Fair Grounds: The GII, $400,000 Risen Star at 1 1/16 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points: 50-20-10-5)
#1 In Equality (30-1): NY invader will be one of the longer shots in the field, but if nothing else, it’s nice to see Gyarmati ship many a mile with a closer who should appreciate the long stretch here. Of course, that doesn’t really matter if you’re slow on paper, in terms of both running style and speed figures, and that third in Aqueduct’s GIII Jerome last month wasn’t flattered, as the winner Flexibility was a dreadful fourth at odds-on in their GIII Withers in his next start. Son of Quality Road drew well and should pass a few late, but the pace doesn’t appear all that hot in here and he’s traveling a far way to meet some tough hometowners who have much better resumes than he has; passing.
#2 Mo Tom (3-1): The most accomplished of the locals affirmed his standing as a leading Kentucky Derby contender with a dominant come-from-behind win in the local prep, the GIII Lecomte here last month, and he beat a few of today’s rivals in the process, so you know he’ll take some beating right back. Amoss has done a wonderful job since getting this son of Uncle Mo two back, and there’s no doubt that he’s right at home with the track layout, which fits his deep closing style to a tee. The problem is that the pace may not be as hot as it was for him last time, plus the horse who drilled him pretty handily – Airoforce – in Churchill Downs’ GII Kentucky Jockey Club to close out his season in November is back today and is a lot more tactical than this colt. So, point being, the waters are deeper here, though recency, a good post, and a win over the track can go a long way at this time of the year; very capable of doubling up.
#3 Dolphus (15-1): Price player has done little wrong in winning 2-of-3 to start his career – all over this track too – and now steps up in class in an effort to see where he stands among the local bigwigs. Son of dual-champion Lookin at Lucky owns a nice blend of tactical speed and stamina for Sharp, which means he should trip out nicely from just off the pace with this good draw. From there it’s just a matter of how good you think he is and can be, and he’ll no doubt need to run a lifetime best to compete, as that optional claiming win last month isn’t scaring any of the top dogs in here, which means you better demand value if you’re looking his way; midpack finish may be his ceiling. SCRATCHED
#4 Bistraya (15-1): Very intriguing California speedster sure looked good stretching to two turns last time and running his MSW field into the ground, and there’s little doubt he’ll be in front here in a race where the lead is there for the taking. Haynesfield gelding steps way up but, like Gyarmati with In Equality, if nothing else it’s a darn good sign to see Agarie ship a long way to see just what he has. And while the locals are accomplished and solid, they aren’t extremely fast in terms of figures, not to mention that they have loftier goals on their agendas, which puts this up-and-comer in the mix based on his last win, so if they leave him alone early there’s a chance they never see him late; bombs away on the engine.
#5 Forevamo (12-1): Improving runner was a career-best second in a local optional claimer here last month behind fellow entrant Candy My Boy, in what was his first start since November, so he rates a longshot look solely based on the fact he ran much better than his 2-year-old form. Pricey 320k son of Uncle Mo goes for a Stall barn that is having its usual solid meet and starts a runner with the tactical speed to ensure a good trip. But he’s also like a lot of others in here, in that he’s looking to bridge the gap to the heavy hitters, with no edge on paper and some modest form, which means he’s in that “demand value” group if you’re looking his way; mixed signals.
#6 Gun Runner (6-1): Tricky read looked awesome in his two wins to start his career, especially in a polished allowance score at Keeneland, then was a bit one-paced behind both Airoforce and Mo Tom when fourth in the Jockey Club, but that was run in the slop and he may not have cared for it, which means you’re allowed to be a bit forgiving of that effort. Asmussen sure doesn’t duck anyone for the seasonal debut for this son of Candy Ride (ARG), and it’s a great sign that he’s got the feathery touch of Geroux aboard, as he should give him an ideal, up-close stalking trip just off the early speed. The promise he showed last year makes him a legitimate threat in here, even though a few of today’s saltier rivals beat him last time out; you just wonder if he’ll need a start or two before firing his best shot; expecting a good run.
#7 Its All Relevant (15-1): The wildcard enters off a breakthrough MSW win in the slop going a one-turn mile at Gulfstream Park and now ships in for Schettino, who may be trying to gauge the local competition, as he’s rumored to be sending his top Derby horse, Greenpointcrusader, here for next month’s GII Louisiana Derby. If there’s a realistic pace threat to the top pick, it’s this son of Hard Spun, as he’s been very aggressive early, and he dueled then pulled away in his dominant win last time. But keep in mind that he’s never been two turns (on the main track) and draws a nice attack post today, so Bravo could very likely stalk or try to press the issue early before asking the question entering the far turn. On paper that last win says he can play with these, but on a fast track, going two turns, against legitimate graded stakes runners who have Kentucky Derby designs, paper tends to go up in flames when the real running begins; making him prove it.
#8 Tom’s Ready (8-1): Price player made a big middle move to the lead before succumbing late to Mo Tom’s rally in the Lecomte when second and could conceivably improve off that run, especially since he drew the outside stall that day. Well-traveled son of More Than Ready is more workmanlike than brilliant and he meets a much tougher crew today, while having 2 1/4 lengths to make up on his much more accomplished rival, too, so he needs to improve more than a few lengths to factor. Stewart has done a nice job picking his spots with this runner and he knows what to do with a talented 3-year-old, but the gut says this colt needs to go elsewhere to have a shot of a win; minor award appears his ceiling.
#9 Laoban (30-1):
California shipper picks a mighty tough spot to try and break his maiden and brings some modest form with him for local guy done good Guillot, who is never shy about finding a big party. If nothing else, this son of Uncle Mo is versatile, in that he can be placed on or just off the lead, but his West Coast form has had some holes poked through of late, as Let’s Meet in Rio and Collected have done little to flatter him in subsequent failed stakes attempts. There’s some talent here, and just maybe he’s a name to remember for the second half of the season, but at this point there’s no reason to think he can make a dent against a group like this; easy toss. SCRATCHED
#10 Airoforce (5-2): Extremely talented runner was second, beaten a neck, in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, then easily handled Mo Tom in his dirt debut to end his season in the Jockey Club and kicks off a campaign that has Casse thinking of roses in a few months. Colonel John colt has done little wrong in winning three of four lifetime starts, has worked very well for his 3yo debut, and has enough early speed to use this nice outside draw to keep him out of trouble entering the first turn, which should ensure a beautiful trip. It’s also worth nothing that he’s gained ground in the stretch in all four of his starts, which means this long stretch could be ideal for him, especially when you consider that he’ll be getting the jump on the closers like Mo Tom off the far turn. There are obviously bigger goals down the road and he is still unproven on dry land, but there’s little doubt the path to the winner’s circle goes through this guy; looms mighty large.
#11 Zapperini (30-1): Expected longshot was all-out to get the job done in a slow MSW over the track last time and seems to be getting thrown to the wolves off that win, which was only his second lifetime start. Well-bred son of Ghostzapper has run well in both starts for Foley, who rarely throws them in where they can’t compete, and a win over the track gives him a bonus point or two as well, though at the end of the day this is just too much, too soon for a horse who would probably be 6-1 in a N1X, which hardly gives him a license to compete in the toughest Derby prep so far this year; no thanks.
#12 Uncle Walter (8-1): Lightly raced runner is the fourth son of Uncle Mo in here and he was hardly disgraced in his stakes, two-turn, and 3yo debut when he was third, beaten 3 lengths, in the Lecomte, which means he’s a threat to turn the tables if he builds off that run. Obviously the competition is a lot tougher this time around, and if he’s got 3 lengths to make up on Mo Tom, then crude math says he has a few more to make up on Airoforce. This draw is no bargain, either, and with Maker reaching out for Castellano, you’re likely going to have to take an underlaid price on a colt who certainly has a ton of upside but is also not yet at the level of the top threats in here, which makes playing him to win a mighty dicey proposition; siding against at underlaid odds.
#13 Candy My Boy (15-1): Aforementioned local optional claiming winner has wired in his last two here, which were also his first two-turn starts on the dirt, so it’s obvious he’s found his calling. He forgot to stop through slow splits, though, and he won’t sniff the lead if he goes :48 and change today, not to mention this terrible draw could have him strung out wide for much of the running. Brueggemann has been having a great meet and this son of Candy Ride (ARG) no doubt has some talent, but chasing some faster foes early while wide every step of the way doesn’t seem like a recipe for success, especially with big time solid stalkers and closers waiting in the wings; needs softer to threaten.
#2 Mo Tom
#6 Gun Runner