After the 71st running of the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park this Saturday, the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” will take us to Louisiana, the Pelican State, where an overflow field of 16 young Thoroughbreds has been drawn for the 41st running of the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (G2) at the Fair Grounds Race Course. Post time for the Risen Star is 6:25 PM Eastern Standard Time.
Only 14 horses are eligible to enter the starting gate and it appears that several of them, depending on their level of development, could have the potential to step up and earn graded-stakes honors. Trainer Doug O’Neill announced Wednesday that Bond Holder would be scratched and that would open the door for the also eligible Emmett Park (20-1) to draw into the race.
Vicar’s in Trouble, trained by Michael Maker and owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, comes into the race with a 2-0-1 record in three starts and heads the field as the morning line 5-2 favorite. Hero of the Le Comte Stakes (G3), Vicar’s in Trouble cruised to a 6¾-length victory in that race which included Albano (12-1) and Gold Hawk (8-1) and both colts are also entered in the Risen Star.
Jockey Rosie Napravnik has ridden Vicar’s In Trouble in all three of his previous starts and she retains the mount in the Risen Star. I look for the pair to be competitive.
Rise Up (4-1) has not raced since last November and he comes into this race with a 4-1-0 record in 6 starts including wins in the 6-furlong Mountaineer Juvenile Stakes, the one mile Jean Lafitte Stakes and the 8½-furlong Delta Downs Jackpot (G3). Rise Up is ranked ninth in my 2014 Kentucky Derby Outlook. Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote about him with the chart call and video replay of his 6-length victory in the Delta Downs Jackpot:
RISE UP set a well handled pace from the start, was in control heading into the far turn then drew off in upper stretch while leading throughout.
Rise up is a sire-line descendant of the Mr. Prospector Ancestral Herd and he’s bred on a nick with the Northern Dancer Ancestral Herd.
Rockport Harbor, the sire of Rise Up, was a competitive racehorse who compiled a 5-1-0 record in eight career starts. His most notable graded-stakes win as a two year old was in the one mile Nashua Stakes (G3) and the 9-furlong Remsen Stakes (G2). Despite his impressive record, Rockport Harbor’s race times were slow and he never competed in the Kentucky Derby.
Kentucky-bred Johannesburg, the damsire of Rise Up, was an undefeated racehorse in England, Ireland and France who was shipped to America in 2001 where he won Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Stakes (G1) and was eventually selected as the Eclipse Champion Two-Year-Old Colt and the Cartier Two-Year-Old Champion Colt. In his debut as a three year old, Johannesburg finished second at the Curragh in Ireland and was then shipped to America where he finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby. During his racing career, Johannesburg compiled a 7-1-0 record in 10 starts with $1,014,585 in earnings.
Rise Up has shown good early speed in all of his races. But, his finish times are slower than what I like to see in a colt on the trail. I’ll be watching closely to see how he fares in his debut as a three year old.
A long shot I like in this race is Commanding Curve (20-1) who is stepping up in class and comes into this race with a 1-1-1 record in four starts. Since finishing sixth in his maiden debut, Commanding Curve has steadily been improving and finally broke his maiden on his fourth start at Churchill Downs last November.
Despite the 2½-month layoff, Commanding Curve has been working out good at the Fair Grounds and two recent bullet work outs indicate that he could be ready to run a good race when he makes his first start as a three year old in the Risen Star Stakes (G2). And he has the breeding to be competitive.
Master Command, the sire of Commanding Curve, was a multiple graded-stakes winner who compiled an 8-2-2 record in 17 starts with $1,137,188 in career earnings. He made only two sprint starts at 6-furlongs, finishing second in both races, while all of his other races were in routes where he excelled at 9-furlongs.
Of Master Command’s eight victories, five of them were in stakes competition. His most notable stakes wins were in the National Jockey Club Handicap (G3), New Orleans Handicap (G2), Meadowlands Breeders’ Cup Stakes (G2) and the William Donald Schaefer Handicap (G3), all at 9-furlongs, and the 8½-furlong Mineshaft Handicap (G3).
Lion Hearted, the damsire of Commanding Curve, was placed in several graded-stakes races and compiled a 4-6-3 record in 18 starts with $191,630 in earnings. Lion Hearted never started in a route race and his most notable stakes placing was a second-place finish in the Riva Ridge Stakes (G2) and the Amsterdam Stakes (G3), both at 6-furlongs.
So, it is unknown if Lion Hearted could be a stamina influence for Commanding Curve. However, the tail-female line is further reinforced by the influences of Topsider and Tom Rolfe and Nodouble.
Trained by Dallas Stewart, Commanding Curve could be improving at the right time of year and another move forward off of his maiden win last November could make him competitive in the Risen Start Stakes (G2).
Hall of Fame Trainer Bob Baffert ships Hoppertunity (8-1) in from California for a chance to earn 50 precious Derby points for owners Karl Watson, Michael Pegram and Paul Weitman.
Hoppertunity is stepping up in class and comes into this race off of a 3-length maiden win at Santa Anita on January 30. His time of 1:36.94 is pretty decent and any improvement on that performance could make him competitive in the Risen Star.
Under the points system implemented by Churchill Downs to determine which horses will qualify to enter the Kentucky Derby starting gate, the winner of the Risen Star Stakes (G2) will receive 50 points, the second-place finisher will receive 20 points, the third-place finisher will receive 10 points and the fourth-place finisher will receive five points. Here’s a look at the current top 20 Derby qualifiers:
2014 KENTUCKY DERBY LEADERBOARD
Individual Leaders ranking, total points, Trainer, Non-Restricted Stakes Earnings
1. Tapiture, 22, Steve Asmussen, $300,738
2. Havana, 14, Todd Pletcher, $660,000
3. Cairo Prince, 14, Kiaran McGlaughlin, $470,000
4. Honor Code, 14, Shug McGaughey, $340,000
5. Tamarando, 12, Jerry Hollendorfer, $490,000
6. Midnight Hawk, 12, Bob Baffert, $84,000
7. Bond Holder, 11, Doug O’Neill, $333,000
8. Rise Up, 10, Tom Amoss, $782,633
9. We Miss Artie, 10, Todd Pletcher, $242,000
10. Candy Boy, 10, John Sadler, $260,000
11. Samraat, 10, Rick Violette, Jr., $150,000
12. Noble Moon, 10, Leah Gyarmati, $145,000
13. Ami’s Holiday, 10, Josie Carrroll, $136,145
14. Vicar’s in Trouble, 10, Mike Maker, $120,000
15. Cleburne, 10, Dale Romans, $102,044
16. Tanzanite Cat, 10, Code Autrey, $90,000
17. Strong Mandate, 6, D. Wayne Lukas, $442,500
18. Casigaupo, 5, Mario Morales, $271,050
19. Classic Giacnroll, 5, Lisa Guerrero, $62,500
20. Ride On Curlin, 5, Billy Gowan, $94,387