By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
One of the most prestigious
races taking place this week is also one of the most difficult to handicap.
Saturday's $400,000 Risen Star S. (G2) at Fair Grounds awards Road to the
Kentucky Derby qualification points on a 50-20-15-10-5 basis to the top five
finishers, a prize so lucrative 14 horses have entered the 1 1/8-mile race.
Separating the key
contenders is difficult. You can make a case for at least half of the entrants
to visit the winner's circle. When a flashy Fair Grounds maiden winner like #2 Single Ruler is listed at 30-1 on
the morning line, you know you're looking at a deep field.
The morning line favorite is
#13 Victory Formation at 3-1, and
his credentials are appealing. The undefeated son of Belmont S. (G1) winner
Tapwrit boasts a 3-for-3 resume. After winning maiden and allowance sprints on
the Kentucky circuit last fall, Victory Formation stretched out for the
one-mile Smarty Jones S. at Oaklawn Park and promptly wired the Road to the
Kentucky Derby qualifier by three lengths. Trainer Brad Cox has been on fire at
Fair Grounds this meet, winning at a 43% rate, so Victory Formation figures to
fire a competitive shot in the Risen Star.
But is Victory Formation
unbeatable? Not necessarily. He'll have to use his early speed to avoid a wide
trip from post 13, which opens the door for Victory Formation to get caught up
in a hot pace. Horses like Fair Grounds allowance optional claiming winner #4 Determinedly and Santa Anita maiden winner
#5 Harlocap have plenty of speed and
figure to tussle with Determinedly for early supremacy. #13 Private Creed, third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint
(G1) last fall, may also assume a forward position to avoid a wide trip from
In addition, you can make a
case that Victory Formation didn't defeat the toughest field in the Smarty
Jones. Third-place finisher Denington subsequently finished a distant fourth in
the Lecomte S. (G3) at Fair Grounds, while Smarty Jones fourth-place runner
Western Ghent came back to finish last of eight in the Southwest S. (G3) at
Rather than throw my support
behind Victory Formation at a short price, I'm going to think a little outside
the box with #8 Tapit's Conquest (6-1),
another Cox trainee with encouraging credentials.
Runner-up in his sprint
debut at Saratoga last summer, Tapit's Conquest thrived when stretching out
over 1 1/16 miles for an Oct. 1 maiden special weight at Churchill Downs,
tracking the early pace before drawing off to score by 3 1/2 lengths. The son
of Tapit then spent 3 1/2 months on the sidelines before returning to action in
a 1 1/16-mile allowance optional claimer on Jan. 21 at Fair Grounds, in which
he rallied boldly from last place to finish second by a neck against the
Tapit's Conquest gained 3
1/4 lengths through the final furlong of that allowance contest, not bad for
his first start off a layoff. He's posted a couple of quick workouts since then
and is eligible to move forward in his second start of the season, opening the
door for a competitive run. It helps that Tapit's Conquest will be ridden by
three-time Risen Star-winning jockey Florent Geroux, a 34% winner at Fair Grounds
this meet and a 46% winner teaming up with Cox over the last two months per
Underneath Tapit's Conquest,
#9 Curly Jack (8-1) and #10 Two Phil's (8-1) are obvious
contenders for the minor awards. Curly Jack needs no introduction; he's already
earned Road to the Kentucky Derby qualification points by winning the Iroquois
S. (G3), finishing fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1), and running second
in the Kentucky Jockey Club S. (G2). Conditioned by hot trainer Tom Amoss (a
31% winner at Fair Grounds this meet), Curly Jack is versatile in terms of
running style and rarely runs a bad race, setting the stage for a top-four
Two Phil's has also accumulated
Road to the Kentucky Derby qualification points courtesy of a runner-up finish
in the Lecomte S. (G3) at Fair Grounds last month. Lecomte starters have
claimed seven of the last 15 editions of the Risen Star, and since Two Phil's
is the lone Lecomte alumnus in Saturday's field, he warrants respect by
default. The fact he trounced the 1 1/16-mile Street Sense S. (G3) at Churchill
Downs last fall adds to the appeal.
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like in the Risen Star Stakes?
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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.