Run at 1 1/16 miles, Saturday's Grade 2, $400,000 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, La., is the first North American 50-20-10-5 points race on the road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and it is the local prep for the Grade 2 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby, run five weeks later on March 24.
No Risen Star winner has ever won the run for the roses, but the 2016 victor Gun Runner did go on to finish third, and he eventually developed into the top older horse in training. Last year, the 1-2 finishers in the Risen Star (Girvin and Untrapped) ran in the Kentucky Derby. Neither proved to be a factor that day, but Girvin would later take down the Haskell Invitational Stakes while Untrapped would win the Oklahoma Derby.
In addition to Gun Runner, trainer Steve Asmussen also won the Risen Star in 2008 with Pyro. He has two horses entered in this year’s race – Principe Guilherme and Snapper Sinclair, who finished second and third respectively in the locally-run Lecomte Stakes on Jan. 13.
Other Lecomte alumni running back in the Risen Star are race winner Instilled Regard and sixth-place finisher Ebben.
Todd Pletcher will attempt to win the Risen Star for the fourth time when he ships the lightly-raced Noble Indy in from his Florida base.
Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, who has a pair of Lecomte wins on his résumé, has a pair of Risen Star horses on the program, but only Bravazo is expected to run, with Kentucky Club likely to stay in Arkansas to tackle an easier assignment.
Here are five questions that must be answered about the race.
1. Where does Lecomte Stakes winner Instilled Regard rank among the early Kentucky Derby contenders?
In the recently concluded second installment of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager held by Churchill Downs, Instilled Regard closed at 18-1, which was sixth lowest amongst individual horses, and he currently ranks seventh on my official top 10 list.
Purchased for slightly over $1 million at OBS March ’17 by OXO Equine, Instilled Regard is by Arch, and his dam (mother) Enhancing is a half-sister to top horses Good Reward and Pure Prize. His granddam (maternal grandmother) Heavenly Prize banked $1.8 million in her storied career.
Trained by California-based Jerry Hollendorfer, Instilled Regard put himself on the map in the Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity, finishing a close third before being placed second, sandwiched between top Bob Baffert Triple Crown prospects McKinzie and Solomini.
Prior to Lecomte day, Hollendorfer had only run one horse at Fair Grounds in the last five years, but at the suggestion of owner Larry Best, they targeted the Louisiana route for their prized colt, and round one went exceptionally well.
In a clear stalking position while three-wide, Instilled Regard took over off the turn for home, won comfortably, and galloped out like a horse who should have no problem with added distance.
“He’s such a great horse,” jockey Javier Castellano said after the Lecomte. “I really like the way he broke out of the gate. He’s very mature, the way he conducted himself before the race in the post parade, so nice, so kind. I just basically enjoyed the ride. It was his second start around two turns and he handled it very professionally.”
Joe’s answer: Instilled Regard isn’t flashy, but he checks all the boxes. Pedigree, connections, professionalism, and the potential to succeed over 10 furlongs. From what I’ve seen so far, he is the real deal and potentially much more.
2. Can Principe Guilherme turn the tables on Instilled Regard?
After Gun Runner left the Fair Grounds to compete in and eventually win the Pegasus World Cup Invitational, Principe Guilherme was awarded his stall. That’s how much Asmussen thinks of him.
By the all-world sire Tapit out of the Grade 1-winning mare Aubby K, Principe Guilherme was a dominating, gate-to-wire winner of his first two starts.
Drawn in post 10 of 13 for the Lecomte, he was hung out to dry while four-wide into the first turn and throughout the remainder of the race. He still ran on with authority, edging his stablemate Snapper Sinclair for second.
“The outside post was a hindrance (in the Lecomte),” Asmussen said. “Flo (jockey Florent Geroux) tried to get position into the first turn, but he wound up wide all the way. He still ran on very well, and the lessons he learned should benefit him in the long run.”
Joe’s answer: Mr. Steve wants to win every race, especially the big ones, but in talking to him, he realizes that the defeat may have been good for Principe Guilherme. His two wins were a walk in the park on the front end, and facing – and overcoming – adversity is an important step in the maturation process.
Instilled Regard enjoyed a much cleaner journey in the Lecomte, and with a fairer crack on Saturday, there’s no question Principe Guilherme can turn the tables.
3. Where does Noble Indy rank among Todd’s squad?
Perfect from two starts, Noble Indy gamely edged a nice horse in Mississippi in a two-turn Gulfstream Park allowance last out.
This time last year, Pletcher was moving his Triple Crown pieces around like a masterful chess player, and his dream spring culminated with the second Kentucky Derby win of his career with Always Dreaming, with Tapwrit’s Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets score providing icing on the cake.
Although his 37 Triple Crown nominees tops all trainers, the overall “TAP hand” doesn’t appear to be quite as strong this year. His New York-bred Audible, the recent winner of the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream, is number two on my top 10 list, but his other early prospect Montauk will miss the spring series of races with a throat issue.
Joe's answer: Noble Indy could go either way on Saturday. Pletcher admits that he’s still learning his way around the gate, and post No. 2 could be prove detrimental, plus this is a big step up from what he’s faced so far.
Impressive maiden winners Gleason and Magnum Moon are two to keep tabs on from Pletcher's barn. To me, Vino Rosso, who ran a decent third in last weekend’s Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, is just a horse.
4. Are there any upset candidates?
Joe’s answer: The Brad Cox-trained High North endured a nightmarish trip in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill in November, but he still ran on to be fourth in a field of 14. After getting off slowly and losing roughly two lengths at the start, he was bothered badly into the first turn. In tight thereafter, he made a solid bid on the rail while in hand. Tightened up on again, he still finished willingly. Race winner Enticed and runner-up Tiz Mischief proved to be no match for Audible and Free Drop Billy in the Holy Bull, so the jury is still out on the overall quality of the KJC.
Bravazo had an up and down 2-year-old campaign for D. Wayne Lukas, but his sophomore debut at Oaklawn Park was sensational. Pinched back at the start, he raced in the second flight of horses while in the clear, made a bold move on the turn, drew even with the pacesetting Ezmosh, and eventually won a narrow decision. The final time was two seconds faster than the other division of the race, and my sources out of Oaklawn report that he’s trained lights out since.
5. Who wins the Risen Star and why?
I think whomever gets the better trip between Instilled Regard and Principe Guilherme will win, and since the latter should be a better price, I’ll hang my hat there.
They look like a tough Risen Star duo to handle, but I do think High North (15-1) and Bravazo (8-1) will run big races.
Joe's Risen Star picks: 1. Principe Guilherme 2. Instilled Regard 3. High North 4. Bravazo