Future is Bright for Risen Star Victor Girvin

Girvin won the Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 25 in only his third career start to join the top ranks of Kentucky Derby contenders. (Hodges Photography / Amanda Hodges Weir)

Making the Grade, which will run through the 2017 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners or top performers of the big races, usually from the previous weekend, who could impact the Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey) and pedigree.

This week we take a closer look at Girvin, winner of the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 25 at Fair Grounds.


Dark Bay or Brown Colt

Sire (Father): Tale of Ekati

Dam (Mother): Catch the Moon, by Malibu Moon

Owner: Brad Grady

Breeder: Bob Austin and John Witte (Ky.)

Trainer: Joe Sharp

Kentucky Derby Points: 50 (Ranked No. 1)

Girvin entered the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes with only two races under his belt and no points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard, which determines the 20-horse field for the 2017 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands. He exited the race with 50 points to top the points standings and a spot in the Derby starting gate locked up with many fans scrambling to find out more about this lightly raced Tale of Ekati colt.

Ability: Talent is often evident very early with racehorses. When natural ability overcomes inexperience, typically it’s a very good sign that you’ve got something special. That was the case with Girvin’s debut in December 2016. He broke well out of the starting gate and planted himself on the outside flank of the pacesetter through a very fast opening quarter-mile. He held a slim lead entering the stretch but was passed by Excitations, who officially pushed a head in front but from the video replay it clearly was at least a neck with an eighth of a mile to run. Girvin dug in resolutely on the inside and regained the advantage while looking even more determined after the runner-up moved over and crowded him a bit on the rail. He showed speed, resiliency and a will to win in his debut and earned a very strong 99 Equibase Speed Figure.

Trainer Joe Sharp wanted to stretch him out for his next start and opted to try the turf to get him a longer race. Going a mile in the Keith Gee Memorial Overnight Stakes on Feb. 4 in his 3-year-old debut, Girvin dropped 3 ½ lengths off the pace and rallied willingly but came up three-quarters of a length short of the winner. The 97 Equibase Speed Figure essentially matched his debut and he learned how to rate off the pace while showing Sharp that extra distance would not be an issue.

Facing graded stakes company for the first time in the Risen Star, Girvin was asked by jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. to pick up the pace with about a half-mile left and responded with a powerful charge to take control in the stretch. He pulled away in the final sixteenth of a mile, which he clocked in a solid 6.38 seconds, to win by two lengths. He improved to a 102 Equibase Speed Figure, which he will need to improve to be a threat to win the Kentucky Derby. The good news is he did not take a huge jump that would set him up for regression and he appears to have room to improve. He showed a bit of immaturity switching leads in the stretch but got right back on track when asked by Hernandez.

Girvin has some catching up to do in a short period of time, but he’s got a ton of potential and I love how he’s responded to adversity in his races.

Running style: Girvin showed speed in his career debut, pressing the pace through a blistering opening quarter-mile in :21.87 and still battling to prevail. In his next two races, the dark bay or brown colt relaxed just off the pace and launched his bid on the final turn. Those tactics worked to perfection in the Risen Star and demonstrated his development as a racehorse paying dividends as he becomes willing to respond to his jockey’s commands in a high-pressure race environment. For the Kentucky Derby, I give an edge to horses with the ability to stay close that don’t need the lead and therefore don’t expend too much energy early dueling for position. Girvin fits the description.

Girvin and connections in the winner's circle. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Connections: Owner Brad Grady picked up his first-ever graded stakes victory in the Risen Star with Girvin. Another of Brady’s horses, Remington Springboard Mile Stakes winner Cool Arrow, finished 10th in the Risen Star.

Brady has raced horses alone and in partnership since 2011 with multiple stakes winner Aztec Brave his top earner to date.

Trainer Joe Sharp is a former assistant to Mike Maker who went out on his own in 2014 and has enjoyed immediate success. He earned his first stakes win in February 2015 with One King’s Man and his first graded stakes win later that year when Sandbar won the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint Handicap.

Sharp is married to retired jockey Rosie Napravnik, a two-time winner at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships and a winner of more than 1,800 career races.

The Risen Star Stakes was Sharp’s most important victory to date. He has not had a runner in the Kentucky Derby. Sapphire Kitten finished fourth for Sharp in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf in 2015.

Jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. won the 2004 Eclipse Award as outstanding apprentice jockey and has amassed more than 1,600 career victories through Feb. 27. He is the son of former rider Brian Hernandez Sr.; his younger brother Colby is a professional jockey.

A Louisiana native, Brian Hernandez Jr. also is the regular rider of top 2017 Derby hopeful McCraken, who won the Sam F. Davis Stakes on Feb. 11 but will miss a planned start in the Tampa Bay Derby due to a minor ankle injury.

Hernandez was the regular rider of Fort Larned, with whom he won the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2012. His first Kentucky Derby mount came in 2016 when he guided Louisiana Derby runner-up Tom’s Ready to an unplaced finish.

Pedigree: Girvin is from the third crop of two-time Grade 1 winner Tale of Ekati, who won the Wood Memorial Stakes in 2008 and finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby. Tale of Verve, from Tale of Ekati’s first crop, finished second in the 2015 Xpressbet.com Preakness Stakes. Tale of Ekati, by Tale of the Cat, has sired 10 stakes winners, including five graded or group stakes winners, from 92 winners through Feb. 27.

Out of the unraced Malibu Moon mare Catch the Moon, Girvin is a half-brother (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to 2015 Iroquois Stakes winner Cocked and Loaded, who finished fifth that year in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Girvin’s grandam (maternal grandmother), Catch My Fancy, was a multiple stakes winner sprinting and his third dam (maternal great grandmother), Walk Away Rene, never won a race longer than 7 ½ furlongs while competing primarily in sprints.

Grade 1 winner and sire Yes It’s True, Grade 1 winner Silver Max and Canadian champion Kiss a Native also are members of this family, which slants more toward speed than stamina.

So far, Girvin has shown talent and serious potential on the racetrack. He seems to be a smart racehorse with plenty of upside, and Sharp is a bright, young trainer with a terrific future. I’m concerned about Girvin’s pedigree for 1 ¼ miles, especially given he only has a three-race foundation to build upon. My fear is that might be too much, too soon, but I have to admit I’m really excited about Girvin’s long-term potential.

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