Fair Grounds: The Grade II, $400,000 Risen Star at 1 1/16 miles
#1 Proud Strike: Up-and-coming son of Smart Strike sure looked good blasting a pair of repeat winners in his MSW romp over the track and distance last month and seems like a real comer in the division for Asmussen. Tactical sort should be able to save all the ground and gets a white-hot Stevens to come in to ride, so you have to think there’s a lot of enthusiasm in this corner. Talent isn’t an issue, but he’s meeting winners—not to mention some salty stakes foes—for the first time, and that can be a rude awakening for young horses, no matter how good they looked breaking their maiden; demand fair value on this budding colt.
#2 Code West: Well-bred son of Lemon Drop Kid ships in for Baffert after chasing stablemate Super Ninety Nine around the track in an optional claimer at Santa Anita, and he was flattered when that runner won Monday’s GIII Southwest by the length of the stretch at Oaklawn Park. Experienced sort has been handled with care throughout his five races and makes his stakes debut in the Risen Star while removing blinkers, a heady 36% move for Baffert. On paper he’s as fast as anyone and he figures to sit the right kind of midpack trip, but like the rail runner, this is a big step up in class; looms in the mix regardless of the obstacles.
#3 Agent: Longshot enters off a tepid two-turn win at Sam Houston in his last start, and that’s not going to scare anyone off in this deep and competitive GII. On paper he’s got the sprint speed to be a factor into the first turn, but after that he figures to retreat pretty steadily; stop and pop seems likely.
#4 Golden Soul: Lightly raced Fipke homebred was second, beaten 11 ½ lengths in the local GIII Lecomte last time behind fellow rival and runaway winner Oxbow in an effort that had a “someone had to be the runner-up” feel to it. Still, he is a track and distance winner from two-back, and with just three starts, there’s surely some upside here, but not only does he need to make up a ton of ground on Oxbow, but he meets a plethora of extremely talented newcomers as well; tough to tout.
#5 Mylute: Dangerous newcomer looked stunning winning a two-turn optional claimer over the track in December and seems primed off the brief respite for Amoss. Son of sprint superstar Midnight Lute isn’t bred for the trip (his sire never won a two-turn race and his damsire is sprinter Valid Expectations), but geesh, he sure didn’t notice in his 10 ¾-length local win. If you’re looking to nit-pick, he did press a pedestrian pace that day and the splits will be much quicker today, but you can do worse than taking a nice price on a colt who could be getting very good at the right time; won’t fault anyone looking his way.
#6 Palace Malice: Speedy Pletcher runner enters off a second in his seasonal debut in a Gulfstream Park optional claimer and seems destined to be loose on the lead in his two-turn and stakes debut. Son of Horse of the Year Curlin is bred top and bottom to relish this trip and figures to take them as far as he can on the engine, which would seem to suit his style. On paper there’s not a ton of other speed, and if they leave him alone they might never see him again, so you better respect a horse that took a ton of money in the Derby Future Book in Las Vegas this winter and seems primed for a breakthrough; looks like the one to run down in the lane.
#7 Hardrock Eleven: Outsider added blinkers and improved in a Sam Houston sprint last time (while beating a next-out winner) but steps up to the big leagues today. Well-bred son of Rock Hard Ten is certainly cut out to be a nice one, but up to this point his two-turn races would have him finishing open lengths behind the rest; easy toss.
#8 Ive Struck A Nerve: Local hope made a middle move before finishing fourth behind Oxbow in the Lecomte and needs to make up 13 ½ lengths on that rival, not to mention the newcomers, so he’s got his work cut out for him. Improving colt seems to have a bit of talent but is still eligible for an N1X allowance and wouldn’t even be a cinch in one of those; midpack finish at best.
#9 Normandy Invasion: One of the top 2yo’s of last season makes his much anticipated 3yo debut for Brown, who seemingly has done about everything but have a hotshot Triple Crown horse. Son of Tapit looked like a future star in his two-turn debut in his last start, November’s GII Remsen at Aqueduct, when he swooped through the field and rallied from almost nine lengths out of it through soft splits to lose a head bob in a move that juveniles simply don’t make going long over that track. It’s worth noting he’s really picked up the pace in his last two AM drills, which leads you to believe he may be fully cranked to win this, get his Derby points out of the way and be able to use his final race as nothing more than a tightener for the big show in Louisville. If there’s an issue, it’s the early pace, which doesn’t seem too heated, but when the big horse gets rolling through the long stretch, it’s going to take a stout performance to hold him off; starts his path to Churchill Downs with a win today.
#10 Oxbow: Vastly improved Lukas colt ran off and hid in the Lecomte to announce his candidacy on the Triple Crown trail, but he meets a far, far tougher crew today while trying to back that effort up. On the face of things, that 11 ½-length romp was a beauty, but watch the replay and you’ll see he was actually headed in midstretch before his rival suddenly stopped, and with no one running from the back, the margin seems a bit inflated. Still, he projects to sit a dream trip off ‘Palace and get first run on all the stalker/closers, all while racing over a track he’s shown to adore, so you better respect his chances, though the gut says that last was just too good to be true; playing against.
#11 Bethel: Son of Pulpit wheels back on six days rest after running fourth in a starter allowance off the claim for Dorochenko, who upset the Louisiana Derby here last year with 109-1 Hero Of Order. On paper he’s a complete bomb, but his MCL win out of which he was claimed was actually pretty fast, so just maybe if you’re looking for a gigantic price in your tri or super you’ve got something to work with; mildly intriguing underneath.
#12 He’s Had Enough: SCRATCHED (running in Saturday’s Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park).
#13 Circle Unbroken: GIII winning 2yo didn’t fire in his 3yo (and two-turn) bow when he was sixth behind Oxbow off an August layoff and needs to hurry in here. Son of Broken Vow is bred for the trip and could conceivably be a tighter horse with that run behind him, but up to this point he has the look of a typically precocious juvenile that hasn’t bridged the gap as a sophomore. If you believed in him last year, then the price will certainly be right, but he’s up against it today; needs softer to threaten.
#14 Departing: Lightly raced Claiborne homebred enters a perfect 2-for-2 for Stall, with both wins coming locally, and looked good when stretching out to two turns in his last as well. Tactical sort should be able to get a good position entering the first turn and may sit a dream trip just off of the speed while keeping tabs on Oxbow throughout the proceedings. It’s never easy making your stakes debut, but you get the feeling we haven’t seen the best of a colt that hints at some serious class for expert connections; don’t be shocked if he runs huge.
#15 AE Sunbean: State-bred runner will likely draw in with He’s Had Enough opting for a spot out of town and that’s important, as he brings some speed to the party for Stall. Talented son of Brahms stretched out and drew off in his two-turn debut, over the track no less, but he might be using his sprint speed from this wide draw today. On paper he’s not good enough to win this, but you wonder if he’s in there to throw a little fuel on the fire that is the early pace, to help his much more viable stablemate (Departing); adds intrigue to what is hands-down the best Derby prep we’ve seen this winter.
#9 Normandy Invasion
#6 Palace Malice