Old Meets New in the Risen Star
by Paul Mazur of Picks & Ponderings
The feature of the Fair Grounds card for February 20th is the $400,000 G2 Risen Star Stakes. A 50-20-10-5 dispersal of Kentucky Derby points is at stake, meaning that (based on past trends) the top two finishers have spots in the Kentucky Derby gate should they want them.
The race honors Risen Star, a son of Secretariat out of Ribbon mare His Majesty that won the Louisiana Derby, Lexington, Preakness, and Belmont in his sophomore campaign in 1988. His Belmont saw him win in 2:26 2/5, a tick faster than the most recent Triple Crown winner - American Pharoah.
Perhaps time may only matter in jail (you never know if the surface was a speedway), but Risen Star's work from New Orleans to New York made him that year's champion three-year-old.
The stakes that bears his name started as the Louisiana Derby Trial in 1973, and made the name change to Risen Star in 1989. The final local prep to the Louisiana Derby, it has yet to yield a Kentucky Derby winner but has produced two Preakness winners: Master Derby (1975) and Risen Star (1988). Veterans Ford, a New Orleans-based car dealer, is sponsoring this year's Risen Star.
Race 11: Veterans Ford G2 Risen Star Stakes, three-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 5:21pm CST
A lot of handicappers talk about flattering races. That the performance of horse X flatters race Y, that if so-and-so does well, the race looks better. It goes the other way too, and the key race (or anti-key race) if one can spot it before the others can be a fruitful angle. A lot of this talk emerged when Destin, who was fourth in the G3 Lecomte behind MO TOM, TOM's READY, and UNCLE WALTER, won the Davis in a snappy clock time. So Destin supposedly flattered the LeComte and by this reasoning the 1-2-3 of the LeComte are going to prevail yet again.
To this observer, flattery will get you nowhere. The argument glosses over the idea that these are maturing horses who grow in spurts. It also glosses over that the 1-2-3 finishers had great pedigrees for a mile and seventy, but whose distance limitations grow as the races extend. With the familiar foes having questions, the new shooters start to appeal. But the highest profile on them is AIROFORCE, who splashed to a G2 triumph on Thanksgiving weekend in the Kentucky Jockey Club. But can he transfer his work to dry dirt? He has every chance based on breeding but at 5/2 morning line presents a price that doesn't inspire.
While the field of fourteen guarantees a pace that's honest, perhaps this is the time to take an off-the-pace type. In a field where the 1-2-3 of the local prior prep may find the distance wanting, perhaps this is the time to take a new shooter. GUN RUNNER appeals more, as he was fourth in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club and set the pace that AIROFORCE rallied into.
The flammable Florent Geroux has the assigned mount for Steve Asmussen. GUN RUNNER, two back, when the pace was more moderate, ran evenly and made a sustained rally, finishing in front of a then-unknown Rafting. GUN RUNNER could be keen first off the layoff and repeat his KJC where he does too much early. But the better tactic is to try to make one rally, pull back, and let someone like BISTRAYA or IT'S ALL RELEVANT do the dirty work.
Whatever the case, perhaps GUN RUNNER can move forward and surprise. The big question in this race is if AIROFORCE can extend his turf and sloppy dirt form to a fast, dry track. If he can he'll be intriguing to follow on the Kentucky Derby trail. His work on grass is fine enough, with a win in the G3 Bourbon and a neck defeat in the G1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf speaking for that. There should be enough pace to help AIROFORCE, and his breeding indicates dry dirt isn't an issue. The big question remains, but asking big questions at small prices isn't a great idea and while he could win he's defensively used in this space.
Everyone's favorite race to flatter, the LeComte, sees the third place finisher TOM'S READY get a mention here. Even though he's finished behind stablemate MO TOM three times already, perhaps he'll get better as the distances increase. He's better bred for a mile and a sixteenth on paper than his stablemate, but perhaps (like in the LeComte) the future is now for MO TOM. Three seconds in the last four starts might point to a stuck in neutral type, or someone who needs the clearest trip from the outside stall and has had obstacles along the way. He deserves a chance at the longer distance.
#6 GUN RUNNER (6/1)
#10 AIROFORCE (5/2)
#8 TOM'S READY (8/1)
Longshot: This race is sponsored by a car dealer. What if the owner of a car dealership won the race? That's what owner Frank Mancari is, and the locals who follow along at Picks & Ponderings will note his ads plastered over the Hawthorne feed for his dealership in Oak Lawn, about six miles south of Hawthorne.
Mancari is also a horse owner - having owned multiple G3 winning turf marathoner Free Fighter back in the day. He's here with #13 CANDY MY BOY (15/1), who has gotten no respect at the windows (which is good) and a lemon of a post in thirteen (which is not so good).
The Roger Brueggemann trainee went gate to wire two back to graduate in his first start around two turns and then pulled the same coast-to-coast maneuver to clear the first-level allowance condition. While he's gotten slower paces and things his way, he showed he doesn't need the lead as three back at Churchill (while still a maiden), he closed off quicker splits to get on the podium. Shaun Bridgmohan may have to work out a trip from the outside post for CANDY MY BOY. But in a race where the favorites aren't locks, a price play could be the way to go.
Passing on the Handigambling.