Roger LeBlanc for LazyBettorUSA.com
The Fair Grounds race track is on a roll. Its Kentucky Derby prep race series, which includes today’s Risen Star Stakes at a mile and one-eighth, produced top-flight Derby prospects in the past few years. This year appears to be no different.
Past Fair Grounds stars such as Gun Runner, War of Will and Hot Rod Charlie raised the quality bar for horses using Louisiana racing as a springboard to the Derby and top stakes races that follow. The field for the 2022 Risen Star Stakes looks to meet or exceed that high standard.
Six of the 10 starters have won or placed in a graded stakes race. Top US trainers Todd Pletcher, Chad Brown and Doug O’Neill ship top prospects in from the coasts. Top riders in the country come along with them. To sort through the possibilities, it helps to separate horses with potential from contenders with actual performances equal to Grade 1 or Grade 2 performances.
Grade 1 Wannabe Horses
Most of the field falls into the category of needing to prove themselves. Either their pace figures, final times or stretch performances need improvement.
#1 Pappacap (4-1). After watching this horse lose ground in the stretch three straight times, trainer Mark Casse apparently decided the jockey was the problem. He switches from Joe Bravo to Tyler Gaffalione, but that won’t make this horse any faster.
#3 Trafalgar (10-1). His win in a one-turn mile at Churchill Downs last October impressed trainer Albert Stall enough to put him on the Derby trail. Trafalgar’s pedigree leans toward sprint distances, and his two stretch fades in consecutive 2-turn races confirms that this race might be too long for his talents.
#4 Tawny Port (12-1). He switches from the synthetic Turfway Park surface to real dirt and from competing against fake stakes horses to challenging real ones.
#6 Pioneer of Medina (10-1). Todd Pletcher grabbed an allowance win with him on this track, but the final time was slow. He needs to improve far too much to challenge here.
#7 Zandon (9-2). After this horse won his debut race at 6 furlongs impressively, Chad Brown pointed him specifically to the Remsen Stakes, one of the longest races for 2-year-olds in the US. Zandon lost that race by just a nose, suggesting Brown was right about the horse’s stakes and distance potential. On the negative side, the early pace and winning time of the Remsen was slow. Brown brings Zandon back at the same distance on a track with a long stretch run. The horse is well placed, but is he good enough?
Three Stars of the 2022 Risen Star
As for horses who’ve shown top stakes-level talent already, the list is short:
#10 Slow Down Andy (9-2). The last time this horse raced, he defeated Baffert’s top star Messier. And he did so in fast time. Trainer Doug O’Neill unveiled the potential of Hot Rod Charlie in the Louisiana Derby last year. This placement looks to be the unveiling of O’Neill’s top talent this year.
#5 Epicenter (4-1). He led the parade in the Lecomte Stakes last time, losing late by a head. He needs to prove he can ration his speed better. Jockey Joel Rosario won’t see much pace pressure other than Slow Down Andy tracking his shadow.
#8 Smile Happy (7-2). The likely favorite of this race loves to make a big late run. Last time out as a 2-year-old he ran down this year’s early stakes winners White Abarrio and Classic Causeway. Can he continue to spot true graded stakes horses a huge lead and still get the job done?
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