Week 5/10 of the Derby Handicap Contest: Submit your choice of horse up to 20 minutes through this link before the scheduled post time of 5:25pm CST for this race. Read the Contest tab for rules and more information.
Two graded stakes winners and a handful of challengers line up to take some Derby points in a loaded rendition of the Risen Star Stakes. As though named for the race, Rise Up will return from a 3-month layoff since winning the Delta Downs Jackpot in a romp to challenge Lecomte (III) winner Vicar’s In Trouble, who had no trouble winning that race by almost 7 lengths. #4 Bond Holder scratched, allowing also-eligible entry Emmett Park into the gate. The other also-eligible, Teniente Coronel, will not run according to his trainer.
$400,000 Risen Star Stakes (II) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/16 miles on dirt at Fair Grounds. Post Time: Saturday, February 22 at 5:25pm CST.
[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Impost, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]
1) Albano - Kerwin Clark, 116 lbs, Larry Jones - The son of Istan and half to Mark Valeski breaks from the rail after a somewhat unfavorable trip last out in the Lecomte (III), where he finished a respectable 2nd way behind Vicar’s In Trouble. He has won 2 and has never been off the board in 4 starts. While I expect him to run a better trip here, I think he may be out of luck here. Perhaps needs more ground like Atigun, another Istan colt.
2) Rise Up - Gerard Melancon, 120 lbs, Tom Amoss - The Rockport Harbor colt has won 4 of 6 races, including the Delta Jackpot (III) by a breezy 6 lengths over Casiguapo. He owns some of the best figures here and has a win at the distance. His workouts look good and he has enough early speed to do well at this post. Extended layoffs didn’t hurt him in the past, and he looks fresh.
3) Flat Gone - Chris Landeros, 116 lbs, Keith Desormeaux - Trainer Desormeaux took this race in a shocker last year with Ive Struck a Nerve, so can he go back-to-back with this Flatter colt? Flat Gone has been a bit of a lost cause up until his last race here at the Fair Grounds, where he rallied on the turn to break his maiden by 2 1/2 lengths to improve very significantly. Flat Gone retains 10% rider Landeros for this race and Desormeaux is nearly 20% here. While I credit that maiden win to a rapid pace, if he improves his numbers again he could be a factor.
4) Vigorish - Marcelino Pedroza, 116 lbs, D. Wayne Lukas - Lukas with another seemingly hopeless son of English Channel in the Derby preps (Optimizer!)? Vigorish has yet to snap his maiden in 6 starts, the best of which were 2 places. To his credit, he was barely beaten last out going this distance at Oaklawn, and his resume is a mix between turf, slop, and inexperience that has handicapped him. He’s a bit of a lost cause, but do you dare to doubt the Coach with a horse who is knocking at the door?
6) Gold Hawk - Corey Nakatani, 116 lbs, Steve Asmussen - Smushed as the favorite last out in the Lecomte (III), the Empire Maker colt switches to Corey Nakatani after he got going too late to catch Vicar’s In Trouble in his only career loss in 3 starts. His numbers and race trips are not that impressive. Asmussen and Nakatani are a good combo though.
7) Interchange - E.T. Baird, 116 lbs, Thomas Clark - 2-for-2 as a juvenile, the Fairbanks colt goofed in his 3-year-old debut here at Fair Grounds, being 5th by nearly 10 lengths to Quick Indian and Xtra Luck in 3rd. Interchange’s two wins aren’t very special looking at the setup he received: one a likely pace meltdown, the other an uncontested easy lead. Nope.
8) Hoppertunity - Martin Garcia, 116 lbs, Bob Baffert - The Any Given Saturday colt was a bit slow and wide while 5th in his debut race won by Bayern, then reeled them in on the rail last out to win by 3. Bob Baffert is a pro shipping to the midwest and Hops should improve. Yet to accomplish much of anything, Hops will be stretching and shipping, but ought to be a fairly decent play as his last race was really nice.
9) Intense Holiday - Mike Smith, 116 lbs, Todd Pletcher - The Harlan’s Holiday colt had a rough trip of things in the Remsen (II) last year, and got along to be 3rd last out in the Holy Bull (II) despite breaking from an outer post. He gets another outer post here and has only won once in 6 starts. He improved his figures last out and should improve again in his 2nd start off the layoff. How highly you think of Cairo Prince should factor into how you place him. Likely to get good odds again.
10) Son of a Preacher - Miguel Mena, 116 lbs, Bret Calhoun - The Pulpit colt hasn’t won since his debut going 6 furlongs at Churchill Downs last year, and hasn’t faced much class in recent starts, the best of which was a 3 1/2 length loss to Gold Hawk. He’s failed to make much ground (if any) up in the stretch, but did get a rocky race against Gold Hawk here at the Fair Grounds. He could do better with an improved trip, but how much so is the question.
11) Quick Indian - Brian Hernandez Jr, 116 lbs, Merrill Scherer - The Indian Charlie colt won his allowance race here at the Fair Grounds in January, spinning off the turn to log 2-of-3 wins at the distance. A great pedigree, with an Apple Blossom (I) winner for his dam’s mother, Quick Indian could keep improving.
12) Xtra Luck - Richard Eramia, 116 lbs, Danny Pish - The Exchange Rate colt was a well-beaten 3rd last out, more than 9 lengths behind Quick Indian. Outer post, poor figs, bred like a grass horse.
13) Commanding Curve - Robby Albarado, 116 lbs, Dallas Stewart - The Master Command colt had some cruddy races before finally snapping his maiden at Churchill Downs, running his best late and eating into a slow pace from the back of the field going this distance. An interesting new player, he won well enough last out to be a contender here if he can keep improving. The long layoff may hurt him.
14) Vicar’s In Trouble - Rosie Napravnik, 120 lbs, Mike Maker - The Into Mischief colt is 2-for-2 at Fair Grounds and is fresh off a commanding score in the Lecomte (III) last out, where he won by nearly 7 lengths despite veering out a little. The distance and contenders should be no problem for him, but the outer post is daunting as he will have to break quickly and give up some ground in the process. It’s not impossible, though, and he has plenty of talent.
AE) Emmett Park - James Graham, 116 lbs, Robert Pincins - 2-for-2 at Turfway Park on poly, the Bob and John gelding has had 3 Fair Grounds works on dirt and looks to be an improver and a closer should he keep the same strategies on dirt. His works have been good on the dirt and he can be had from an improving angle. I do not think a wide post (should he get post 14… I’m assuming he does) will hinder him.
Top 3 Picks in Order:
2) Rise Up
3) Commanding Curve
The horse to beat here isn’t Vicar’s In Trouble, but Rise Up, who owns top figures all around but is still in need of a test— and should he win on Saturday, he’ll probably need to be tested again as this is a pretty weak field altogether. Hoppertunity made some leaps and bounds in his last race and I’m keen on him to do well here. I liked Commanding Curve’s Churchill win a lot and he should improve. All I worry about for him is fitness level. I could go back and forth between these three all day, this is a tough race.
Value Pick: Commanding Curve (6-1 or better) can explode in that last quarter from behind if he’s still got it.
Contest Wager: Hoppertunity