Kentucky Derby Prep Analysis: Steve Asmussen holds a strong hand in the Risen Star

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Fair Grounds | Race 11 | Post Time 5:00 pm CST | Go To FREE TimeformUS PPs
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The first five finishers in last month’s Lecomte will be back in the starting gate for Fair Grounds’s second major Kentucky Derby prep race, the Grade 2, $400,000 Risen Star. While the Lecomte drew a relatively strong field for an early-season prep race, there are some intriguing new players signed on for this event, including a few shipping in from out of town.

The morning-line favorite is last fall’s Grade 2 Remsen winner, Mo Town, who is making his sophomore debut. How will he stack up against the steadily improving Lecomte winner, Guest Suite? Or will both find themselves chasing the brilliant recent maiden winner Local Hero?

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The Pace Projector is predicting that the pace will be fast, just like in the Lecomte. This time, Local Hero (#3) is expected to lead the field early, with Untrapped (#2), Cool Arrow (#8), and Mo Town (#9) in closest attendance. Guest Suite (#6) should be attempting to rally from somewhere in midpack.

Let’s go through the entire field:

#1, GIRVIN (6-1): This son of Tale of Ekati showed enormous determination to win his debut, fighting back after being passed in midstretch to nip the runner-up at the wire. The top two finishers were some nine lengths ahead of the rest of the field, and the runner-up returned to win his maiden next time out. While Girvin ran well on grass in his second start, he did not display the acceleration one is accustomed to seeing from a turf runner in that grinding second-place finish. Now it’s back to dirt for this half-brother to stakes-winning dirt horse Cocked and Loaded. His speed figures – both TimeformUS and Beyer – suggest that he stacks up quite well against this field. While he obviously has talent, I still think this is a great ask for such an inexperienced colt. I’ll use him on backup tickets, but he’s not among my top selections.

#2, UNTRAPPED (10-1): Considering that he was making his stakes debut while attempting two turns for the first time after having never raced beyond 6 1/2 furlongs, Untrapped’s effort in the Lecomte was awfully encouraging. He advanced into a forward position in the early stages, stalking the fast pace (indicated by red color-coding in TimeformUS PPs). When the field began to bunch up approaching the stretch, he found himself looking for room behind the two tiring front-runners. He briefly lost momentum as he was forced to let eventual winner Guest Suite run past him before angling out for room. Once Ricardo Santana maneuvered him into the clear, he rallied well for second despite drifting late.

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Untrapped should have benefitted from that experience, and he once again draws a great post position in this large field. He’s versatile enough to be placed anywhere in the pack and even proved capable of racing behind horses while taking dirt last time. Some may be skeptical of Trappe Shot as a sire of a Derby candidate, but he is actually much more effective as a sire of routers than sprinters. According to DRF Formulator, Trappe Shot’s progeny have won a remarkable 22 percent of their dirt-route attempts (as opposed to 14 percent in dirt sprints). I think this colt is sitting on another big effort, and he figures to be a fair price.

#3, LOCAL HERO (4-1): The other Steve Asmussen trainee is certainly not lacking in the talent department. This colt had shown some promise while sprinting last fall, but he really put it all together when stretched out around two turns last time. Showing his customary early speed, he carved out fast fractions (color-coded in red) and simply never stopped. He opened up a sizable lead by the time the field turned into the stretch as those chasing his pace faded through the pack. The exacta and trifecta were rounded out by distant closers as Florent Geroux just eased him under the wire.

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The 116 TimeformUS Speed Figure and 89 Beyer Speed Figure are both the highest numbers in this field, and it’s conceivable that he could have run faster if his rider had asked for more. While he must be respected off that performance, this is a sizable leap in class. According to DRF Formulator, Asmussen is just 1 for 8 over the past five years when moving last-out maiden winners into graded stakes for 3-year-olds. However, five of those eight runners finished in the top three, including last year’s Belmont Stakes winner, Creator, who won his maiden in February of his 3-year-old campaign. This horse is a top contender.

#4, ARKLOW (15-1): He worked out a decent trip in the Lecomte, following Guest Suite’s winning move around the far turn. He had to alter course briefly when Untrapped swung out in midstretch, but he was still somewhat one-paced late while just failing to pass Takeoff for third. He’s progressing nicely for the always-dangerous Brad Cox barn, but I get the feeling that a minor award may be his ceiling once again.

#5, SHAREHOLDER VALUE (15-1): Closing from far back, he was able to get on even terms with Arklow in midstretch of the Lecomte before flattening out in the final furlong. Incidentally, regular rider Shaun Bridgmohan abandons him to ride Arklow this time. Shareholder Value has now had two major tests in graded stakes and has proven to be just a cut below the best runners in each of those fields. A rapid pace would help his cause, but I’d restrict his use to the bottom rungs of trifectas and superfectas.

#6, GUEST SUITE (6-1): Perhaps the result of the Lecomte would have been different had Untrapped gotten the same clear far-turn run that this gelding enjoyed. In any event, Guest Suite continued his steady improvement, winning for the third time in four starts since being stretched out in distance in his second start. All reports indicate that he’s been working well for this race, so it would not be any surprise if another step forward is forthcoming.

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That said, Guest Suite will need to run considerably faster if he’s going to beat rivals like Local Hero and Mo Town. The projected fast pace should help, but how short of a price do you want to take on a runner who’s only about the fourth-fastest horse in the race? His morning-line odds of 6-1 seem about right, but I have a feeling that he’s going to drift lower than that, just as he did when sent off as the favorite in the Lecomte. 

#7, U S OFFICER (20-1): He’s never faced a field of this quality and was no match for Cool Arrow in the Springboard Mile to close out his 2-year-old campaign. 

#8, COOL ARROW (15-1): It’s hard to fault a runner who’s only been out of the exacta once in six career starts and comes into this race having won three out of his last four. That said, this colt will be facing a much more difficult task today. His dominant win in the Springboard Mile was largely attributable to the crawling early pace (indicated by the blue color-coded fractions in TimeformUS PPs) that he was allowed to set. Given the likelihood of a fast pace in this spot, I prefer others.

#9, MO TOWN (7-2): At first glance, he looks awfully formidable. He was impressive when winning his maiden by seven lengths at Belmont, and he legitimized that effort with a dominant win in the Grade 2 Remsen, earning a 114 TimeformUS Speed Figure, second only to the last-out figure earned by Local Hero.

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However, since the Remsen, horse after horse out of that race has underperformed. Runner-up No Dozing was nowhere to be found in the Sam F. Davis Stakes two weekends ago, while third- and fourth-place finishers Takaful and Win With Pride were trounced by El Areeb in Aqueduct’s Jerome Stakes. Even the lone horse who came back to win out of that race, You’re to Blame, earned a speed figure that was considerably lower. Considering that Mo Town worked out a great trip to win the Remsen and that the field he faced may not have been as strong as it seemed at the time, there’s reason to have doubts given what figures to be a short price. While I can’t justify throwing him out completely, I do want to key on others. 

#10, TAKEOFF (10-1): Horses making outside moves appeared to do well in the Lecomte, so there’s something to be said for Takeoff hanging on for third while battling back inside in the stretch. He was racing closest to those brisk early fractions and made the first move after the leaders before Guest Suite swept by him in the stretch. Unfortunately for him, he loses rider Florent Geroux to Local Hero. However, his replacement, Julien Leparoux, is certainly familiar with him, having piloted him in his first two starts. I wonder how far Takeoff will ultimately want to go given that his dam’s pedigree is geared more toward sprinting. On the other hand, I do believe he ran one of the better races in the Lecomte, and he feels like one of the few runners who may be an overlay as the new faces grab all the attention. 

#11, SORRY ERIK (30-1): Claimed for just $20,000 two starts ago, he won a weak allowance race at Santa Anita last time out and appears to be in over his head here.

#12, HORSE FLY (30-1): This Oaklawn maiden winner was no match for Hence two back, and that one returned Monday to finish seventh, beaten 13 lengths, in the Southwest Stakes. His trainer likes to take a shot in these races, but this one has a bit of improving to do if he’s even going to crack the superfecta. 

#13, IT’S YOUR NICKEL (30-1): He too makes his stakes debut after getting elevated to the win via disqualification against allowance company last time. He actually ran fairly well last time after stalking the pace in a race otherwise dominated by closers. But he just appears to be a bit too slow against this field. 

#14, SO CONFLATED (10-1): He kept solid company in his first two starts on the Southern California circuit. The fields he faced have produced a number of runners who have been competitive in stakes, including Kentucky Derby prospect American Anthem. While he was racing on the synthetic surface at Golden Gate Fields last time, he nevertheless handled the two turns without issue and displayed an eye-catching turn of foot in the lane after getting stymied in traffic around the far turn. There are certainly some things to like, but he has drawn the outside post in this full field and seems likely to get a wide trip. 

THE PLAY

Mo Town and Guest Suite appear to be favorites worth taking shots against. Steve Asmussen holds a very strong hand with Untrapped (#2) and Local Hero (#3). The former is likely to go off at the better price and seems destined to work out an advantageous trip from his inside post position, so he is my top pick. I’ll also feature the Lecomte third-place finisher Takeoff (#10) prominently in my exactas and trifectas since he too figures to offer decent value.

Win: 2

Exacta Box: 2,3,10

Exacta Key Box: 2 with 1,4,6,9,14

Trifecta: 2 with 3,6,9,10 with 1,3,4,6,9,10,14

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