The path to the Louisiana Derby continues as Ron The Greek tries to prove that his LeComte upset was no fluke. In his way are some new shooters and new shippers who look to take their own place on the Derby Trail. With $300,000 on the line, the top-3 finishers will gain some important graded stakes earnings for what figures to be a crowded Kentucky Derby pecking order. Let’s take a look.
Fair Grounds: The Grade II, $300,000 Risen Star Stakes at 1 1/16 miles.
1. Bravo Whiskey: The normally patient Howard shows up with a runner that has been soundly beaten in his two starts vs. winners, so it’s an odd spot to test the big boys. Tried two turns for the first time in an optional claimer here earlier in the meet and was defeated easily by fellow Risen Star rival Hotep. He did draw well and has a pedigree to suggest the two-turn game will be his calling, but right now he’s a big cut below the competition; longshot.
2. Tempted To Tapit: Absolutely freaked in his maiden breaker at Aqueduct and Klesaris immediately ships to find out if he’s got the goods. Keep a few things in mind about his maiden score; the Big A has been a speed horse’s dream this winter and he did catch a muddy track to boot, so that gaudy 100 Beyer needs to be taken with a grain of salt, especially when you realize that every quarter-mile was much slower than the one before it. That was his first start with blinkers, though, so that could have had a lot to do with the big run, and now he meets a crew that isn’t speed crazy at all, so it’s not out of the realm that he gets loose up front. Gets the acid test, but if he shakes loose earlier they might never catch him, even with the elongated FG’s stretch; catch him to cash but thinking they will.
3. Mountain Justice: Son of Afleet Alex makes his main track and seasonal debut, so right away he’s in deep water. His two starts with blinkers have been solid and there are some salty local breezes on display as well, but it’s asking a lot for a horse to try dirt and graded stakes foes for the first time while making his first start of the year; watching with interest to see if he’ll be of use down the road.
4. Discreetly Mine: Discreet Cat’s little brother had a tough beginning in the Pletcher barn when he caught a sloppy track and broke slowly from the rail in the 6F Spectacular Bid at GP last month, but based on his productive juvenile campaign at Belmont, you’re allowed to overlook that race and expect major improvement in his second start. Tries two turns for the first time but sire Mineshaft was top-class and did some of his best work over this very racing strip, so expecting him to handle the added ground. The problem is that this colt has never really run fast and still has a lot of questions to answer, so with an underlaid price forthcoming, it’s simply not worth the risk; trying to beat in the exotics.
5. Random Move: Exits a weak maiden-claimer where Lovell shelled out 50k for him and now immediately she steps him up into this difficult assignment. That’s a confident move to be sure, but on paper there’s no reason to think he can do much better than finish midpack; deserving longshot.
6. Drosselmeyer: For a horse that’s never run in a graded stakes, he sure is getting a lot of publicity. Is it warranted? Well, he’s 2-for-2 on the main track, has a beautiful pedigree and hails from WinStar’s powerful operation, so there is reason to get excited. The downers are that the two fields he’s beaten were pretty weak, he has no apparent speed edge and he will be a massive underlay at the windows. There are also some rumors he might stay in Florida for the Fountain of Youth, so taking 3-1 isn’t really that appealing; making him prove it before getting aboard his bandwagon.
7. Northern Giant: Enters off a huge maiden win at Oaklawn, where he blew away his field by 11 1/4 lengths over a sloppy course. His three two-turn starts have been solid and he’s got some pedigree to boot, as his dam is a half-sister to the top-class filly Take Charge Lady. Has the speed to be involved from the opening bell and it’s not hard to envision him sitting a dream trip right off ‘Tempted. From there it’s only a matter of if he’s good enough, and while this might be a bit too much right now, there’s talent here to be sure; definite player at a solid price.
8. Worldly: Really liked his chances in the LeComte and for whatever reason he came up empty in the drive. He’s gotten a bit better on speed figures in every start but has yet to give that major push forward that you would have thought would have come out by now. With that in mind, it’s kind of tough to think it comes here after six lifetime starts. But hey, these 3yos are known to pop up overnight and run huge, so if you’re still a believer you’ll get a much better price than you’re used to; mixed signals at this point.
9. Stay Put: Margolis colt just keeps getting better with age and added ground, and the long FG’s stretch should really play into his favor. Yet to run in a stakes race so the competition gets tougher, but he’s progressed the right way and has the look of a real comer. The issue is pace, or lack thereof. While ‘Tempted will be in front, there’s a chance he could slow it down and really leave the closers at a disadvantage, and that means this colt could have a lot to do while rallying into a slow pace; should be rolling late but might need another furlong to deliver his best.
10. Letsgetitonmon: Rallied from far back in the LeComte while never threatening the winner and fellow Risen Star rival Ron The Greek. Like Stay Put, this colt is at the mercy of the pace and he has even less early foot, so expect him to have a good view of the field. He’s progressing nicely, is in expert hands and has only run twice on the main track, so there’s reason for optimism, but the race flow is playing against him; underneath threat at best.
11. Ron The Greek: OK, by now you’ve figured out the LeComte kind of fell apart late and this colt made it 3-for-4 with a scintillating stretch run. But again, they don’t figure to be going 46 4/5 today, so his late rally–he closed from 16 lengths back–is going to get dulled a bit. And there’s also that dreaded bounce to worry about, as the LeComte was lengths faster than he’s ever run in his life. And this time his price probably gets cut in half, which doesn’t make him too appealing any more; respect but willing to make him do it again.
12. Hotep: Sam-Son homebred got no help from the draw, but he seems to have enough early lick to gain position entering the turn, especially with three dead closers to his inside. Really impressed with his last, an entry-level allowance score over the track, when he settled nicely and exploded late. He’s got the look of a colt that is really starting to figure out what this game is all about, and with just four lifetime races under his belt, improvement is still on the way. Dad A.P. Indy is a world-class sire and mom Eye Of The Sphynx won the Woodbine Oaks by open lengths, so you know he’s bred to be a star. Returned to throw down a bullet 5-furlong work on Saturday and seems to be coming up to a breakout run; call for the win at a square price.
7. Northern Giant
9. Stay Put
You can check out Brian’s handicapping for NYRA races at horseplayernow.com. He’ll be participating in “Countdown to the Crown” live chats every Friday at 2 pm, accessible from the main page of the site, chatting for an hour about anything and everything for three year olds.