The $400,000, Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford will be the 13th race on the 13th day of February with a field of 13 going to post. If you don’t have a a fear or superstition about the number 13, this is a fantastic race. Midnight Bourbon leads the field, off his win in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes last month, the local prep for the Risen Star. Proxy finished one length behind in second behind the wire-to-wire winner, with Mandaloun another head back in third. Both will attempt to turn the tables on Midnight Bourbon in the Risen Star.
Similarly, Santa Cruiser will try to improve off his troubled fourth place effort in the race. Senor Buscador won the Springboard Mile Stakes impressively by 5 3/4 lengths in December at Remington Park and will attempt to win his second stakes in a row. The other horse with positive stakes credentials is Keepmeinmind, who last raced in November when winning the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. There are a number of recent maiden or allowance winners stepping into stakes company and hoping to make their mark on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. That group consists of Carillo, Defeater, O Besos, Rightandjust, Sermononthemount and Starrininmydreams. Beep Beep rounds out the field, coming into the race off a fourth-place effort behind Rightandjust in an allowance race at Fair Grounds.
I’m going to pick Santa Cruiser for the upset in the Risen Star, even after finishing fourth and nearly 10 lengths behind the top three finishers in the Lecomte Stakes last month. I feel if not for significant trouble at the start of that race, Santa Cruiser would have at least finished second. Additionally, he had been off for two months prior to the Lecomte, so he can improve second off the layoff. Last summer, Santa Cruiser debuted at six furlongs and finished third, then stretched out to seven furlongs and improved to finish second. When stretched out again to a mile in November, Santa Cruiser won while leading from the start. It was not an easy win, as he was headed after six furlongs and had horses come to him on both sides in the stretch. When challenged, he dug and drew off. That effort earned a strong 95 Equibase Speed Figure, the best maiden winning figure in the field.
Rested to return as a 3-year-old off that win, Santa Cruiser was decently regarded by bettors at 7.30-1 in the Lecomte Stakes, but got bumped and shut off at the start, losing more than a few lengths. Not asked for any speed in the first half-mile, Santa Cruiser showed a decent amount of ability and instinct, passing all but the top three finishers. He gets a jockey change to Adam Beschizza, who is fighting for the Fair Grounds riding title. With a clean start and better early position as compared to the Lecomte, Santa Cruiser can be in the thick of the action from the start and post the upset win in this year’s Risen Star.
Midnight Bourbon has done little wrong in five career starts to date, finishing second in the Iroquois Stakes Presented by Ford in only the second start of his career last summer, then winning the Lecomte Stakes last month. The 99 Equibase Speed Figure is the second best earned by any horse in the Risen Star field to date. It is likely to be improved upon as Midnight Bourbon is making his second start after three months off. Although he won the Lecomte leading from start to finish, Midnight Bourbon has shown the ability to pass horses such as in the Iroquois when fifth in the early stages and then first with an eighth of a mile to go before settling for second. Being a half-brother to 2017 Louisiana Derby winner Girvin, there’s little doubt this colt can run as well or better at the 1 1/8-mile trip of the Risen Star as he did in the shorter Lecomte Stakes, and as such Midnight Bourbon could be a formidable opponent once more.
Senor Buscador stretched out off a visually impressive seventh to first win at 5 1/2 furlongs in his November debut to win the Springboard Mile Stakes just as impressively in his second career start the next month. In that race, Senor Buscador was last, more than ten lengths back in the first half-mile. He then went from eighth to first on the turn while circling the field wide, eventually drawing off to a 5 3/4-length win. His 107 figure is by far the best earned by any horse in the Risen Star field. Considering that this race will be only the third start of his career, Senor Buscador has every right to improve off the effort. His pedigree also suggests the 1 1/8-mile trip will be within his reach, as he is a half-brother to 2018 Sunland Park Derby winner Runaway Ghost. Additionally, a STATS Race Lens query shows how well trainer Todd Fincher does keeping his horses in top form, having won eight of 27 (30%) dirt route races over the past few years when his horse won their previous start.
A number of other horses have a chance to finish second or third, including the Lecomte second and third place finishers, Proxy (97 figure) and Mandaloun (97 figure), respectively. In the Lecomte, not only were they no match for Midnight Bourbon, I felt both ran pretty evenly in the last eighth of a mile. I don’t expect they'll show enough improvement to turn the tables. Keepmeinmind earned a career-best 98 figure when third in the Grade 1 TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, and if he weren’t coming back from 2 1/2 months off he would be a win contender.
The rest of the field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures, is Carillo (86), Defeater (84), O Besos (94), Rightandjust (90), Sermononthemount (72), Starrininmydreams (88) and Beep Beep (91).
Win Contenders, in probablity order: