February 27, 2021

Five points to ponder: 2021 Risen Star

Senor Buscador
Senor Buscador wins the Springboard Mile (Dustin Orona Photography/Remington Park)

Saturday’s $400,000 Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds ushers in the Kentucky Derby Championship Series with more points up for grabs. A sign of the trail’s increasing momentum toward the first Saturday in May, the Risen Star is the first event awarding points on the 50-20-10-5 basis to the top four.

The superfecta from the first Fair Grounds scoring race, the Jan. 16 Lecomte (G3), will cross swords again, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if the order is shuffled. Newcomers to New Orleans also have claims to topple the Lecomte form altogether, making for a fascinating prep, even in the absence of Southwest (G3)-bound Keepmeinmind.

We’ll likely have a similar discussion going into the final Fair Grounds stepping stone, the Mar. 20 Louisiana Derby (G2), where the Risen Star form will have to withstand its own test.

Here are my five points to ponder:

1. Midnight Bourbon can’t bank on a Lecomte redux.

Although it’s too early to typecast a still-developing sophomore, the preliminary observation is that both of Midnight Bourbon’s wins have come when he’s comfortable on the pace. In his Ellis Park maiden win last summer, he broke on top, but eased back to stalk before taking control. In the Lecomte, he dictated terms throughout (admittedly from his rail draw) in a race that was nearly a merry-go-round for the top three.

Contrast that scenario with his placings in the Iroquois (G3) and Champagne (G1), where he chased faster fractions before being outfinished. Both of those losses could simply be a case of Midnight Bourbon’s relative immaturity at two, especially versus sharper rivals at their peak around one-turn miles.

Yet there might be something to his need to get in a cozy rhythm early to perform his best. Chances are that won’t happen in the Risen Star. Other potential pace factors are drawn on the inside this time, including Starrininmydreams and Beep Beep, and the far outside Rightandjust will have to gun it if he wants to replicate his front-running wins. The tempo shouldn’t be wild, but the dynamic is more complex.

A finely aged Midnight Bourbon might be just fine with any pace developments over a route of ground. If so, we’ll learn more about him in the Risen Star.

2. Mandaloun is liable to improve in the rematch.

Beaten Lecomte favorite Mandaloun arguably stands to benefit from a contested pace, something he thrived on in his first two wins sprinting. Stretching out to a route ended up being on-the-job training in a totally different race shape. The Juddmonte homebred also adds blinkers in the Risen Star to help his focus. That might have been an issue since he was outgamed by Proxy for second in the Lecomte, but Mandaloun’s wide trip must also be mentioned as a factor in his third. While he’s drawn toward the outside here, different race circumstances give him a better shot to overcome it.

Lecomte runner-up Proxy answered a key question – namely whether a colt who’d looked pretty green in maiden and allowance wins could knuckle down when it counted. The extra sixteenth in the 1 1/8-mile Risen Star should help his cause, as a son of Tapit and Panty Raid (and brother to Kentucky Downs course record-setter Micheline), and the addition of John Velazquez is an obvious plus. On the other hand, Proxy might have been flattered a tad by the race shape last time, and the Godolphin homebred will need to move forward again.

Not to be overlooked in the Lecomte reunion is Keith Desormeaux’s Santa Cruiser, who lost just about all chance when shuffled back right out of the gate. The only runner to improve position, the Calumet homebred threw in a 109 Brisnet Late Pace rating to close from last – in the stretch – for fourth. Even if he might not have beaten the top three in any event, Santa Cruiser had a right to be a lot closer. A decent start would put him in the fray here, and as a son of Dialed In from the family of Colonel John, he has upside.

3. Senor Buscador has collateral form with Caddo River.

“Collateral” is doing a lot of work when the beaten margins are large, but at least there is a useful yardstick to give a pointer to the form of Senor Buscador’s Springboard Mile. Cowan, a rattling second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2), has not gotten so close since stepping up to a mile. Yet he was clearly best of the rest at Remington, where Senor Buscador’s powerful last-to-first kick overwhelmed the whole field, and again in the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn, where Caddo River romped on the front end. Although Cowan was beaten a lot farther by Caddo River (10 1/4 lengths) than by Senor Buscador (5 3/4 lengths), their diametrically opposite running styles must be considered.

The stunning visual impression left by Senor Buscador is backed up not only by a collateral formline, but by the clock. The Mineshaft colt uncorked a 105 Late Pace rating, looking a league apart. If he can duplicate that in a deeper field, at another track, Senor Buscador would boost his Derby credentials.

One hesitation for me is Senor Buscador’s slow starts. Granted, I can’t fairly call it a habit yet, but he is 2-for-2 in breaking lackadaisically. He got away with it as by far the best in his sprint debut and in the Springboard Mile. Unless he’s got a similar edge at this level, Senor Buscador might find it more challenging to circle them all, particularly those who won’t be stalling with stamina limitations.

4. Carillo’s potential might need more time to unlock.

As a promising debut winner at Aqueduct for Chad Brown, Carillo might have been one for the New York road to the Derby. But the untimely passing of owner/breeder Paul Pompa changed his destiny. Part of the estate’s dispersal at Keeneland January, Carillo gave himself a key catalog update just a few days prior to the sale, and accordingly brought $875,000.

The well-bred son of Union Rags was then whisked off to trainer Tom Amoss. It’s been a whirlwind month for the colt, who has just gotten his bearings with a pair of works over his new home track. Thus Carillo has been dealing with more variables than the typical first-out hero stepping up to a Derby prep.

His Jan. 8 unveiling suggested that he’s got plenty of poise. Buffeted on both sides and pinched back at the start – as though being hazed as the lone newcomer in the field – Carillo found himself further off a moderate pace around a one-turn mile. He regrouped, worked into a better position, and responded to urging out wide. Hitting his best stride upon straightening, Carillo drew away by 2 3/4 lengths. The forgettable time didn’t tell the whole story.

Carillo is entitled to build upon that effort, but it’s more realistic to expect the Risen Star to be a building block than the finished product.

5. Is O Besos the next Major Fed for Foley?

An educational run in the Churchill slop, breakthrough at Fair Grounds, and placing in the Risen Star – that defined Major Fed at this time last year. Fellow Greg Foley trainee O Besos could be on a similar trajectory, with the salient difference being he’s yet to go two turns. The son of 2013 Kentucky Derby star Orb has the stride of a router, though.

O Besos put himself hopelessly behind by hopping at the start of his 6 1/2-furlong debut at Churchill, but made up a good deal of ground to finish sixth. Among those he passed on the way was Candy Man Rocket, who’s won his next two including the Sam F. Davis (G3).

Still off slowly in an off-the-turf maiden at Fair Grounds, O Besos launched a prolonged rally to win going away by 5 1/2 lengths. That caught the eye of the West Point Thoroughbreds team, and O Besos picked up a new co-owner. He provided a quick return when closing again to capture a second-level allowance by daylight.

O Besos is one of the few with experience on an off track, which could come in handy if the rain hangs around longer into Saturday. Mandaloun also broke his maiden on a good surface. Starrininmydreams has won in the slop, as has Sermononthemount. But others have pedigrees redolent of off-track success, including the principals.