The derby preps take a step forward this week with the $400,000 G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fairgrounds in New Orleans. The Risen Star will be contested at 1-1/16 miles around 2 turns over the dirt course. This will be the first of the major Kentucky Derby points races with a 50-20-10-5 distribution to the top four finishers. 50 points should be enough to get the winner all the way to the gate on the first Saturday in May.

With the likely scratch of Bob Baffert’s Kingly, who should be staying out west for the El Camino Real, Gun It will probably draw in to round out a full field of 14.

This group of 3yr olds looks like it has plenty of pace with Mr. Money, Manny Wah, Owendale and Dunph all showing good early foot. This abundance of speed will force the hand of the 5-2 morning line favorite War of Will. This Mark Casse trainee will be looking to repeat his winning performance from the G3 LeComte, but will be breaking from the #14 post this week. War of Will’s win in the LeComte was even more impressive when watching the replay as he ran 3-4 wide around both turns while also tugging at the bit and acting a little rank for ¾’s of a mile before unleashing his dominant stretch run.

Behind this front running group are a handful of deep closers including Plus Que Parfait, Roiland, Hog Creek Hustle, and Limonite. With a 14 horse field and a short run into the 1st turn, if someone wins from off the pace, they are going to need a little luck to negotiate a good trip. Let’s also note that early speed has not been friendly at The Fairgrounds as only 14% of winners in 1-1/16 mile events have been wire to wire.

This may bode well for Plus Que Parfait who will prefer to sit chilly from his inside #1 post, save all the ground, and have enough left to navigate through the stretch. Plus Que Parfait will be making his 2nd start f the season after a trouble trip in the LeComte.

The horse I landed on this week is Bill Mott’s Country House. Country House is listed with a 20-1 morning line but he is more likely to be closer to 5-1 at post time. This colt first came to my attention last week as he had run against Kentucky Wildcat, the place horse in the Sam F. Davis. Country House had finished 2nd to Kentucky Wildcat in a maiden race at Aqueduct, then in his next race at Gulfstream, Country House broke more than 10 lengths in back of the pack, gradually improved into a slow pace, and easily ran around the field to a 3-1/2 length victory under minimal urging.

If Country House can move forward off of that kind of effort, I will back him to beat War of Will, who may suffer from his outside post. Let’s take Country House for the win and hope his odds don’t drop below 5-1.