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Check out our predictions and odds for the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds!
QUIET AS MIDNIGHT
J K Desormeaux
ANGEL OF EMPIRE
B J Hernandez Jr
The 2023 Kentucky Derby trail through New Orleans heats up on Saturday as Victory Formation headlines a deep field of 14 entered in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds.
Trained by Brad Cox, the son of Tapwrit comes into his biggest test yet a perfect 3-for-3 to begin his career. He began his racing with back-to-back sprint wins in Kentucky, one at Keeneland and one at Churchill Downs.
Most recently, Victory Formation began his 3-year-old season with a convincing score in the one-mile Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park on New Year’s Day.
Chief among his competition in the $400,000 Risen Star is the graded stakes winner Curly Jack.
Twice a winner in six starts at 2, the son of Good Magic won the Grade 3 Iroquois at Churchill Downs, before finishing fifth in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and second in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club.
Others who should get strong consideration on Saturday are two more colts from the barn of Brad Cox.
Tapit’s Conquest is an improving son of Tapit, who just missed in a strong allowance race locally. Angel of Empire, meanwhile, rallied for second last time behind his stablemate Victory Formation in the Smarty Jones.
As a Kentucky Derby trail race, the 9-furlong Risen Star will offer qualifying points on a scale of 50-20-15-10-5 to the top five finishers.
This son of Tapwrit has clearly done nothing wrong in winning each of his first three career starts for trainer Brad Cox. He has won at three different tracks and at three different distances. He’s won easy in two of them and was game in the other.
With strong tactical speed and the pedigree to run long, he truly could be any kind. A deserving favorite here, he will look to build upon his impressive win in the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park last month. As much as there is to like, though, there are some questions that need to be addressed.
This will certainly be his toughest test yet, and drawn way outside in the 13-post, he may have to really work to get a good position early. In a race with plenty of speed, that could be tough. He is the one to beat, but as the clear favorite, I will take a shot against him because of the race dynamics.
With only a maiden victory from three career starts, it might be a little surprising that this son of Tapit is the second choice on the morning line. Clearly a horse with potential, this one may be able to live up to the confidence.
Narrowly beaten in his debut at Saratoga, he stretched out for his second race and won nicely. Off that, he moved south to Fair Grounds where he found a very strong allowance race and may have been best when finishing strongly to just miss by a neck to Determinedly.
There is a lot to like as he makes his stakes debut on Saturday. Also trained by Cox, he is one of the top threats to his favored stablemate.
This son of Good Magic had a very nice juvenile campaign with two wins and two good seconds in six tries. Even in the races where he finished out of the money, he showed up and ran reasonably well.
Off since a runner-up finish to Instant Coffee in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club, he returns in another tough race for trainer Tom Amoss. Working well for his seasonal debut, the graded stakes winner should be ready to run another solid race.
Considering the size and talent in the race, Curly Jack has found a difficult spot for his seasonal debut, but as one of the proven class horses of the race, he cannot be dismissed.
A two-time stakes winner last year, this Larry Rivelli-trainee will look to do a little better than his 3-year-old debut where he came up short late to finish a clear second behind Instant Coffee in the Grade 3 Lecomte four weeks ago.
That race was still a nice effort, though, and did come over the track. There is a lot to like about this graded stakes winner, but I do have a concern about the added distance.
My guess is that the son of Hard Spun will be best at middle distances, and this 9-furlong race with 14 horses could be a race with plenty of tiring horses in the stretch. Another solid effort would be no surprise, but I do like some others better.
This son of Justify switches barns from Bob Baffert, who is not eligible to earn Kentucky Derby qualifying points, to Steve Asmussen. Having trained in Southern California as recently as on Saturday, the new barn probably will not come much into play here.
After finishing second in his first two career starts, he broke through nicely with a wire-to-wire victory last time by 4 1/2-lengths at Santa Anita. Clearly a promising colt, he looks like a threat to move right up into graded stakes company.
As one of the speed horses in the race, though, he could have his hands full early and be weakened for the long stretch drive. Still, though, he is a wildcard who may be good enough to make real noise here.
The third of the formidable Cox-trained trio, this son of Classic Empire ran second to his stablemate Victory Formation last time in the Smarty Jones. In fact, in his three career dirt races, only the Risen Star favorite has finished ahead of him. Although, the two wins came against cheaper
If he is to turn the tables on his stablemate this time, he does have the advantage of a better post position and a race that looks to set up better for horses coming from off the pace.
Certainly one to consider, he will need to take a step forward to win on Saturday, but there is reason to believe he could. He is hard to keep off the exotics tickets.
With eight career starts, this gray son of Cairo Prince is the most experienced horse in the field. Trained by Mark Casse, he earned his ticket to the Risen Star with a game allowance victory over a pair of talented foes in Tapit’s Conquest and Silver Heist last out over the Fair Grounds track.
Before that, he faded just a bit to finish third in the local Gun Runner Stakes. Since switching back to dirt from the turf four starts ago, he has been solid.
Experienced at two turns and coming off a nice prep win, he should be respected, but I do worry about the prospect of being part of a strong pace here.
With only two career starts, trainer Steve Asmussen is shooting big with this lightly raced son of Tapit. Both efforts came in the last eight weeks at Fair Grounds.
In a maiden sprint, which he isn’t likely suited for, he flashed his potential with a rallying win. Next came that tough allowance race won by Determinedly. He was only third best that day, but finished only a length behind the winner.
Given that experience, he is a good candidate to move forward on Saturday. Will it be enough to make him a serious contender? I like some others better, but he is definitely a horse to keep an eye on.
A successful turf horse who has won over $600,000 in his six-race career, this son of Jimmy Creed has picked a difficult spot to attempt dirt for the first time. What’s worse is that he drew the far outside post position in the big field of 14.
Clearly a talented turf horse when running shorter, the distance of 9 furlongs on Saturday is also a big question mark. As good as he has been on the grass, this race poses too many concerns to consider a major threat.
The only non-winner in the field actually looks like a very interesting longshot. Running in New York, he was unlucky enough to come up against talented competition in all five of his career starts.
Yes, he lost them all, but he has rallied consistently, and seems to be improving. He also appears to appreciate going a distance, which as a son of Curlin, is no real surprise.
There is a reason Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher is coming to this big race with a maiden. I think he is developing to become a player on the Kentucky Derby trail, and I also believe this race sets up well for him. He is the top pick.
This Kenny McPeek-trained son of Into Mischief will likely be a pretty big longshot in the Risen Star. After coming from way back to get up for third in his career debut at Churchill Downs, he won big second time out going a mile at Oaklawn Park.
In his stakes debut he could do no better than fourth in the Grade 3 Southwest, but that came in a tough spot and on a sloppy track. He could be ready for another step forward in his fourth career start and in a race more conducive to late runners.
Of the rallying longshots, I like Crupi a bit better, but leaving this one off your exotics tickets could be a mistake.
A son of Khozan, this bay colt ships in from Florida with three wins from seven career starts. After two starts against stakes sprinters at Tampa Bay Downs with only modest results, he found an easier group last time and prevailed to win by a neck.
It was his first try around two turns which gave them enough hope to shoot for this, but the level of quality in that race falls quite a bit short here. He looks like an unlikely candidate to make a serious run in this one.
Trained by Keith Desormeaux, this Empire Maker colt likes to put in a late run. His rally last out carried him to his first career victory in five tries at odds of nearly 19/1.
He looks to be on the improve and is eligible to be passing horses in the stretch on Saturday. Still, anything more than a minor award would be a surprise against this deep bunch of Kentucky Derby hopefuls
This son of Midnight Lute has made all three of his career starts at Delta Downs, with only a maiden claimer in the win column.
Expecting him to do much against a field like this seems like wishful thinking. I cannot recommend him in this spot.
Taken to the races at a very young age, Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Professionally, his work has been published on several leading industry sites. Brian served as the Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, where he still writes a regular column and hosts the popular weekly webcast HorseCenter.
Email: [email protected]
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