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Road to Derby Goes Through Big Easy Saturday

Risen Star Fair Grounds
A field of 10 line up in the Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds on Saturday. (Photo credit: © Danny Raustadt | Dreamstime.com).

The stakes get higher on Saturday with a field of 10 lining up in the $400,000 Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds.

The Risen Star is the first Road to the Kentucky Derby points race to offer up 50-20-10-5 points to the top four finishers. That means the winner is virtually assured of a starting spot in the gate for the Kentucky Derby (G1) on May 7.

The race also serves as a steppingstone to the marquee race of the Fair Grounds meet, the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) on March 26. Last year’s Risen Star winner was Mandaloun, who ran second in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and could end up being placed first if Medina Spirit is disqualified.

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The Ken McPeek trained Smile Happy is the 7-2 morning line favorite for the Risen Star. The colt picked up 10 points by winning the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) in his last outing on Nov. 27 at Churchill Downs. The colt closed at 8-1 in Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager last weekend and makes his three-year-old debut on Saturday.

“I think this is a good first step for Smile Happy,” said McPeek. “He’s doing super. He’s done everything right. He’s a very low maintenance horse who makes our job easy. He eats good. He loves to train. We’re trying to keep him and Rattle N Roll separated, with Rattle N Roll pointing for the Fountain of Youth.”

It is a competitive field with three exiting the Lecomte (G3) which was held on Jan. 22 over the Fair Grounds main track. While the winner Call Me Midnight is waiting for the Louisiana Derby (G2), the next three fnisihers, Epicenter, Pappacap and Trafalgar meet up again.

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The Risen Star is the last of 13 races on an outstanding betting card. The co-feature is the $300,000 Rachel Alexandra (G2) which is a Road to the Kentucky Oaks points race.

Here is a quick look at the Risen Star field in post position order:

1 Pappacap 4-1

This colt was the beaten favorite in the Lecomte. He stalked the early pace and finished gamely to finish third, beaten just ¾’s of a length for the top spot. The Mark Casse trainee showed plenty of ability as a two-year-old, running second in the American Pharoah (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). By the hot sire Gun Runner, this colt looks capable of moving forward off his last effort.

2 Russian Tank 50-1

It took six tries for this colt to break his maiden and he has not been a threat in his two starts versus winners over the main track here. His last was a sixth-place finish going 5 ½ furlongs. He is overmatched here.

3 Trafalgar 10-1

His stakes debut came in the Lecomte where he finished evenly in a fourth-place finish at 8-1. The colt broke his maiden in his second career start and beat first level optional claimers over the Fair Grounds main track in December. His trainer Al Stall adds blinkers which seems likely to help him be closer to the lead here. He needs to take a jump forward but looks as if he is going to offer some decent value if he goes off near his 10-1 morning line.

4 Tawny Port 12-1

This colt is trained by Brad Cox who has saddled the last two winners of the Risen Star, Mandaloun last year and one of the two divisions in 2020 with Mr. Monomoy. The colt is perfect in two career starts but they have both come at Turfway Park over a synthetic surface. His numbers are light and this will be his first start on conventional dirt, but he is in a dangerous barn.

5 Epicenter 4-1

The Steve Asmussen trainee was the pacesetter in the Lecomte and got nailed art the wire. He was coming off a smart looking win in the Gun Runner two back where he drew off to win by 6 ½ lengths. He needs to get more ground here as this race is at 1 1/8 miles, but he does have the pedigree.

6 Pioneer of Medina 10-1

This colt is sent out by trainer Todd Pletcher who has won this race three times, the most recent with El Padrino in 2012. The colt broke his maiden at Tampa Bay Downs in his third career start and beat first level optional claimers over the Fair Grounds main track in his last effort with a career top speed figure. The colt looks headed in the right direction.

7 Zandon 9-2

Chad Brown ships this colt over from Florida and both of his starts came in New York. He broke his maiden in his debut at Belmont Park going six furlongs last October. He stretched out to 1 1/8 miles in the Remsen (G2) last out and was beaten just a nose by Mo Donegal, who ran third in the Holy Bull (G3) in his last outing. The colt has been working quickly at Payson Park and showed last out he can handle this distance. He was nearly 10 lengths clear of the rest of the field in the Remsen in that runner up finish.

8 Smile Happy 7-2

The McPeek trainee returns off a three month break here after his sharp win in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs last November. Three he beat in that race have come back to win stakes—Classic Causeway won the Sam F. Davis (G3), White Abarrio who won the Holy Bull (G3) and Call Me Midnight, the Lecomte winner. By the sire Runhappy who was sprinter, the extra ground here is the main question mark.

9 Bodock 10-1

This is the second of the two Cox sends out as he seeks a win in this race for the third year in a row. The colt is perfect in two starts, both of his wins coming in sprints. He does have enough pedigree to handle more ground. He is by Street Boss out of a A.P. Indy mare and is a half brother to stakes winner hence who won at 1 1/8 miles. The barn is 32% winners moving runners from sprint to route.

10 Slow Down Andy 9-1

Doug O’Neill ships in this colt from the west coast. He capped off his juvenile campaign by winning the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) where he beat the Bob Baffert trained Messier. That runner came back to win the Robert B. Lewis (G3) at Santa Anita on Feb. 8 by 15 lengths and earned a 103 Beyer Speed Figure. His stablemate is his half-brother Team Merchants who is also a stakes winner. He has enough tactical speed to overcome the outside post.


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