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Normandy Invasion, Oxbow square off in Risen Star

Oxbow, who pummeled his rivals in the Lecomte, faces a stiffer test in the Risen Star (Lynn Roberts/Hodges Photography)

Oxbow was virtually untouchable in the Grade 3 Lecomte at Fair Grounds on January 19, winning as he pleased by 11 1/2 lengths, but more than likely will have to play second fiddle to Normandy Invasion in the wagering for Saturday's Grade 2, $400,000 Risen Star at the New Orleans track.

The top local prep for the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, the 1 1/16-mile Risen Star attracted an overflow field of 15, with a maximum 14 allowed to start.

Normandy Invasion, whose owner Fox Hill Farms won the 2009 Risen Star and Louisiana Derby with Friesan Fire, breaks from post 9 under Jose Lezcano. The Chad Brown trainee, an Aqueduct maiden scorer by 9 1/4 lengths, missed by a nose in that track's Grade 2 Remsen in his juvenile finale. Off a bit slow from a wide post in that nine-furlong test, Normandy Invasion made an impressive rally into contention before missing in a photo to Overanalyze. 

Oxbow, meanwhile, has been an open-lengths winner of his last two starts on dirt while racing on the front end. The Awesome Again colt prevailed by nearly by 4 3/4 lengths in a seven-furlong Churchill maiden dash in his fourth career start, and followed a fourth in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity with his knockout decision in the Lecomte. Jon Court will again ride the bay, who will start from post 10.

Mylute, who placed in three of four stakes appearances at two including the Grade 3 Delta Downs Jackpot, will make a highly anticipated return to stakes action after a 10 3/4-length romp versus Fair Grounds allowance foes in late December. Others stepping up from the overnight ranks are the Bob Baffert-trained Code West, who sheds blinkers after running second to stablemate Super Ninety Nine over a mile at Santa Anita January 31, and Saratoga graduate Palace Malice, a son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin who finished second in his sophomore debut in the slop at Gulfstream Park.

He's Had Enough, runner-up in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall, has been unimpressive in two subsequent starts, but is probably better than his third of a four in a paceless renewal of the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis. Also looking to make a more favorable impression is Golden Soul, the distant runner-up in the Lecomte for trainer Dallas Stewart.

Potential contenders at a price are Grade 3 victor Circle Unbroken, a well-beaten sixth in the Lecomte off a 5 1/2-month layoff; Proud Strike, a 7 1/2-length Fair Grounds maiden victor January 12 over two next-out winners; and Departing, a comfortable maiden and allowance winner for trainer Al Stall Jr. over the local strip.

Demoiselle winner Unlimited Budget cuts back in distance for the Rachel Alexandra (NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography)

Unlimited Budget, who knocked out two wins in the span of 15 days last November, including the Grade 2 Demoiselle, will kick off her sophomore season in the Grade 3, $200,000 Rachel Alexandra, a 1 1/16-mile stepping stone to the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks.

Overlooked at 7-1 when taking her one-mile debut at Aqueduct by 9 1/2 lengths over next-out winner Squeal, Unlimited Budget stretched out to nine furlongs for the Demoiselle, which she won in wire-to-wire fashion by 1 1/4 lengths. The daughter of Street Sense will try to make it three in a row on Saturday for owner Mike Repole trainer Todd Pletcher.

The Larry Jones-trained Dancinginthecircle showed vast improvement when taking the By the Light at Delta Downs in early January, romping by nine lengths in the two-turn, seven furlong-test. The Divine Park filly had previously run a distant second in a Churchill Downs allowance behind Pure Fun, who went on to notch the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet. Jones will also saddle Blue Violet, a 9 1/4-length maiden winner last time in her sixth career outing.

Midnight Ballet, who races for the Kentucky-based Stoneway Farm, invades from the California string of trainer Tom Proctor. Far behind champion Beholder in her lone outing on dirt so far, the Midnight Lute lass rebounded to land the Sharp Cat over Hollywood Park's Cushion Track. However, she was a flat fifth in the Hollywood Starlet in her most recent outing.

Others among the field of 10 likely to attract support at the windows are the Grade 3-placed Every Way, a grass allowance winner in her last start; Finding More, winner of the Letellier Memorial and fifth in the Silverbulletday in her last two; and Daddy's Song, who gets a serious class test after blowout wins against maiden claimers and starter allowance foes in her last two.

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