Using History to Handicap the 2020 Risen Star Stakes

The field for the 2014 Risen Star Stakes breaks from the gate, with eventual winner Intense Holiday (third from left, lime green jockey cap) off well. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve continues on Saturday with two exciting editions of the $400,000, Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford at Fair Grounds.

The 1 1/16-mile race attracted so many entries (23) that Fair Grounds elected to run the race in two divisions, each offering 50 Kentucky Derby qualification points to the winner. At first glance, both races appear super-competitive – how can handicappers possibly slice through the chaos and identify the most likely winners?

Well, history can help. Examine the last 10 editions of the Risen Star, and you’ll notice a few common threads tying the winners together. To aid your handicapping, we’ve dug through the data and compiled the most notable trends for your quick perusal:

Any Running Style Can Succeed

The Risen Star Stakes typically draws a large field, so under the right conditions, almost any running style can succeed. Discreetly Mine (2010) led all the way to win. Bravazo (2018) won by dueling for the early advantage. War of Will (2019) and Mucho Macho Man (2011) employed pace-tracking tactics, while International Star (2015) and Ive Struck a Nerve (2013) rallied from the back half of the pack.

Yes, horses with tactical speed generally have an edge in dirt racing. But large fields can offset this advantage, so don’t be afraid to support late runners in the Risen Star.



Position after first 1/2-mile

½-mile & ¾-mile times

(course condition)


War of Will

2nd by 2.5 lengths (14 starters)

47.36, 1:12.20 (fast)



2nd by a head (9 starters)

47.96, 1:12.85 (fast)



5th by 9.5 lengths (11 starters)

47.02, 1:11.98 (fast)


Gun Runner

4th by 4.5 lengths (11 starters)

46.38, 1:11.33 (fast)


International Star

6th by 6.5 lengths (9 starters)

47.08, 1:12.16 (fast)


Intense Holiday

7th by 6 lengths (14 starters)

48.14, 1:13.00 (fast)


Ive Struck a Nerve

11th by 7 lengths (12 starters)

48.34, 1:12.74 (fast)


El Padrino

3rd by 3 lengths (11 starters)

48.72, 1:13.15 (fast)


Mucho Macho Man

2nd by 1.5 lengths (10 starters)

49.24, 1:13.65 (fast)


Discreetly Mine

1st by 1 length (12 starters)

48.75, 1:13.44 (fast)

Look for Longshots

Over the last decade, just two favorites have landed in the Risen Star winner’s circle. El Padrino (4-5) battled his way to a narrow triumph in 2012, while War of Will cruised at even-money odds in 2019.

Along the way, we’ve seen some huge longshots win or hit the board in the Risen Star. Ive Struck a Nerve stunned handicappers with his 135.20-1 upset in 2013. Bravazo (21-1) and Snapper Sinclair (41.70-1) ran 1-2 in 2018. Roiland (69.30-1) finished third in 2019, Forevamo (40.60-1) gained the runner-up spot in 2016, Albano (13.60-1) was beaten a nose in 2014, and Northern Giant (53.80-1) cracked the trifecta in 2010.

The takeaway? Don’t be afraid to play longshots in the Risen Star. If you like a horse at huge odds, go ahead and include them in your trifecta. The payoff could be lucrative!

The Locals are Dangerous (but so are Florida Shippers)

Horses based at Fair Grounds have done well defending their home turf in the Risen Star, claiming four of the last ten editions of the race. Three of the local winners – War of Will, International Star, and Ive Struck a Nerve – exited the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds.

But horses shipping in from Florida have been just as competitive. Only 11 such runners have contested the Risen Star over the last decade, yet four of them landed in the winner’s circle and another four finished in the money.

Bet Horses with Previous Stakes Experience

The Risen Star hasn’t been kind to up-and-coming horses jumping up in class. Each of the last 10 Risen Star winners had previously contested a stakes race, and nine of them had previously contested a graded stakes race. Feel free to toss maiden and allowance winners from win consideration if they’re taking a big step up the class ladder.

Gun Runner in 2016. (Eclipse Sportswire)

A Strong Recent Race is Encouraging

If you’re going to challenge for victory in the Risen Star, it helps if you’re entering with a strong recent race under your belt. Nine of the last ten Risen Star winners prepped with a race in January or February, and all nine finished on the board in their prep run. The lone horse to defy this trend was future 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner, who won the 2016 Risen Star off a three-month layoff.


History suggests the first division of the Risen Star will be fairly straightforward. #8 Enforceable, #2 Silver State, and #9 Mr. Monomoy – who finished 1-2-3 in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes last month – perfectly match the profile of a typical Risen Star winner. Any one of them could be considered a viable candidate for victory. In contrast, popular allowance winner #7 Blackberry Wine could potentially be vulnerable while making his stakes debut.

The second division of the Risen Star is a bit tougher to analyze. #8 Anneau d’Or is the most accomplished runner in the field by virtue of his close runner-up efforts in the Grade 1 TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity. But he’s never run outside of California, and shippers from the Golden State have gone 0-for-5 in the last ten editions of the Risen Star.

With this in mind, perhaps #10 Finnick the Fierce (fourth in the Lecomte) or #5 Liam’s Lucky Charm (impressive winner of the Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in Florida) are worth considering. The former is a deep closer and the latter is a speedy sprinter, so from a running style perspective they cover both ends of the spectrum.

Good luck with your handicapping, and enjoy the races!

newsletter sign-up

Stay up-to-date with the best from America's Best Racing!