2023 Risen Star Stakes Preview

Riding a wicked 5 for 8 streak in picking Kentucky Derby prep-race winners, we dive into the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds. Click over to the 2023 Predict-o-Meter to see our past prep-race picks. (To get these selections, subscribe to the Racetrack Super Scout [RTSS] for as little as $10 per month.)

Here’s our view of the Risen Star (from this week’s RTSS Report).

RACE 12. Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes. 1 mile and 1/8th. Dirt.

LEGIT Favorite: #13 Victory Formation (3-1).

Reason: You’ll read and listen to many reasons why Victory Formation is vulnerable. The analysts we’ve heard consider this field to be highly competitive and consider his outside post to be an obstacle. Although we agree it’s a tougher field than the one Victory Formation faced in his Smarty Jones win, we see VF as a cut above nearly every rival entered in this contest.

When evaluating developing 3-year-olds we judge whether a horse’s recent performance establishes a floor or a ceiling for the horse’s abilities. A key factor for determining this is how many races it takes for a horse to break his maiden or to notch a second victory. Horses struggling through MSW and N1x conditions probably hit a ceiling in minor stakes races. Horses whizzing through those conditions have established a floor, a convenient springboard for greater accomplishments.

That perspective leaves us with just three contenders:

  • #5 Harlocap (8-1)
  • #8 Tapit’s Conquest (6-1)
  • #13 Victory Formation (3-1)

We leave out the debut winner and lightly raced Silver Heist (12-1) only because he seemed overmatched in the stretch run of an allowance race last time out. In that race, Tapit’s Conquest was blocked on the rail through almost the entire stretch, yet Silver Heist couldn’t get past him or the tiring winner Determinedly. Of course, odds of 12-1 or higher might justify projecting improvement for a son of Tapit on the stretchout.

In the final analysis, we also toss out Harlocap, one of the first Bob Baffert trainees to get reassigned to a different trainer this year. Harlocap posted slow times on the glib Santa Anita surface before breaking his maiden in his third start. Baffert awaits the ruling on his request for an injunction that’d allow him to remain the trainer of record for Derby prospects in his care. Is Harlocap now trained by Asmussen because Baffert considered him to be the most expendable or the least likely to earn points in later preps?

Whatever the case is with the Baffert drama, we see just two bettable horses, both from the Brad Cox barn.


#13 Victory Formation (3-1). This undefeated colt is our top pick. His final time in the one-mile Smarty Jones Stakes was decent but not outstanding. However, the manner in which he won is noteworthy. After securing a clear lead while cutting honest fractions, Victory Formation maintained his advantage throughout with very little encouragement needed from Prat. His final time certainly would’ve been faster if he had been ridden more aggressively.

Was the Smarty Jones win the ceiling or the floor for Victory Formation?

His prior victory strongly suggests the Smarty Jones was a warmup for greater accomplishments ahead. He posted a very fast time in an all-out speed duel at 6 furlongs in a Churchill allowance race. For a horse bred so stoutly for longer races, his display of speed, athleticism and competitiveness is impressive. We doubt he can be outrun early, and his pedigree suggests he won’t tire late. Also note that in the Smarty Jones post-race interview,  Brad Cox said he’d likely race VF again at Oaklawn since the owners were local residents. Instead Cox opts for the 9-furlong Risen Star rather than the 8.5-furlong Rebel Stakes next week at Oaklawn. Cox obviously has no reservations about Victory Formation stretching out a full furlong more.

#8 Tapit’s Conquest (6-1). After viewing the head-on replay of the stretch run of the most recent race for Tapit’s Conquest, we anxiously awaited his return. While closing strongly on Determinedly, this colt checked stride at least twice as Luis Saez (aboard the leader Determinedly) skillfully closed the rail path several times. If the rail had been open, Tapit’s Conquest likely would’ve won, and he would’ve done so in a clocking faster than the winning time of the Lecomte Stakes later that day. He’s another colt bred to thrive at longer distances. Given his pedigree, competitiveness, ability to keep persisting despite trouble, and current form, he looks to be the only upset possibility in this field.