Fair Grounds: The GII, $400,000 Risen Star at 1 1/16 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points 50-20-10-5)
by Brian Nadeau
#1 Plus Que Parfait (10-1): The first of six who exit last month’s local prep, the GIII Lecomte, was a middling fifth in his 3-year-old debut for Walsh, after a 2-year-old campaign that ended with a just-miss when second in a sloppy renewal of Churchill Downs’ GII Kentucky Jockey Club. Son of Point of Entry is eligible to improve off his return and drew perfectly, though you wonder if he’s going to be up to this task with a tougher field signed on today, not to mention that the pace doesn’t appear to flatter his stretch-running style; minor award may be his ceiling.
#2 Roiland (20-1): Deep closer figures one of the longer shots in here as he was a meek seventh in the Lecomte after running fifth in the Jockey Club to end his season. Son of Successful Appeal has more of a sprint pedigree, and while he does go for one of the best in Amoss, this is a real reach; easy toss.
#3 Mr. Money (12-1): Calhoun charge makes his 3yo debut after outrunning his odds when fourth in the BC Juvenile at CD in November, which was quite a feat as he entered that daunting assignment off just a MSW win. Goldencents colt has worked big for this, drew well, and has the tactical speed to be placed anywhere, though none of those runs last year will make a dent here, so you’re banking on a lot of improvement in a short period of time; making him prove it.
#4 Chase the Ghost (30-1): One of two in here for Stewart was sixth in the Lecomte, though it was probably a bit better than it looks, since that was his first start against winners and he had to deal with a wide post that day, too. Still, he ran on nicely when he could have easily caved, and it’s no surprise that a son of Ghostzapper has turned the corner since trying two turns two-back, and we all know that this barn tends to pop up in New Orleans with an improving sophomore each winter; could blow this up.
#5 Henley’s Joy (10-1): Turf ace looks like he’s abiding by the law that states “any talented 3yo turf horse must run on dirt during the winter, no matter if they’re bred for it or not,” as this son of Kitten’s Joy has won a pair of grassy stakes for Maker yet hasn’t tried the main track in six starts up to this point. And sure, he looks like he has a ton of talent and there are no world-beaters here, but it’s not like dad is some top crossover sire getting all kinds, as they usually bomb on dirt and then sheepishly head back to the lawn, which is likely the exit ramp this dude will be taking Sunday morning; not seeing it.
#6 Hog Creek Hustle (8-1): Stretch-runner went back to two turns in the Lecomte and passed some late to be second, and while he was nowhere near winner War of Will, he was clear of third while showing that he’s not just a one-turn pony, either. It’s worth noting, too, that he closed from eighth at the pace call that day, while the winner was third and the third-place finisher was setting the splits, so that run flatters him a bit more, as the race was played on the front end. Son of Overanalyze will have to back it up for Foley, with a potential negative race flow, too, plus the 13-1 you got last time is gone today, but he’ll still offer a bit value if you’re coming along; exotics candidate.
#7 Manny Wah (12-1): Speedster dueled early then held third in the Lecomte, though he was six lengths behind the winner and two behind ‘Hustle, so the jury is still out whether or not he’s as good going long as he is short. The good news today is that there really isn’t a ton of pace signed on, so this son of Will Take Charge should shake out as the inside speed, while setting splits that should be on the moderate side, which could help his chances in the lane. The worry is that the long stretch doesn’t really figure to suit him, and while the pace might be modest, there’s a big new shooter directly to his outside, who doesn’t figure to give him a free pass out front; know him early, not sure about late.
#8 Owendale (6-1): Well-thought-of newcomer makes his stakes debut for a potent Cox barn after winning a local two-turn optional-claimer in fast time last month while sitting just off a very sharp pace, and he earned a lot of friends and wise-guy talk off that big run. Of course, the waters get a lot deeper today for this son of Into Mischief, though there’s no doubt that he’s emerged this year as a much bigger and stronger version of the 2yo who was just 1-for-4 in 2018, while running in races that were extremely slow. On the face of it, this is a big step up, but he’s got the ammo on paper to contend, this isn’t the toughest Derby prep you’ll see this winter, and the heavy favorite is marooned outside, so you have to think he’s going to make his presence felt; the main danger from close range.
#9 Country House (20-1): Homebred figures a lot lower than this ML off that MSW win at Gulfstream Park last month, as he basically walked out of the starting gate yet inhaled the leader off the far turn and won for fun, albeit in plowhorse-time in a race where you won’t need to know anyone else’s name. Son of Lookin At Lucky goes for a Mott barn that rarely ships with a 3yo, so there’s obviously some optimism in this corner, and rightfully so, as his two dirt races have been very sharp. Still, this is a seismic step up in class, and none of these are going to blink when he makes his move off the far turn, at what figures to be an underlaid price, too; mixed signals in this corner.
#10 Limonite (10-1): The first of two for Asmussen progressed nicely as a 2yo and ended his season with his best yet when third in the Jockey Club after closing from the clouds when last of 14 early. The rub, though, is that that was in the slop and none of his other runs were as fast on figures, so this son of Lemon Drop Kid still needs to prove it on dry land, too. The other worry is today’s pace, or lack thereof, as it won’t help his running style, plus you know there are bigger goals down the road, so it’s unlikely he’s cranked for this first start of the year; figures along for a share.
#11 Dunph (20-1): Maker’s second started his career off with two big wins but hasn’t been able to bridge the gap against better, as he was ninth in the Jockey Club and third in the pricey Springboard Mile at Remington Park when last seen in December. Tactical runner could trip out nicely just off the speed, and, as a son of Temple City, he’s bred to like this middle distance two-turn trip, though up to this point he just hasn’t shown he’s this kind; can’t endorse.
#12 Frolic More (10-1): Bargain-basement son of More Than Ready cost just 25k as a 2yo-in-training but gives Stewart a viable second shooter off that big second behind Owendale in his two-turn debut, which suggests there’s more to come today. Stalker figures to trip out nicely in midpack, while not letting the speed get too far away, and he was getting to the winner late last time, so we know the distance won’t be a problem, either. Yes, he too is stepping up, but it’s that time of the year to test their mettle, and if you like the guy that beat him last time, you have to like this dude at a much better number; price players have their hero.
#13 Kingly (12-1): SCRATCHED
#14 War of Will (5-2): Deserving favorite simply blasted the field in the Lecomte and will be bet hard off that, since many of his vanquished rivals are back today and the new shooters have to prove they’re up to the task. Beautifully-bred son of War Front can be placed anywhere, so this wide draw seems much ado about nothing, especially since he’ll break one stall closer to the rail with the 13 out, and he’s faster than the four runners to his immediate left, so expect him to be just off the pace like he was last time. If there’s a worry, it’s that he could bounce off such a dominant win last time, and the price will be a small one, but until proven otherwise, he’s king of the local mountain; figures a real handful right back.
#15 Gun It (AE) (10-1): Asmussen’s second will get to play, should he choose, with Kingly coming out, and he has the look of a real up-and-comer off that third to Owendale, which was his first start against winners and only third lifetime. Impeccably bred son of Tapit won’t get any help from this outside draw, though he did make the lead last time, so maybe he can tuck in a bit into the first turn, though either way he’ll be giving up ground, which won’t help his chances in the lane; a name worth remembering down the line.
#14 War of Will
#12 Frolic More