There were so many entries, 23 to be exact, in this year's Grade 2, $400,000 Risen Star Stakes presented by Lamarque Ford that the Fair Grounds race had to be broken up into two divisions. The second division brings together a field of 12 all hoping to make their mark on the road to the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby next month, followed by the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve on the first Saturday in May. This field is led by Anneau d'Or, who finished second in both the Grade 1 TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity in his final two starts as a 2-year-old. With many in the race stepping into stakes competition for the first time, there are few others with notable efforts in top company but Finnick the Fierce is one of those, earning a runner-up effort in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last fall before a fourth-place finish in the local prep for this race, the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes run last month at Fair Grounds. Liam's Lucky Charm won the seven furlong Pasco Stakes in his most recent race but in his only route try prior to that was third, beaten 10 lengths. Among those trying stakes for the first time there are a number of impressive recent winners in maiden or allowance races. That group consists of Mailman Money, Major Fed, Modernist, Mr. Big News, and Ny Traffic. Excession, Fame to Famous, Lynn's Map, and Truculent round out the field.
On the heels of tabbing Sole Volante in last week's Kentucky Derby prep race, the Sam F. Davis Stakes, I am going with Modernist to post the upset in this year's Risen Star Stakes. Although Anneau d'Or has higher Equibase Speed Figures of 101 and 106, respectively, in his last two starts, there are a number of factors in favor of Modernist stepping up and winning. First, the son of Uncle Mo has improved nicely in both route starts since his sprint debut last September. Modernist finished third with a 91 speed figure in a one-turn mile in December, then in his 3-year-old debut on Jan. 25, he earned a new career-best 93 figure at the mile and one-eighth distance of the Risen Star, making him the only horse in the field to have run this distance. Trainer Bill Mott has proven to be an excellent judge of where to place his horses and knows when to make the big jump from the maiden ranks to stakes. Using the great research tool STATS Race Lens, I note Mott's record in dirt route stakes with horses who won their maiden races in their previous start is a strong 9-for-38 in the past few years. Included in that list is Tacitus in the 2019 Tampa Bay Derby. Another two horses Mott has felt strongly about when racing in stakes off maiden wins were Hofburg, who was the runner-up in the 2018 Florida Derby and possibly most importantly Country House, who finished second in last year's Risen Star before winning the Kentucky Derby. Getting the ground-saving rail for the Risen Star, Modernist should be in a great spot from start to finish under regular rider Junior Alvarado and hopefully can add to Mott's Hall of Fame career with another graded stakes win.
Anneau d'Or has done little wrong in three races and deserves to be the public betting choice near post time. He debuted last fall in a turf route and easily disposed of the field with an eight-length win. Stepping way up into the Breeders' Cup Juvenile a little over one month later, Anneau d'Or gave winner Storm the Court all he could handle when battling head and head for the entire length of the stretch before losing by a head and earning a very strong 106 speed figure. A little over one month later on Dec. 7 Anneau d'Or once again found himself in a stretch-long battle, this time with Thousand Words, coming up a neck short on the finish line to earn a 103 figure. Since then the colt has trained regularly at trainer Blaine Wright's base in Northern California. Adding blinkers for the Risen Star, Anneau d'Or gets the services of Joel Rosario for the first time which can only help his chances to run big in his 3-year-old debut and put his name on everyone's list of top 3-year-olds.
Mailman Money is one of two colts in this race trained by Bret Calhoun, the other Mr. Big News (who is not without a chance either). Mailman Money won his debut in late November at six furlongs very nicely in a field of 12, earning a 90 figure in the process. Stretched out to two turns against allowance company last month at Fair Grounds, Mailman Money ran even better, opening up a 4 ½ length lead at the top of the stretch and widening to cross the finish line 5 ¾ lengths in front. Not only does Mailman Money have familiarity with the track, but the 97 figure earned is the second-best two-turn last race figure in the field, and within range of the 101 figure Anneau d'Or earned in the Los Alamitos Futurity with logical improvement in the third start of his career.
Major Fed is another recent winner at Fair Grounds with a figure (96) which warrants including him on my contender list. He finished third in his sprint debut near the end of November but when stretched out to two turns on New Year's Day (adding blinkers as well), Major Fed proved to be a much better horse. With his dam also producing Zapperini, who was fifth in the 2016 Risen Star and who went on to earn more than $250,000, Major Fed rounds out a quartet with a shot to take the top honors in this field.
The rest of the field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures, is Excession (87), Fame to Famous (94), Finnick the Fierce (91), Liam's Lucky Charm (104), Lynn's Map (92), Mr. Big News (91), Ny Traffic (82) and Truculent (82).
Win contenders, in preference order: