Now, the points get real, which mean the stakes get real, and the slope gets really slippery for horses that don’t quite measure up to the demands of the Kentucky Derby Trail. That becomes apparent at Louisiana’s Fair Grounds Saturday with the first of the big-point races – the Grade 2 Risen Star.
Actually, it’s the first two big-point races, since the 23 entrants mandated race officials split the Risen Star into two divisions. Both allot Derby qualifying points on a 50-20-10-5 basis to the top four finishers.
Both are 1 1/8-mile races. Both feature enough intrigue and storylines to make for a fun handicap for horseplayers. And, with 50 Derby Qualifying Points going to the winner of each race, two of the 20 entries in the May 2 Derby should be set. Last year, Bodexpress was the 20th and final entry. He and his 40 points gained entry when favorite, Omaha Beach, was scratched with a throat problem.
In the first division, you get the top three finishers from last month’s Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes: Enforceable, Silver State, and Mr. Monomoy, along with fifth-place finisher Scabbard and sixth-place Shashashakemeup. You also get one of the sleepers in either division: Blackberry Wine, who last month, won a 1 1/16-mile allowance optional claimer at Fair Grounds in 1:43.22 – a half-second faster than Enforceable’s victory over the same distance later that day in the Lecomte.
In the second division, the firepower isn’t quite as pronounced. There’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Anneu d’Or, along with Pasco Stakes winner Liam’s Lucky Charm, Mailman Money, the only undefeated horse in either division, and Lynn’s Map, last seen finishing a disappointing fifth in the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park.
The 2019 Risen Star did clear the crystal ball somewhat as a key race. Five of the 14 horses went on to win Grade 1 races, and two others won multiple Grade 3 races.
Let’s break down the divisions further.
First Division: No Clear Favorite
The eyes and early dollars are finding their way to Enforceable and Silver State, which shouldn’t be surprising. A son of Tapit, Enforceable has stamina all through his bloodlines, a fierce closing style that has never turned in a bad trip in seven starts, and a trainer in Mark Casse who won this race last year with eventual Preakness Stakes winner, War of Will.
That said, this race doesn’t portend a perfect trip for Enforceable. First, his style is dependent on a quick pace, and this division doesn’t feature a lot of early speed. Second, his top Equibase Speed Figure of 97 – clocked in the Lecomte — is slower than several of his counterparts in this race, meaning he needs to find another gear to hold off what should be a fast stretch.
Like Enforceable, who beat him by 1 ½ lengths in the Lecomte, Silver State is another closer who will feast on the extra distance. The son of 2007 Kentucky Derby runner-up Hard Spun, Silver State’s problem is two-fold: the lack of early speed negating his closing style, and a tendency to break poorly. He hasn’t had a clean start in three races; can he get one in a crowded field of closers?
The same question can be asked of Mr. Monomoy, who got his first clean start in four races in the Lecomte. The son of 2013 Belmont Stakes champion, Palace Malice, has the pedigree and the jockey (Florent Geroux) to hit the board. Geroux piloted Gun Runner to the 2016 Risen Star, and is going for his third consecutive jockey earnings title at Fair Grounds.
That brings us to the sleeper, Blackberry Wine. His victory on the Lecomte undercard brought the son of 2013 Preakness Stakes winner Oxbow a 101 Equibase Speed Figure, the highest of any horse for this division. On top of that, his pace-stalking style fits this race and its lack of early speed perfectly. He can’t be ignored on any exotic plays.
Second Division: Anneau the Gold Standard?
Unlike the first division, the Risen Star’s 12-horse second division has a clear favorite in Anneau d’Or. It also has a flawed favorite in d’Or, who flies in from Northern California with top-shelf jockey Joel Rosario, blinkers, and plenty of questions. This race could answer whether or not the son of Medaglia d’Oro can cover the 1 1/8 miles, win a dirt race, or close.
Anneau d’Or has never gone beyond 1 1/16 miles in his three starts, which include seconds in both the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (to Storm the Court at 28/1) and Los Alamitos Futurity (to Thousand Words as the 6/5 favorite). In both races, he failed to close, leading trainer Blaine Wright to say “We have to find a way to get past horses.”
Should you seek value elsewhere, there’s Liam’s Lucky Charm, coming off a 5 ½-length romp in the Pasco Stakes. His ownership of two triple-digit Equibase Speed Figures is canceled out by his well-beaten third in his only two-turn race last September, and Liam’s Lucky Charm needs luck to get through that last quarter-mile.
Others to watch here are Lynn’s Map, who has beaten Mr. Monomoy in his 2-year-old finale, and Mailman Money, who has the stalking style this race encourages and an Equibase Speed Figure turbo boost from 90 to 97 in his second start.