By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Our quest to pick 50%
winners in 2021 took some interesting twists last week, but at least we're
still on the right track.
Fifth-place efforts from
Known Agenda and Greyes Creek impacted our win percentage, but a victory by
Jouster saved the weekend and kept us ahead of the line at 54.5%. I have to
chuckle, though, at the way Jouster's $2.20 win payoff ironically knocked a few
cents off our ROI for the year, which currently sits at $2.53.
After placing a lot of
emphasis on Florida in recent weeks, we'll now turn our attention to Fair
Grounds, where half a dozen stakes races are on the agenda. The afternoon
feature is the $400,000 Risen Star (G2), an important Road to the Kentucky
Derby prep race. With a total of 85 qualification points up for grabs, the race
has drawn a deep and competitive field with plenty of logical contenders to
Let's dig in!
Risen Star (G2)
Did you know 16 of the 17
Risen Star winners since 2005 had previously contested a stakes races? The lone
exception was Modernist, who won the slower of two Risen Star divisions in
2020. Otherwise, this 1 1/8-mile race has been thoroughly unkind to maiden and
allowance winners unproven against stakes company.
If this trend holds true in
2021, we can significantly narrow down the list of contenders. With #12 Keepmeinmind expected to scratch in
favor of next week's Southwest (G3), that leaves just six stakes-experienced
runners in the Risen Star field, including the top four finishers from the Jan.
16 Lecomte (G3) at Fair Grounds.
Certainly respect must be
afforded to #6 Midnight Bourbon, who
employed pacesetting tactics to win the Lecomte by a length. Conditioned by
two-time Risen Star-winning trainer Steve Asmussen, Midnight Bourbon had
previously put together an encouraging two-year-old season, highlighted by a
runner-up effort in the Iroquois (G3) and a third-place finish in the Champagne
But Midnight Bourbon
benefited from a picture-perfect trip in the Lecomte. The complexion of the
race changed significantly when front-running maiden winner #10 Santa Cruiser hesitated at the
start and got squeezed back to last place. Without Santa Cruiser to apply
pressure, Midnight Bourbon casually waltzed along through slow fractions of
:24.68, :48.99, and 1:13.57 before coming home in :24.52 and :06.32 to win by a
Midnight Bourbon seems
certain to face more pace pressure in the Risen Star. Santa Cruiser is back in
the mix after rallying to finish fourth in the Lecomte, and with a clean break
on Saturday, he's bound to be forwardly placed. The same can be said of #13 Rightandjust, who has posted
gate-to-wire victories in maiden claiming and allowance races at Fair Grounds.
Drawing the far outside post position will likely force Rightandjust run hard
early to avoid getting caught wide on the first turn.
Lecomte runner-up #2 Proxy and the undefeated allowance
winner #1 Starrininmydreams are also
quick enough to be prominent from the outset, so right there you have four
horses capable of pressuring Midnight Bourbon if they so desire. And a faster pace
would almost certainly play to the strengths of #11 Mandaloun, the third-place finisher from the Lecomte.
A Juddmonte Farms homebred
conditioned by Brad Cox, Mandaloun showed promise when rallying to victory in
his first two starts sprinting on the Kentucky circuit. The son of Into
Mischief earned sharp speed figures and was favored at 4-5 to prevail in the
Lecomte, which marked his two-turn debut.
But Mandaloun was
compromised by a poor setup in the Lecomte, racing wide on the turns while
tracking the slow pace. When the tempo accelerated around the far turn and down
the homestretch, Mandaloun initially struggled to keep up, but he dug down late
to close ground and finish just a length behind Midnight Bourbon.
There are several reasons to
believe Mandaloun will take a big step forward in the Risen Star. For one, the
pace scenario should be much more favorable. For another, he's been training
sharply, breezing a bullet five furlongs in :59 4/5 on Feb. 6. Cox wins at an
impressive 37% rate with horses running long for the second time, and the
addition of blinkers could further sharpen Mandaloun's speed and focus.
In short, I'm excited to
give Mandaloun another try. He'll offer better odds than in the Lecomte, but
victory should be well within reach under hot jockey Florent Geroux.
For the exotics, #5 Senor Buscador is an obvious
contender. A son of 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft, Senor Buscador unleashed
powerful late rallies to win his first two starts by daylight. A victory
sprinting 5 1/2 furlongs at Remington Park was followed by a 5 3/4-length romp
in the Remington Springboard Mile S., stamping Senor Buscador as one of the
fastest horses in the Risen Star field.
Senor Buscador finished
legitimately fast in the Springboard Mile, dashing the final furlong in :12.18,
and visually speaking he looked fantastic. He was full of run down the lane, so
stretching out over 1 1/8 miles shouldn't be an issue. But with rain in the
forecast for Fair Grounds this week, I'm left to wonder how this
stretch-running colt will handle muddy kickback during the early going.
This isn't so much of a
concern for Mandaloun, who is drawn wide within enough tactical speed to stay
out of trouble. But Senor Buscador might have no choice but to settle back and
rally through the slop. In his first two starts, he broke very slowly before
unleashing wide rallies to sweep past his rivals, and replicating this strategy
against tougher competition in the Risen Star could be difficult. Victory may
rely on rallying through the pack to save some ground, and if this is the case,
we'll just have to hope Senor Buscador doesn't mind mud.
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like in the Risen Star?
Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contests page—there's a new challenge every week!
The Road to the Kentucky Derby handicapping challenge is back for the seventh straight year! Check out the Road to the Kentucky Derby contest page for more details.
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, 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 www.theturfboard.com.