Up to a dozen three-year-olds will take their chance in Saturday’s $400,000 Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds, with 50 qualifying points virtually guaranteeing the winner a spot in the 150th Kentucky Derby (G1) in May.
This edition of the 1 1/8-mile Risen Star is top heavy and arguably the deepest Derby prep so far this season. Four colts in particular will command much of the wagering attention.
Trainer Steve Asmussen will be represented by Track Phantom and Hall of Fame. Track Phantom captured both of Fair Grounds’ earlier preps, the Gun Runner S. and Lecomte (G3), though neither time was the son of Quality Road favored. Backers might again get a decent price, given the presence of Hall of Fame.
A son of Gun Runner, Hall of Fame bolted up to a win a maiden on the Lecomte undercard by more than 10 lengths, covering the 1 1/16 miles two-fifths of a second faster than Track Phantom did later in the day. His relative inexperience is the main drawback as he makes his debut versus winners.
The two other leading players in the Risen Star are deep closers by contrast. Sierra Leone nearly overcame a pronounced speed bias to land the Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct in early December, though appeared to hang inside the final sixteenth when allowing long-time leader Dornoch to re-rally for the nose victory. The Remsen has turned out to be a productive race and Sierra Leone will be equipped with blinkers on Saturday.
Honor Marie was last seen taking the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill in November by two lengths after a last-to-first rally. Increasing distances would seem to favor the son of Honor Code, though this is hardly his intended target after nearly three months away from the races.
“To me he’s a very talented quality horse and we’ll see if he made the jump from two to three,” trainer Whit Beckman said. “Early on he was always just kind of aloof, lights weren’t really on, but now we’re really starting to see him wake up, and I know he knows what he’s doing out there. He’s put on a lot of weight, a lot of muscle; he’s been doing what he needs to do.”
Catching Freedom‘s three-race streak of starting as the post-time favorite likely ends in the Risen Star, but the son of Constitution has merit, having captured the Jan. 1 Smarty Jones S. at Oaklawn by 2 1/2 lengths. Also with decent form lines is Real Men Violin, who preceded his second in the Kentucky Jockey Club with a maiden victory over Track Phantom.
Todd Pletcher has entered two in the Risen Star. Cardinale enters off a neck second in a Gulfstream allowance to Change of Command, who trailed in last Saturday’s Sam F. Davis (G3) after reportedly disliking the Tampa Bay Downs surface. Moonlight was second in the Street Sense (G3) and fourth in the Remsen last fall, though he is cross-entered in an allowance earlier on Fair Grounds’ Saturday program.
Resilience belatedly broke his maiden at Gulfstream on New Year’s Day for Bill Mott but runs without Lasix here, while Bee Dancer posted an upset in his six-furlong debut on the Lecomte Day undercard. The betting outsiders will be Awesome Ruta and Tizzy Indy.
The Risen Star offers Kentucky Derby qualifying points of 50-25-15-10-5 to the respective top five finishers.