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Thanks to the cantankerous Derby points system, the Risen Star (II) field is loaded and full of some scary good prospects. Why else would He’s Had Enough decide to ship further out to face Violence instead? Pletcher brings in Palace Malice from Florida, Baffert ships out Code West, Gary Stevens ships himself out for a special colt, and then we’ve got our Lecomte (III) returners and new guns to make for one awesome Saturday afternoon.
$400,000 Risen Star Stakes (II) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/16 miles on dirt at Fair Grounds. Post Time: Saturday, February 23 at 4:57pm CST.
[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Impost, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]
1) Proud Strike - Gary Stevens, 116 lbs, Steve Asmussen - Ranked #1 on my current Derby top 10 list is this up-and-coming Smart Strike colt, who wobbled as a juvenile but since turning 3 has coming into his own with a 7-length romp last out in a Fair Grounds maiden special weight in focused fashion. Breezed out long, getting Gary Stevens to ship out to ride is an even more chilling factor that causes me to like his chances even more.
2) Code West - Martin Garcia, 116 lbs, Bob Baffert - The Wests often have some good horses (their other Triple Crown trail colt Flashback isn’t too bad), and Bob Baffert trains this Lemon Drop Kid ridgeling for them. He ran a close second fiddle to Title Contender in September, broke his maiden at this distance in October, and followed it up with a runner-up to super-slick Super Ninety Nine, who has since won himself a G2. He ships in with quick breezes and is apt to try another stalking trip. He’ll actually be a Baffert horse with decent odds.
3) Agent - Richard Eramia, 116 lbs, Joe McAnally - The Dehere colt has 3 starts under his belt and is following up this entry with a mile win in a January allowance race at lower-tier Houston. He has won twice in stalking/closing fashion, and appears to work hardest when he is pushed to do so.
4) Golden Soul - Miguel Mena, 116 lbs, Dallas Stewart - Runner-up to Oxbow last out in the Lecomte (III), the Perfect Soul [IRE] colt has yet to be worse than second in all 3 of his races. He was 3-wide for that stakes-placed performance and worked his way through from dead last. A strong 6-panel breeze in 1:12 and a good post signifies he’s ready, but his speed figures do not suggest much. Jockey Hernandez has gone with Departing as well, which does not bode well.
5) Mylute - Shaun Bridgmohan, 116 lbs, Thomas Amoss - The Midnight Lute colt colored me impressed running 3rd in the Delta Jackpot (III) despite tanking a big stretch out and he followed up that move with a 10+ length win in a mile and 70-yard allowance about a month later. Yet to make his 3-year-old debut, he had some nice speed figures for a 2-year-old and showed back then he can stretch out. Likely to be fit under Amoss and with a good post and past performances, he’ll be value money.
6) Palace Malice - Todd Pletcher, 116 lbs, Rosie Napravnik - The Curlin colt romped in his maiden break, and from my in-person perspective he’s probably the best Curlin running. He ran a good 2nd to sprinter type/high BSF earner Majestic Hussar in his sophomore debut, which was a too-short 7-furlong race at Gulfstream. Napravnik lands in the irons in her stomping grounds so look out as he stretches back out.
7) Hardrock Eleven - James Theriot, 116 lbs, David Banks - The gray Rock Hard Ten Florida-bred has 1 win in 6 starts, but has been beaten in his two prior stakes attempts, both at a mile or less at lower-tier tracks. A rare 7-furlong breeze held back on February 9 is his only recent work, and he hasn’t done much in the way yet of trying to stretch out. Also, TURF HORSE.
8) Ive Struck a Nerve - James Graham, 116 lbs, J. Keith Desormeaux - Bred by Brereton Jones, this bay colt has sprinter Yankee Gentleman as his sire and out of a daughter of classic distancer Cryptoclearance. He broke his maiden late last year and ran 4th last out in the Lecomte (III). His best efforts have been sprinting, but at best, he is a mediocre runner at the moment.
9) Normandy Invasion - Jose Lezcano, 116 lbs, Chad Brown - I’ve strongly favored this Tapit colt since he ran a very close second in the 9-furlong Remsen (II) to Overanalyze. He’s been brought along slowly to this point and Brown has been so hyped about his works it definitely inspires some confidence. A threatening closer, he won’t need a fast pace to win and comes off his layoff with a bullet fired over Palm Meadows.
10) Oxbow - Jon Court, 120 lbs, D. Wayne Lukas - The Awesome Again colt had a career best last out romping in the Lecomte (III), subsequently giving him 4 pounds more than the rest of the field. He has put in a bullet 4 furlongs at Oaklawn to sharpen up. Both of his career wins have been wire-to-wire efforts, and the outer post and extra weight naturally puts him at a disadvantage.
11) Bethel - Iram Vargas Diego, 116 lbs, Gennadi Dorochenko - If we learned anything from Hero of Order last year, we can avoid skipping over Dorochenko’s odd chances. The Pulpit colt has some good reach pedigree, but has been running in maiden claimers at Fair Grounds up until now. Not sure how Dorochenko is with claimers, not that it would help. Slow speed figures, crazy class leap, sleeper works… typical Dorochenko longshot.
12) He’s Had Enough - Mario Gutierrez, 116 lbs, Doug O’Neill - Going to Gulfstream.
13) Circle Unbroken - Leandro Goncalves, 116 lbs, Garry Simms - “Early and fast” best describes the Broken Vow colt’s breeding, and he was dusted in his sophomore debut in the Lecomte (III), running 6th. He was wide and tired in the Lecomte, but has been breezed longer since then. Not favoring him at all though, and the outside post is the kiss of death.
14) Departing - Brian Joseph Hernandez Jr, 116 lbs, Albert Stall Jr - War Front has spawned some excellent early-trail contenders since he started his stud career, and with distance on bottom and Claiborne connections he’s probably more promising long-term than The Factor was. 2-for-2, he rallied to show speed in his 6-furlong debut then won his three-year-old debut last month the same way despite crawling fractions and an extra 2 furlongs. The outer post bugs me, but the distance should be right for this one who ought to keep on improving.
15) Sunbean - Colby Hernandez, 116 lbs, Albert Stall Jr - The Brahms colt won a stakes last year and has run 3 races all on Fair Grounds’ main. His debut was an impressive, scantly-lost duel he would have won had he not drifted, then he followed that up with the Louisiana Futurity win, then successfully stretched out to a mile and 70 yards with a clear win. Bound to be overlooked for a nearly undefeated colt with parents who both excelled at this point in their three-year-old year. He hasn’t beaten much, but he’s been game with good figures. Worthy longshot.
Top Picks in Order:
1) Normandy Invasion
3) Palace Malice
Tapits are hot around now and there’s few more scary in this field than the closing drive of Normandy Invasion, who will get ample pace and looks super good despite coming off a long layoff. Mylute looks phenomenal as well and ought to break well enough to keep improving. Probably off at better odds than he has in the past is third-choice Palace Malice, who is class and gets top rider Napravnik as he stretches back out to his comfort zone. I don’t like the rail spot for Proud Strike, who is already trying to improve as he grows up, but his mature mentality paired with Gary Stevens pegs him 4th in my book here.
Value Picks: Mylute, Sunbean