May 31, 2020

Risen Star: Five points to ponder

Silver State (near side) has a progressive profile for Steve Asmussen (Coady Photography/Churchill Downs)

As the first 2020 Kentucky Derby (G1) scoring race worth increased points on a 50-20-10-5 basis, the Risen Star (G2) already loomed as a significant prep on the trail. Now that its distance has been lengthened to 1 1/8 miles – befitting a stepping stone to the now 1 3/16-mile Louisiana Derby (G2) – the Fair Grounds feature promises to be more informative in sifting through classic hopefuls.

You might say that Saturday’s renewal will be twice as informative, since the Risen Star has been split into two divisions. Each retains a $400,000 purse and the full complement of points, but the divisions shape up with slightly different dynamics.

Here are my five points to ponder:

1. Division 1 comes across as more evenly matched than Division 2.

Whether quantified by the number of black-type runners (those with stakes wins or placings) or how many entrants have Brisnet Prime Power ratings over 130, the first Risen Star division (the 12TH race) appears more competitive. Division 1 features the top three from the Lecomte (G3) – Enforceable, Silver State, and Mr Monomoy – along with fifth-placer Scabbard, previously placed in a pair of graded stakes. Scabbard still leads the field in Prime Power (136.9), but not by much from Silver State (134.9), Enforceable (133.1), Mr. Monomoy (132.2), and Digital (131.2).

The second division (the 13TH) race boasts the overall headliner in Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) near-misser Anneau d’Or, but he faces only two others with black-type on their resumes. Although Liam’s Lucky Charm romped in the Pasco in his latest, and last fall edged Chance It in the Affirmed division of the Florida Sire S., he was well beaten in his only prior two-turn attempt. Finnick the Fierce, runner-up in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at 87-1, didn’t improve on that effort when fourth in the Lecomte. From a Prime Power perspective, Anneau d’Or (143.7) has the measure of “Liam” (139.9), and everyone else is below 130.

That’s not to say that the second division is strictly a one- or two-horse race, but it does suggest that the first division will demand a new career high from the winner.

2. Division 2 figures to have more pace on tap than Division 1.

If horses and riders follow the patterns of their past performances (never a sure thing), the second division is eligible to serve up a stronger early pace, even with the scratch of Truculent. Front-running Gulfstream allowance winner Ny Traffic is parked in the outside post 12, so you’d expect him to use his speed at least to get position. Liam’s Lucky Charm has plenty of dash, and even if trying to tamp it down going 1 1/8 miles, his natural speed should put him right in the vanguard early. Modernist got away with soft fractions in his Aqueduct maiden win, but being on the rail here might factor in his tactics. Lynn’s Map can mix it up if so desired. And with Anneau d’Or adding blinkers, there’s a chance he’ll be on the muscle too.

The first division also has a few forward types, but they haven’t been liable to go quite as fast as the speediest sorts in the other division. Arguably their placement has been more dependent upon circumstances than an absolute imperative. If it would make sense for Ready to Roll to take command from post 3, Blackberry Wine doesn’t figure to turn it into a suicidal duel. Both set moderate fractions in their recent victories. Shashashakemeup could alter this picture, but considering that he folded in the Lecomte after going hard from post 12, chances are he’ll dial it back. Mr. Monomoy, given his recent attempts to throttle down his early speed, probably won’t force the issue overmuch. In any event, the tactical speed in Division 1 stands to carve out a more typical route tempo than what could develop in Division 2.

3. Farmington Road and Silver State could take the biggest steps forward in Division 1.

A less taxing pace in the first division would work against Enforceable, who thrived on the solid Lecomte pace to set up his late kick. There’s no doubt that the Tapit blueblood has the stamina, having already broken his maiden at this 9-furlong trip at Saratoga, and the class as the third in last fall’s Breeders’ Futurity (G1). Still, he’s the favorite in a field that he doesn’t tower over. Indeed, Lecomte runner-up Silver State has a case to overturn the form. If not for a stutter-step start that saw him farther behind than planned, Silver State wouldn’t have been chasing the deep-closing Enforceable home that day. With a good break, the Steve Asmussen pupil will make his move before Enforceable winds up.

Todd Pletcher’s stakes firster Farmington Road can spring a mild upset at 8-1 on the morning line. If his bare record doesn’t exactly leap off the page, the visual impression of his races paints a much more attractive picture. The Quality Road colt has uncorked long, sustained moves in the manner of one looking for at least this trip. And he has developed the ability to secure a tracking position that he didn’t have before. Judging by the video of his Feb. 2 work in company with Breeders’ Futurity runner-up Gouverneur Morris, Farmington Road was more than a match for his gray stablemate who with ears pinned back was working to keep up. Gouverneur Morris returned a winner at Tampa Friday, in a potentially auspicious sign for Farmington Road.

4. Mailman Money and Major Fed have price appeal in Division 2.

Anneau d’Or has every right to assert his class in the second division, especially if the blinkers-on move has the desired effect. Twice the Blaine Wright pupil has looked on the verge of major wins, only to be outgamed in the end. Distance is no concern for the son of Medaglia d’Oro and the Tapit mare Walk Close, heroine of the 1 3/16-mile Modesty (G3) on Arlington’s turf in 2015, so it’s the mental side of the game that needs improvement.

Nevertheless, if a frenetic pace ensues, so could chaos, and a pair of locally based up-and-comers have appeal at a price. The Bret Calhoun-trained Mailman Money (8-1) upended better-fancied stablemate Digital in a Churchill Downs maiden, largely because he had the gears to bag a better position and kept finding more. His off-the-turf allowance romp (as a main-track-only) established his two-turn ability. By Goldencents – the sire of the same connections’ By My Standards and Mr. Money – Mailman Money could well be next in the series.

Major Fed (10-1) is taking a bigger class hike straight from a maiden score, but the son of Hall of Famer Ghostzapper simply blew away his foes despite being held up off a slow pace. In so doing, the Greg Foley sophomore earned a 106 Brisnet Late Pace rating, fastest of both Risen Star divisions. While there’s no guarantee he can deliver the same kind of finish off a fast pace, Major Fed did close for third in a key sprint maiden in his Churchill debut – to future Sugar Bowl/Smarty Jones hero Gold Street and Mayberry Deputy, who prevailed at Gulfstream in his follow-up.

5. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile form is on trial in each division.

Anneau d’Or has produced the best piece of form coming out of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, forcing Bob Baffert’s unbeaten Thousand Words to pull out all the stops at Los Alamitos. The other Juvenile alums haven’t advertised it to that extent.

The jury’s out on Juvenile shocker Storm the Court, a useful fourth in the San Vicente (G2) en route to two-turn preps. Third-placer Wrecking Crew was a long-way last of four behind Thousand Words at Los Alamitos, Scabbard didn’t perform up to favoritism in the Lecomte, and Japanese shipper Full Flat (fifth in the Juvenile) was second in a Jan. 18 Kyoto allowance.

The only Juvenile runner to come back and win was Shoplifted, who rebounded from his Breeders’ Cup seventh to take the Springboard Mile. The boost was short-lived as Shoplifted was subsequently a distant third in the Smarty Jones.

If Anneau d’Or wins Division 2, the Juvenile result will look better. If he’s upset, and Scabbard stays lackluster in Division 1, doubts will continue to grow.