saturday’s $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (G2) at Fair Grounds drew a talent-packed field of 12 runners, which isn’t much of a surprise since it’s the first North American Kentucky Derby (G1) prep race this year offering 50 points to the winner, as well as 25, 15, 10 and five for second through fifth.

The race is named for the much beloved Louisiana-based champion — who went on to win the 1988 Preakness Stakes (G1) and Belmont Stakes (G1) — and is the required local prep to make Fair Grounds’ Louisiana Derby (G2) in five weeks on March 23. This year the race distance will be nine furlongs, a sixteenth of a mile further for the sixth year after having previously been offered at 1 1/16 miles since 1975.

Fair Grounds Race Course – Photo Courtesy of www.fairgroundsracecourse.com

Ronnie Lamarque’s Racing Adventure: The Story of Risen Star

New Orleans native Ronnie Lamarque was champion Risen Star’s co-owner and the auto dealer had a ton of fun and earned national recognition owning horses back in the 1980s and early 1990s and even wrote songs about a few of them.

In 1987 Lamarque and trainer Louis Roussel plunked down $300,000 for a son of Secretariat at the Fasig-Tipton 2-year-olds in training sale in Florida and the colt was named Risen Star by using symbols of Roussel’s deep religious faith – the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the Star of Bethlehem. At the time the conditioner was part owner of Fair Grounds, so the colt making his debut in the Pelican State was a foregone conclusion and his career came at a time when Louisiana wasn’t as popular a winter destination for Northerners looking for warm winter weather as it is now; most went to South Florida to escape the snow.

Risen Star, who made his first two starts at Louisiana Downs as a 2-year-old for trainer Rene Gebbia before shipping to Roussel at Fair Grounds, stayed in Louisiana until shipping for his last Derby prep — which was a win in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland — and it may be fair to say that Risen Star helped put the Louisiana route to the Kentucky Derby on the map.

Beyond the Finish Line: Risen Star’s Enduring Legacy in Horse Racing History

He was third behind Winning Colors and Forty Niner in the Derby and then won the Preakness Stakes (G1) by 1 ½ lengths. In the three weeks between the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, Risen Star slightly injured his right front suspensory, but he ran in the Belmont Stakes anyway and cruised to a whopping a 14 ¾-length victory in 2:26 2/5. And due to his performances in the three Triple Crown races, he earned the most points in the three races and collected a $1 million bonus for his connections.

Risen Star only raced 11 times, but put together an awesome championship season within those races. His last race was the Belmont Stakes and despite several attempts to bring him back off his injury, he was retired to Walmac Farm in Lexington later that year where he lived until his death from colic in 1998. He produced a few stakes winners, but like his sire he was never much of a sire himself, his most notable offspring being millionaire Star Standard.

Lamarque has owned other good horses and remains an active owner today, but has never had one as successful as Risen Star. Always an amateur singer, he most recently earned some notoriety with his singing appearance on America’s Got Talent. He didn’t make it far, but he reminded racing fans of the good natured and fun guy we all got to know in the days of Risen Star.

So it was more than fitting that Fair Grounds named a race for one of its most notable and popular runners who was owned and trained by some of the area’s most notable and well-liked people. The race was once known as the Louisiana Derby Trial Stakes and many good horses have used it to go on to exceptional careers, including 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner. Other standouts to have won the Risen Star include Mucho Macho Man, Lawyer Ron, Badge of Silver, Dollar Bill and Exchange Rate, War of Will eventual Derby winner Mandaloun, Epicenter and Angel of Empire a year ago.

Racing Royalty: A Look at the Legendary Winners of Two Iconic Derbies

Twelve horses have won both the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby – Epicenter (2022), Girvin (2017), Gun Runner (2016), International Star (2015), Friesian Fire (2009), Pyro (2008), Repent (2002), Comic Strip (1998), Line in the Sand (1992), Risen Star (1988), Taylor’s Special (1984) and Master Derby (1975).

Five trainers have each saddled a trio of winners – Neil Howard, Todd Pletcher, D. Wayne Lukas, Steve Asmussen and Brad Cox. Jockies Robby Albarado (Notional, 2007; Gradepoint, 2004; and Badge of Silver), Shane Romero (1992, Line in the Sand; 1989, Dispersal; and 1988, Risen Star) and Florent Geroux (2016, Gun Runner; 2020, Mr. Monomoy; and 2021, Mandaloun) have each ridden three winners.

The race has been set as the 14th of the day this year and has an approximate post time of 6:17 p.m. CT. The weather forecast for the day calls for a high probability of rain (and an off track) with an afternoon high near 60.

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