J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
this weekend is a relatively quiet one in terms of major racing action, racing
fans will nevertheless be treated to a stellar renewal of the $400,000 Veterans
Ford Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) at Fair Grounds, the first Kentucky Derby prep
race of the year that will offer 50 points to the winner. With a spot in the
Derby field on the line, thirteen talented three-year-olds have been entered,
and the race promises to be a good one--let's take a look at the field!
|1||In Equality||Junior Alvarado||Leah Gyarmati||3rd Jerome Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)|
|2||Mo Tom||Corey Lanerie||Tom Amoss||1st LeComte Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)|
|3||Dolphus||Brian Hernandez, Jr.||Joe Sharp||1st Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)|
|4||Bistraya||Edwin Maldonado||Ricky Agarie||1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)|
|5||Forevamo||Colby Hernandez||Albert Stall, Jr.||2nd Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)|
|6||Gun Runner||Florent Geroux||Steve Asmussen||4th Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)|
|7||It’s All Relevant||Joe Bravo||Dominick Schettino||1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)|
|8||Tom’s Ready||John Velazquez||Dallas Stewart||2nd LeComte Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)|
|9||Laoban||Miguel Mena||Eric Guillot||3rd Sham Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)|
|10||Airoforce||Julien Leparoux||Mark Casse||1st Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)|
|11||Zapperini||Francisco Torres||Gregory Foley||1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)|
|12||Uncle Walter||Javier Castellano||Mike Maker||3rd LeComte Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)|
|13||Candy My Boy||Shaun Bridgmohan||Roger Brueggemann||1st Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)|
Laoban is expected to scratch.
likely favorite is Airoforce, who
compiled a stellar record last year, winning the Bourbon Stakes (gr. III) and
finishing second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. I) before giving dirt
a try and winning the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) by 1 ¾ lengths over
a sloppy track. In that race, he defeated subsequent stakes winners Mor Spirit
and Mo Tom, as well as the talented pair of Gun Runner and Tom's Ready, and he
did it the hard way, racing off the pace early on and getting covered with mud
before rallying strongly in the homestretch.
while Airoforce is by far the most accomplished horse in the field, there are a
couple of concerns. Most notable is the fact that he has never run on fast
dirt, and while he has trained very well over it, we won't know for certain if
he can handle it in a race situation until he tries. Additionally, he had a
slight training setback at the beginning of the month due to illness, and while
he recovered very quickly, it is something to keep in mind. He's also carrying
top weight of 122 pounds, conceding six pounds to the majority of his rivals,
and for all these reasons I think it's worth playing against him as the 5-2
morning line favorite.
Mo Tom is
another runner that figures to receive a lot of support after rallying from ten
lengths back to win the January 16th LeComte Stakes (gr. III) at
Fair Grounds by 2 ¼ lengths. Visually, he looked great charging to win in
decisive fashion, but he also got a great pace setup--the early pace was quick,
and the fourth quarter-mile was timed in a slow :26.42 seconds, which benefited
late-runners. A quick pace could ensue again this Saturday thanks to the
presence of the front-runners Bistraya,
It's All Relevant, and Candy My Boy--particularly since the
latter has drawn the far outside post and might have to be sent hard for the
lead--but Mo Tom may also be at a disadvantage trying to rally past a large
field, and since he's likely to go off at 3-1 or less, I'll look to pick
against him as well.
choice to pull off a mild upset is Gun
Runner, who finished fourth in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes after
overcoming a slightly tricky trip to take the lead in the homestretch. Overall
it was a great effort, especially considering that he might not have cared for
the sloppy track, and his two previous races--two victories going a mile or
longer at Churchill and Keeneland--were very impressive and achieved in
professional fashion. The Risen Star will mark his first start of the year, but
he has trained very well for his return, posting two six-furlong bullet
workouts in 1:12 3/5 on February 1st and 1:12 1/5 on February 8th.
He also picks up the services of jockey Florent Geroux, who has been riding
very well at Fair Grounds, and Gun Runner gets into the race carrying just 116
pounds, six less than Airoforce and four less than Mo Tom.
Gun Runner has shown a lot of tactical speed in his three races to date, and
after drawing post six, he should be able to settle a few lengths off the early
pace and get first run at the leaders in the homestretch. From there, I think
he will be very tough to catch.
must also be given to Tom's Ready,
runner-up in the LeComte Stakes after making what looked to be a winning move
on the far turn. I like that he was able to stay closer to the quick early pace
than Mo Tom did, but he's also been beaten by Mo Tom in all three of their
meetings, including a one-length defeat in the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill
Downs last November. I wouldn't be entirely surprised if Tom's Ready is able to
turn the tables on Mo Tom today, but he might be a better choice to round out
the trifecta than to win the race.
like the chances of Uncle Walter,
who finished third in the LeComte after getting sucked into a fast early pace
and making the first move on the far turn. Although he was no match for Mo Tom
in the homestretch, he did fight on against Tom's Ready, staying with him
through the final furlong and actually gaining back some ground to finish just
three-quarters of a length behind him. He might prove to be slightly
overmatched today, and he did draw a wide post position, but I think he can
out-finish his LeComte conquerors today and finish in the exotics at a nice
also like to briefly mention Dolphus and
Forevamo. The former was scratched
from the LeComte after rearing and falling over behind the starting gate, but
returned to win a one-mile and seventy-yard allowance race at Fair Grounds by
three-quarters of a length on January 31st. It wasn't a dominating
victory, and he only beat three rivals, but he was racing greenly in the
homestretch and gave the impression that he wasn't very focused and might have
been better than his margin of victory implies. Don't be surprised if he takes
a big step forward on Saturday.
for Forevamo, he won the Jean Lafitte Stakes at Delta Downs last year before
finishing sixth in the Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (gr. III), and in his 2016
debut he ran well to finish second in a one-mile
allowance race at Fair Grounds despite trying to close from sixth in a
slow--paced race. If he encounters a faster pace on Saturday-and he certainly
should--I think he has a shot to rally and finish in the superfecta at a big
it's your turn! Who do you like in the Risen Star Stakes?
To help simplify the process of choosing and keeping track of everyone's prime horse selections in our 2016 Road to the Kentucky Derby Handicapping Challenge, I would like to ask everyone to please submit their prime choice each week by leaving a special comment on the official blog page for the contest. This will greatly reduce the chances of any prime horse selections getting overlooked, and will also make it simpler to double-check the standings. Thanks, and enjoy the racing!
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website http://www.theturfboard.com/.