Three-year-olds looking to take the next step on the road to the Kentucky Derby get a chance to earn valuable qualifying points towards that race on Saturday at Fair Grounds. The Grade 2, $400,000 Risen Star is the first prep of the season offering 50 points to the winner, enough to virtually guarantee a spot in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May.
The Risen Star features a rematch of the top two finishers in last month’s Lecomte. Instilled Regard and Principe Guilherme will face off once again after the Jerry Hollendorfer trainee got the better of the lightly-raced Lecomte favorite that day. However, there are a number of new challengers for them to deal with this time around, as a handful of horses ship in from Oaklawn and Gulfstream Park.
The Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace, but I think we need to examine what this data is telling us before taking the entire projection at face value. Instilled Regard (#5) is shown as being on the lead because he possesses the fastest Early Pace Rating in the race. However, even though Instilled Regard is fast enough to be in front, it’s unlikely that he will actually be leading in the early stages, as his running style, listed as “Tracker,” indicates. Rather, horses like Snapper Sinclair (#4), who pressed the pace in the Lecomte; Supreme Aura (#6), who stretches out of sprints; and Principe Guilherme (#9), should vie for the front through the opening furlongs. Even Noble Indy (#2), a “Speed” type running style, should be up close to the pace, if not on the early lead. Therefore, while we may indeed see a fast early pace, the horses may sort themselves out in an order that doesn’t exactly match the Pace Projector.
Let’s go through the entire field:
#1, HIGH NORTH (15-1): This colt had significant trouble right after the start of the Kentucky Jockey Club, as he took the worst of the incident that involved Diamond King clipping heels and losing his rider. High North was floated wide by the riderless horse and found himself at the back of the pack. Considering that he had been placed relatively close to the pace in his prior starts, he did well to make up as much ground as he did from that early position. The problem I have with him is that he just may be too slow to compete against this group. The Kentucky Jockey Club was not a fast race and most horses have not improved their speed figures significantly out of it. I liked his efforts against maiden company in New York and think that he could still have a future, but this assignment may be too great of an ask at this early stage in his development.
#2, NOBLE INDY (5-1): The lightly raced Todd Pletcher colt has done nothing wrong through two career starts. He walloped an overmatched group of maidens in his debut and then handled a stout rival in Mississippi with greater ease than the three-quarter-length winning margin would suggest. He clearly possesses some talent, but now he will need to produce the best effort of his career while stepping into much deeper waters.
He’s benefitted from contesting slow paces (indicated by blue color-coded pace figures in TimeformUS PPs) in both of his career starts. This time, he will either need to run much faster in the early going to attain that forward position, or he will have to rate in behind horses for the first time. Neither scenario is ideal. Pletcher certainly knows how to get these lightly raced horses to run career-best efforts in Derby preps, but I would need better than this colt’s 5-1 morning line to bet him in this spot.
#3, GIVEMEAMINIT (15-1): This Louisiana-bred colt has been a bit of an enigma for his connections. He showed a great deal of promise in his first couple of starts at Saratoga, finishing a fast-closing second in his debut before just barely losing the Grade 1 Hopeful as a maiden in his second career start. However, things have not gone smoothly since those auspicious beginnings. He’s finished off the board in all three starts around two turns, which would naturally lead us to believe that he’s a better sprinter. I’m not so sure that this is definitely the case. After all, he did finish fourth out of 12 runners in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, albeit far behind the top three.
Dallas Stewart took him down to Fair Grounds and has given him a pair of confidence-boosters. He ran an improved speed figure in a minor stakes two back, but appeared to wait on the winner in the late stages. Stewart went ahead and added blinkers last time and that seemed to do the trick, as he drew off willingly from a group of overmatched rivals. Now he steps back into a tougher spot, and needs to run a much better race than he previously has been able to produce around two turns. Is it possible that he’s learned his lessons well enough to run an improved race? I actually think that’s a valid point of view. While he’s not a likely winner by any stretch, he’s one that I could see outrunning his odds. I’ll be using him in exotics.
#4, SNAPPER SINCLAIR (8-1): This runner was a wildcard in the Lecomte after having made just one prior start on dirt. He clearly handled the surface that day, just barely losing second to his more highly-regarded stablemate Principe Guilherme. The problem is that he was the kind of horse that you would have wanted to have at a huge price last time. I’m less interested in him at anything around his morning line price of 8-1. After all, there’s nothing to suggest he can turn the tables on Instilled Regard, and I believe Principe Guilherme – not this colt – is the one that is likely to take a step forward out of the Lecomte.
#5, INSTILLED REGARD (8-5): What is there to say that was not plainly evident in his Lecomte score? He’s simply operating at a more advanced level than most of his rivals at this stage in their development. The TimeformUS Speed Figures that he’s earned for his two races against stakes company are the fastest numbers recorded by any of the horses in this race. As the Pace Projector indicates, he possesses plenty of early speed, but he’s shown himself capable of adapting his running style to a variety of pace dynamics. The others will need to improve if they hope to beat him.
One obstacle that Instilled Regard faces as he attempts to pair up wins is a massive shift in the weights, relative to his main rival. Whereas Instilled Regard was getting four points from Principe Guilherme in the Lecomte, this time he’s giving away four points to that rival. That’s an eight-pound shift in the weights, which accounts for the fact that the weight-adjusted TimeformUS Speed Figure for his Lecomte win (116) is the same number that Principe Guilherme, beaten nearly four lengths, earned for his runner-up finish in that race.
#6, SUPREME AURA (8-1): He’s unbeaten and really untested through two career starts at six furlongs. He beat maidens in a fast time at Delaware back in August, and then was not seen again for five months until he resurfaced at Fair Grounds last time. The main question that he has to answer is one of stamina, since we already know he’s capable of running fast races at sprint distances. Trainer Michael Stidham does not have the strongest record with horses stretching out in distance. According to DRF Formulator, over the past five years, he is just 7 for 49 (14 percent, $1.16 ROI) with horses stretching out and trying a dirt route for the first time. There are some stamina influences in his pedigree to go along with the speed that he gets from Candy Ride and Mr. Greeley. This colt clearly possesses talent, but he’s not the kind of horse that I want to bet in a race that came up so tough.
#7, BRAVAZO (8-1): If we’re to believe his most recent speed figure, he has improved significantly in the months since last fall’s Kentucky Jockey Club. He did very little running that day and his prior efforts, while more successful, were still relatively slow. He and runner-up Ezmosh drew well clear of their rivals when battling to the wire at Oaklawn last time. The speed figures make sense for the other members of this race, so it’s certainly possible that it’s a number that may stand the test of time. My issue with Bravazo is that Ezmosh is the one that ran the stronger race last time. He set a solid early pace and broke the race open around the far turn before just getting run down in the late stages. He’s obviously not running here, but it begs the question: Do I want to bet a horse that was probably second-best against allowance company as he steps up to face some of the top prospects on the Derby trail?
#8, KENTUCKY CLUB (30-1): This horse took advantage of a fast pace against a weak maiden claiming field last time. He’s in over his head.
#9, PRINCIPE GUILHERME (7-2): The expensive son of Tapit had plenty to overcome in his stakes debut in last month’s Lecomte. After wiring fields in his first couple of starts, he found himself breaking from an outside post position in a late field and rating off the pace for the first time in his career. Considering the obstacles, he actually acquitted himself well. There was a moment midway through the race when it appeared that he was losing interest, as he dropped farther off the pace than Florent Geroux intended. However, he was back into the bit heading around the far turn and made a menacing move to challenge at the top of the stretch before flattening out in the late stages.
This time, now that his connections have discovered that he can rate off horses, I expect Florent Geroux to ride him a bit more aggressively. If this horse is going to beat Instilled Regard, he probably needs to use his speed to build an early advantage, just as he did in his first couple of races. I’m reasonably confident that he’s a more talented horse that just about everyone else in this race beyond the favorite. At anything around his morning line price of 7-2, I think he’s a great bet.
#10, EBBEN (30-1): He made a wide move to briefly threaten at the quarter pole of the Lecomte before flattening out late. That was easily the best effort of his career thus far, and it seems as if he’s heading in the right direction. He’s one that I could use underneath on deep trifecta tickets.
Instilled Regard (#5) is a deserving favorite, but I think his main rival Principe Guilherme (#9) can turn the tables on this occasion. They’re the two horses that I’ll focus on, but I do also want to use longshot Givemeaminit (#3) prominently in the exotics, since I think he’s going to offer significant value in this spot.
Exacta Box: 3,5,9
Trifecta: 5,9 with 5,9 with 1,2,3,4,7,10
Trifecta: 5,9 with 2,3,7 with 5,9