Sierra Leone Delivers in Risen Star; Tarifa Wins Rachel Alexandra

And we’re Kentucky Derby (G1)-bound with Sierra Leone.

Chasing down frontrunner Track Phantom in the final strides over a sloppy and nearly dark racetrack, Sierra Leone won the $400,000 Risen Star (G2) at the Fair Grounds on Saturday.

The half-length victory was worth 50 Derby qualifying points – and 25 for runner-up Track Phantom – to put the 3-year-old colts atop the leaderboard with 55 points each and all but clinched their spots in the Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs on May 4.

Purchased for $2.3 million at the 2022 Saratoga yearling sale, the son of Gun Runner is trained by Chad Brown and was ridden expertly by Tyler Gaffalione.

“He’s just a tremendous talent,’’ Gaffalione said in a post-race interview with “He’s a special horse, and we haven’t even gotten to the bottom of him. He’s still learning, still green. When he made the lead, he still wanted to lug in a little bit. But he was much more professional today.

“He didn’t hit his best stride until the gallop out.”

Sierra Leone: Conquering Challenges on the Road to Victory

Sierra Leone broke his maiden at Aqueduct on Nov. 4, and was nipped by a nose by Dornoch in the Resmen (G3) on Dec. 2 over a muddy track. His 3-year-old debut was a winning stretch rally in the middle of the track from ninth in the field of 12.

Track Phantom, winner of the Gun Runner Stakes and the Lecomte (G3) on the Louisiana road to the Derby, took the lead early under Joel Rosario but was unable to hold off the charging Sierra Leone in the late going of the 1 1/8-mile race.

Sierra Leone, the 2.70-1 favorite, returned $7.20 for a $2 win bet. The winning time was 1:52.13 over the sloppy, sealed track. Catching Freedom was third, followed by Resilience, Honor Marie, Awesome Ruta, Hall of Fame, Real Men Violin, Moonlight, Tizzy Indy, Cardinale, and Bee Dancer.

Catching Freedom picked up 15 Derby qualifying points, Resilience 10 points, and Honor Marie 5 points.

Sierra Leone’s Rise: Defying Odds in a Spectacular Race

Sierra Leone is owned by Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, Westerberg, Brook Smith, and Peter Brant.

Brown was impressed with the winning effort after a long layoff.

“Given the track conditions and slow pace and that he hasn’t run since the Remsen, I thought he showed a lot to run down a pretty good horse who was in form and fit and didn’t have to ship,” Brown told m. “I wasn’t sure if he’d reel him in — not because we’re not good enough — but that was a tall order. So, this proved a lot to me today.”

On the undercard, Tarifa ($7) won the $300,000 Rachel Alexandra (G2) for 3-year-old fillies, earning 50 Kentucky Oaks (G1) qualifying points. Intricate was second, picking up 25 points for the May 3 Oaks.

$300,000 Rachel Alexandra (G2)

Tarifa pulled away from favorite Intricate for a 2 ¾-length victory for her first Kentucky Oaks (G1) points.

Earning 50 qualifying points, the 3-year-filly trained by Brad Cox moved to No. 1 on the leaderboard and all but clinched her spot in the Oaks on May 3, the day before the Kentucky Derby (G1).

West Omaha, one of three Cox entries, was scratched.

In other races at the Fair Grounds:

— In the third race, a 1-mile allowance optional claimer for 3-year-olds with only a maiden win, Todd Pletcher-trained Tuscan Sky ($4) outkicked Nash in the stretch for a two-length victory in a three-horse race.

— Money Supply ($20.20) outdueled 7-10 favorite Best Actor in the final furlong for a head victory in the $250,000 Mineshaft (G3) for 4-year-olds and up. The 5-year-old son of Practical Joke extended his winning streak to five in winning a graded stakes race in his first attempt.

Gasoline was third in the 1 1/16-mile race, followed by Red Route One, Smile Happy, Hayes Strike, Happy American, and Dubyuhnell. The winner, ridden by Tyler Gaffalione, is trained by Joe Sharp.

— Beatbox ($11.60) moved past favorite Strong Quality in the final strides for a head victory in the $175,000 Fair Grounds (G3) for 4-year-olds and up on the wet turf.

Posted on