Fair Grounds: The Grade II, $400,000 Risen Star at 1 1/16 miles, by Brian Nadeau of Horseplayer Now.
#1 Albano: Lightly raced son of Istan is a half-brother to Mark Valeski, who was second in this race for the Jones and Jones combo a few years back, so he’s bred to be a nice one, though there’s no doubt he’s got some growing up to do to get to that dude’s lofty level. Tactical sort drew perfectly and enters off a well-beaten second behind fellow rival Vicar’s in Trouble in the local GIII Lecomte last month, in what was his first two-turn assignment, but with just three lifetime starts there’s plenty of upside here. On the face of it he’s not quite up to par with the top guns, but we’ve seen these lightly raced 3yo’s jump up open lengths overnight, so with a nice price and post, it’s tough to fault anyone who think he’s in with an upset chance; worth a look.
#2 Rise Up: Speedy son of Rockport Harbor blew the doors off a pair of Delta Downs two-turn stakes to end his 2yo campaign, including the GIII Jackpot when last seen in December, so you have to think he’s going to take some catching from this cozy inside draw. Amoss charge didn’t fire in Churchill Downs’ GIII Iroquois in his first start for this barn, so you’re allowed to question his class, but those Delta runs were so sharp that you have to think that was more the exception than the rule. The question today is just how cranked he is to fire in his first start off the layoff with obviously some lofty goals in mind, not to mention that he’ll have to earn it down the long stretch as the inside speed. So, point being, there’s a few questions to answer, but if his last is any indication, he’s going to make every one of them know he’s in here; rock solid.
#3 Flat Gone: Decided longshot took seven starts to break his maiden, but at least he did do it over the track going two turns last time, so that’s a feather in his cap. Son of Flatter jumped up open lengths in that MSW win for trainer Desormeaux, so you have to wonder where it came from, but dig a bit deeper and you’ll notice that it was his first local start on dry land, so just maybe he’s getting good and/or he likes this place. But all things being equal, that’s where the good vibes end on a horse who looks like he’s being thrown to the wolves in this deep GII; not seeing it.
#4 Vigorish: Speaking of being thrown to the wolves, the lone maiden in the field is ambitiously placed by Lukas, as he’s still trying to get his picture taken after six starts. If you want to play devil’s advocate, you can say his last at Oaklawn Park, when he was second, beaten a neck, was his first two-turn start on the main track, so maybe he’s on the improve, and we all know the Coach is in the Hall of Fame, in part for doing the unconventional with horses like this. Son of English Channel is bred for the trip, though not the surface, and at this point it’s simply not logical to think he can make a dent against a crew like this; easy toss.
#5 Bond Holder: SCRATCHED
#6 Gold Hawk: Tricky read was favored in the Lecomte but was an even third after impressing in a local two-turn optional claimer in December, which upped his lifetime mark to 2-for-2, so he has some amends to be making today. Son of Empire Maker is bred to relish these longer distances and it’s nice to see Asmussen forge on after a relatively meek effort, and there’s no doubt the price will be much, much better than the 6-5 it was in the LeComte. The issue is two-fold, though, as he might have been exposed last time and meets a much better overall crew today as well, so he’s going to have to wake up in a hurry if he wants to forge on; tread lightly if you still believe.
#7 Interchange: One of the longest shots in the field is in way over his head here, as he was a well-beaten fifth behind fringe contender Quick Indian in a local optional claimer in his 3yo debut over the track in January. Son of Fairbanks has only three starts but is a two-turn stakes winner, having taken the minor Whirling Ash to end his 2yo season at Delta in September, so at least there’s a hint of class here for Clark, who is enjoying a nice year. But geesh, this looks like a next-to-impossible spot for a colt who is about 15 lengths behind these on paper; get home safely.
#8 Hoppertunity: Dangerous Santa Anita invader stretched out to two turns and looked like a new horse for Baffert when he pressed the pace and drew clear to break his maiden at the Great Race Place last month. Son of Any Given Saturday has started only twice, so he spots a ton of experience to many battled-tested stakes foes today, but talent has a weird way of making up the difference, and there’s no doubt this colt is near the front of the line in that department. Tactical runner has the speed to lay just off of Rise Up, which would enable him to have first run off the far turn, and it’s worth noting that there’s not a ton of true sprint speed here, so a good trip seems in the cards. On paper, his last was fast enough to win this, and there’s no doubt that he’s on the come and in expert hands, but yikes, this is one big step up for a horse who has met the starter just twice; demand fair value if landing here.
#9 Intense Holiday: Stretch-running son of Harlan’s Holiday comes to the Midwest for Pletcher after a fourth and third, respectively, against eons better in his last two, Aqueduct’s GII Remsen in November and Gulfstream Park’s GII Holy Bull in January. Why no chance, you ask? Well ,the Remsen was run with plowhorse splits, and Honor Code and Cairo Prince, on many people’s short list for the Derby, ran 1-2 after being involved early, and in the Holy Bull, he was simply too far back when Cairo Prince blew the race open off the far turn. Well, it’s put up or shut up time today as he gets some pace, gets away from the speed-favoring track in South Florida and gets a long stretch to aid his late rally, so you have to think he’s coming with his best shot in here, which is why we’ll tab him for the minor surprise; call to mow them down late.
#10 Son Of A Preacher: Well-bred son of Pulpit invades off a fourth-place finish in Oaklawn’s Smarty Jones last time but does have some local experience, having run second to Gold Hawk in that colt’s optional claiming win in December. Calhoun charge hasn’t broken through in four career starts and while he has a nice stalking style, it’s tough to think he can make a dent here if he was soundly beaten by ‘Hawk, who isn’t even one of the ones today; needs softer to threaten.
#11 Quick Indian: Intriguing sort enters off two straight local two-turn wins (the first by a DQ) for Scherer, who rarely runs his stock where they can’t compete, so right away you better take notice. Son of Indian Charlie is beautifully bred with A.P. Indy on the bottom, and his deep closing style can again make waves in the lane today. Rapidly improving colt is probably at the mercy of the pace, but it looks honest, if not even a bit sharper than that, so at a nice price with a positive race flow, it’s tough to fault anyone looking this way; price players have their hero.
#12 Xtra Luck: Extreme longshot was just third, beaten some 9 ½ lengths by ‘Indian last time, so he looks like he’s in for a world of hurt today in this deep GII. Son of Exchange Rate goes for a Pish barn hitting at 20% this year, but this is simply way too much way too soon for this colt; passing.
#13 Commanding Curve: Tactical son of Master Command has really picked up his game since going two turns at CD to end his 2yo campaign and makes his 3yo debut and first start against winners in a mighty tough spot for the boys from West Point. Stewart runner will no doubt get the trip and has the style to play well in here, but this wide draw did him no favors, so there’s a chance he’s even further back than normal, which would add to his troubles. On the face of it, he’s got some talent and upside, but this probably isn’t the right spot for him to show it; tabbing for down the road.
#14: Vicar’s In Trouble: The aforementioned rousing winner of the Lecomte has to prove it once again today from a tough draw as he looks to double up in Cajun Country. Son of Into Mischief has done little wrong in three career starts for Maker, and his two-turn debut in the Lecomte was one heck of a run, as he settled nicely just off the pace and simply blew the race open off the far turn en route to a 6 ¾-length win. Of course, the waters get a lot deeper today and he’s going to be chasing some legitimate speed in Rise Up, while some solid stalker/closers wait in the balance. The tote will tell you he’s the one to beat and it’s tough to argue with a graded stakes winner going long over the track, but there’s enough playing against him today to try and beat him; keying underneath only.
#15 (AE) Emmett Park: Undefeated son of Bob and John looked good closing twice over Turfway Park’s Polytrack this winter and now steps way up as he makes his conventional dirt debut. Stretch-runner figures to like the local layout and there’s a nice series for 3yo’s at his home base, so the fact that Pincins ships here to take on some big shooters is at least mildly interesting as well. The price will be right if you’re a fan and he gets top local jock Graham as well, so if you’re looking for a bomb you could certainly do worse; not impossible for a minor award.
#16 (AE) Teniente Colonel: Recent track/distance MSW winner will need a defection to run and it might not be a bad thing if he’s left out in the cold, as he’s about 20 lengths behind the top players in here. Son of Colonel John is improving for McGee, looked much sharper with Lasix last time and adds blinkers today, but he’d probably be about 10-1 in one of the optional claimers they run here, so it’s tough to think he can factor in this GII; tough to endorse if he gets to play.
#9 Intense Holiday
#2 Rise Up
#14 Vicar’s In Trouble