Road to Kentucky Derby Heats Up in Risen Star; Odds, Picks

Brad Cox saddled the winner of the $400,000 Risen Star (G2) three times in the past four years, and the trainer is ready for another run to victory with Catching Freedom.

A contentious field of 12 3-year-olds is entered in the first Kentucky Derby (G1) prep offering more qualifying points — 50-25-15-10-5 to the first five finishers – than the earlier preps.

Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile Risen Star is the 14th and final race on the card at the Fair Grounds, which also includes the Rachel Alexandra (G2), a Kentucky Oaks (G1) points qualifier for 3-year-old fillies.

Catching Freedom: Poised for Glory in the Upcoming Race

Catching Freedom is the 5-1 third choice on the morning line behind 7-2 favorite Track Phantom and 4-1 second choice Sierra Leone.

While Catching Freedom opened his 3-year-old campaign with a 2 ½-length win the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park on Jan. 1, Cox hopes his colt is ready to handle his next challenge.

“We’re going to need to improve off the Smarty Jones,” Cox said this week. “Physically he looks great. He’s had a good bit of time between races, he shipped back here and is moving well, so we’ll see if he’s up for it.”

A son of Constitution, Catching Freedom moved up steadily in the Smarty Jones, raced four wide in the stretch under Cristian Torres, and surged to an easy win. He leaves from post 8. with Torres in the irons.

The High Stakes of Horse Racing: Asmussen and Cox’s Battle in the Risen Star

Mandaloun – Photo courtesy of Mathea Kelley

Cox won a split division of the 2020 Risen Star with Mr. Monomoy, won in 2021 with Mandaloun and in 2023 Angel of Empire.

Track Phantom, trained by Steve Asmussen, comes in with a three-race winning streak, including the Gun Runner and the Lecomte (G3), the

first two Louisiana road to the Derby preps. Asmussen also sends out Hall of Fame (6-1). Look for Track Phantom to start fast and stay in front all the way around; Hall of Fame broke his maiden at second asking by 10 ¼ lengths on Jan. 20 in a 1 1/16-miler at the Fair Grounds, and he, too, is a front-runner.

High Stakes and High Hopes: The Anticipation Builds for the Risen Star Showdown

Asmussen, who won the 2022 Risen Star with Epicenter, hopes the race unfolds in his favor.

“You want a clean run to the first turn. One mile and one-eighth gives us a little more room going into it,’’ he said. … Want and expect them to break cleanly, establish some position, and just be allowed to show who they are.”

Sierra Leone, a $2.3 million purchase at the 2022 Saratoga yearling sale, was beaten a nose by Dornoch in the Remsen (G2) on Dec. 2. Tyler Gaffalione will be aboard for the first time leaving from post 4 for trainer Chad Brown.

Honor Marie, at 6-1 for trainer Whit Beckman, was last seen winning the 1 1/16-mile Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) on Nov. 25 at Churchill Downs.

“We knew the two turns was going to be his thing. I think the further the distance, the better he will get, based off pedigree and the way he trains,” Beckman told “His Jockey Club win was impressive, but his gallop out was equally impressive. We’re just hoping that he finds his best stride late in the (Risen Star) and he doesn’t give himself too much to do.”

Post time for the Risen Star is 7:17 p.m. ET

The picks: 1 Catching Freedom 2 Honor Marie 3 Hall of Fame

The field for the $400,000 Risen Star (G2), from the rail out, with jockey, trainer, odds:

1 Tizzy Indy (James Graham, Keith Desormeaux), 50-1

2 Awesome Ruta (Mitchell Murrill, Joey Foster), 30-1

3 Honor Marie (Rafael Bejarano, Whit Beckman), 6-1

4 Sierra Leone (Tyler Gaffalione, Chad Brown), 4-1)

5 Moonlight (Florent Geroux, Todd Pletcher), 12-1

6 Real Men Violin (Brian Hernandez, Jr., Ken McPeek), 8-1

7 Hall of Fame (Ricardo Santana, Jr., Steve Asmussen), 6-1)

8 Catching Freedom (Luis Saez, Brad Cox, 5-1

9 Cardinale (Flavien Prat, Todd Pletcher), 12-1

10 Resilience (John Velazquez, Bill Mott), 12-1

11 Track Phantom (Joel Rosario, Steve Asmussen), 7-2

12 Bee Dancer (Corey Lanerie, Dallas Stewart), 20-1


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