By Richard Rosenblatt
It seems appropriate for Brad Cox to have a top contender in Saturday’s $400,000 Risen Star (G2) on Saturday at the Fair Grounds.
After all, it’s Cox who has become thoroughbred’s risen star by collecting Eclipse Awards for two of his horses as well as his first Eclipse as the nation’s top conditioner in 2020.
While the trainer already has the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby (G1) in 2-year-old champion Essential Quality [set for his 3-year-old debut in the rescheduled Southwest Stakes on Feb. 20], he’ll send out likely favorite Mandaloun in a field of 12 going 1 1/8 miles.
Last out, the 3-year-old colt ran third in the Lecomte (G3), running wide in the stretch and finishing just over a length behind winner Midnight Bourbon and Proxy. Cox says with the use of blinkers during workouts Mandaloun has “shown some progression and he can take that next step forward with them and have more focus late. He was right there in the Lecomte and he was wide. The two horses that finished in front of us had a little more seasoning and I think he got a lot out of that race.’’
In addition, Cox also trains Caddo River, recent winner of the Smarty Jones Stakes.
Midnight Bourbon and Proxy are back for the Risen Star, the first 50-20-10-5 Derby points qualifier of 2021.
Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, Midnight Bourbon leaves from the No. 6 post with Joe Talamo aboard. The pace was slow in the Lecomte, and Midnight Bourbon led from the start in the 1 1/16-mile race.
“I think the distance is right in his wheelhouse and we’re excited about running him in this series because of the distance of these preps,’’ Asmussen said.
Proxy trainer Michael Stidham believes an increase in distance works for his horse.
“Now that we’re getting into these longer races, it starts to separate them a bit and I think that’s really going to help my horse,” Stidham said. “And I’m not sure that’s the case for everybody.”
Keepmeinmind, the morning-line favorite, had also been cross-entered in the Southwest at Oaklawn Park, and will run in that race instead.
The field for the Risen Star, from the rail out, with jockey, trainer, and odds:
1. Starrininmydreams (Brian Hernandez, Jr., Dallas Stewart) 12-1
2. Proxy (John Velazquez, Michael Stidham) 8-1
3. Beep (Miguel Mena, Norm Casse) 20-1
4. Carillo (James Graham, Tom Amoss) 15-1
5. Senor Buscador (Luis Quinonez, Todd Fincher) 6-1
6. Midnight Bourbon (Joe Talamo, Steve Asmussen) 6-1
7. O Besos (Marcelino Pedroza, Greg Foley) 12-1
8. Sermononthemount (Declan Carroll, Tim Dixon) 50-1
9. Defeater (Diego Saenz, Tom Amoss) 12-1
10. Santa Cruiser (Adam Beschizza, Keith Desormeaux) 15-1
11. Mandaloun (Florent Geroux, Brad Cox) 9-2
12. Keepmeinmind (David Cohen, Robertino Diodoro) 3-1 (Will Scratch)
13. Rightandjust (Mitchell Murrill, Shane Wilson) 15-1
Others stakes at the Fair Grounds on Saturday: the $300,000 Rachel Alexandra (G2) for 3-year-old fillies [Kentucky Oaks qualifier with 50-20-10-5 points awarded to the first four finishers]; the $200,000 Mineshaft (G3), the $150,000 Fair Grounds (G3) on turf; the $100,000 Colonel Power Stakes on turf; and the $100,000 Albert M. Stall Memorial Stakes on turf.
Cold and freezing temperatures caused Oaklawn to cancel its weekend programs, with the Southwest – a 10-4-2-1 Derby points qualifier – is now set for Feb. 20 with Essential Quality, Keepmeinmind, Jackie’s Warrior and Last Samurai are expected to run.
Unbeaten Essential Quality, Keepmeinmind, and Jackie’s Warrior are among the early Derby points leaders – Essential Quality with 30 (No. 1), Keepmeinmind with 18 (No 2) and Jackie’s Warrior with 12 (No. 6).
Also rescheduled for Feb. 20 are the $600,000 Razorback Handicap (G3), and the $100,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3), featuring two-time Eclipse Award winner Monomoy Girl [13-for-15 for trainer Brad Cox].
And yet another Derby points qualifier in the 1 1/8-mle, $100,000 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields on Saturday.
Rombauer, fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and second in the American Pharoah (G1), tops the field of eight.
Trained by Michael McCarthy, Rombauer broke his maiden on turf at Del Mar prior to a sixth-place finish in the Del Mar Juvenile Turf. Following that race, McCarthy switched the colt to dirt in his most recent starts.
The field, from the rail out, with jockey, trainer, and odds:
1 Positivity (Julien Couton, Paddy Gallagher) 12-1
2 Waspirant (Assael Espinoza, John Shirreffs) 8-1
3 Tesoro (Catalino Martinez, O.J. Jauregui) 20-1
4 It’s My House (William Antongeorgi III, Jamey Thomas) 20-1
5 Petruchio (Irving Orozco, Richard Mandella) 3-1
6 Play Chicken (Evin Roman, Doug O’Neill) 12-1
7 Javanica (Frank Alvarado, Eoin Harty) 5-2
8 Govenor’s Party (Cristobal Herrera, Daniel Franko) 50-1
9 Rombauer (Kyle Frey, Michael McCarthy) 8-5
Post time for the Risen Star is 7:18 p.m. ET (TVG, FOxSports2)
Post time for the El Camino Real Derby is 4:37 p.m. PT
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.