The Fair Grounds in Louisiana will host 14 Kentucky Derby hopefuls in this week’s $400,000 Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes. The race will be contested at 1-1/16 miles over the dirt course.
The Risen Star is the first Kentucky Derby prep race with “win and you’re in” implications. 50 derby points will be awarded to the winner, and 50 points has gotten you into the Derby every year since the point system was introduced. I love a race where the stakes are higher than just the purse. So let’s get to finding a winner.
When analyzing 3yr old races early in the year we have to account for the fact that these animals are still developing physically. The best analogy I have heard is that 2yr olds are like high school athletes, 3yr olds are like college athletes, and older horses are the professionals. At this time of year we are trying to gauge which of our freshman prospects will become all Americans and which will be relegated to the claiming and allowance ranks for the summer.
These prep races are often won by horses taking a step forward in their training and many contenders only have 3 or 4 running lines to analyze. What I like to look for is gradual improvement n their racing efforts as well as consistent morning workouts. A bonus would be to find a horse who has already shown the ability to overcome bad racing luck (bumping, wide trips, bad pace scenarios, etc.) and still perform well.
To start, our track bias stats show that 4 of the last 10 dirt races at the Fair Grounds have been won in wire to wire fashion and post positions have been varied.
The first horse that jumps out is 7/2 morning line favorite Mo Town. This Anthony Dutrow trainee will have John Velasquez aboard. Mo Town has won 2 of 3 starts as a 2yr old while posting the highest speed figure in the field and 3 straight morning bullet works in 2017. His 3 races were at 3 different tracks, at 3 different distances, with a graded stakes win and a win over a sloppy track. Quite a resume for a horse who is making his 3yr old debut. Mo Town is the horse to beat but let’s find a bigger price and hope that Mo Town’s 3 month layoff catches up with him.
The horse I like for a price is 10/1 morning line Untrapped. Breaking from post 2 with Ricardo Santana up, Untrapped showed improvement in the G3 LeComte Stakes at Fair Grounds where he ran close to a healthy pace, and still managed to run 2nd. Though he was beaten by #6 Guest Suite I still prefer Untrapped as Guest Suite was a little better positioned farther off of that hot pace. I also like that Untrapped showed improvement in his first try at a route race and at first asking off of a 2 month layoff. Breaking from near the inside will also be an advantage in saving ground entering the short run to the first turn.
My other 10/1 morning line long shot play is #10 Takeoff. Takeoff has only won 1 of 4 starts and is also coming out of the LeComte where he finished an impressive 3rd while being too close to the fast pace and 3-4 wide around both turns. Takeoff has been in training for Mark Casse since October with no winter layoff so his fitness should be an advantage. My biggest concern is that Takeoff’s only win came in front running fashion after breaking from the rail. Can he overcome post 10 in the run to the first turn? I think we will get higher than 10/1 by post time.
The bottom line is that Mo Town looks very impressive on paper but I will try to beat him with a couple of local stalker types, Untrapped and Takeoff. Let’s hope for better than 10/1 on both of them.