The Grade 2, $400,000 Risen Star Stakes will likely see a big field of 14 break from the gate, with 14 entered plus one also-eligible. Many eyes will be on Grade 3 LeComte Stakes winner War of Will, who breaks from the extreme outside. Although he romped by four lengths in a field of 12 over the track last month it may be a more difficult task from that disadvantageous post position. Five horses which finished behind War of Will in the LeComte will be trying to improve their fortunes from one month ago – Hog Creek Hustle (second), Manny Wah (third), Plus Que Parfait (fifth), Chase the Ghost (sixth) and Roiland (seventh).
Trainer Bob Baffert, who it seems has a starter in every Road to the Derby prep race, saddles Kingly, who finished second in a very fast race two weeks ago won by highly regarded prospect Extra Hope. Henley's Joy is one of just three previous stakes winners, having won the Pulpit Stakes in December and the Kentucky Downs Juvenile last summer. However, those wins came on the grass and he is trying dirt for the very first time in his seventh career start. Limonite may fit here as he finished third in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in November, in which Plus Que Parfait finished second.
Of the five horses stepping into stakes company for the first time, three look quite interesting. One of those is the aforementioned Kingly and another is Owendale, who just won a two-turn race on the Fair Grounds main track last month. Another is likely longshot Country House, who is trained by Bill Mott and who just broke his maiden. We will recall Mott entered Hofburg for a second place finish in the Florida Derby last year off a maiden win. The rest of the field for the Risen Star is comprised of Dunph, Frolic More, Gun It and Mr. Money.
Owendale has a lot of characteristics to help him succeed in this year's Risen Star Stakes. He has the most experience in two-turn dirt races, having run in four of them while winning two and missing by a neck in another. Owendale has a pattern of improving Equibase Speed Figures, having earned a 93 figure in his comeback from two months off on December 22, before improving to a 95 effort in his easy win last month. Owendale also has shown maturity and tactical speed, rallying from eighth in one of his wins and from third in another. With Kingly, War of Will and others drawn outside needing to be on or near the lead from the start to save ground, Owendale can tuck into a great stalking trip. With logical improvement in his third start off the layoff, he could post the upset win in this race.
Hog Creek Hustle stretched out to two-turns for the first time as a three year old last month in the LeComte, running the best race of his career to earn a 100 figure. Starting out eighth in the 12 horse field, Hog Creek Hustle continued to pass horses and although winner War of Will was well clear the entire length of the stretch, Hog Creek Hustle was himself clear of the third horse by two lengths at the finish. If he can repeat the effort, or better still, improve upon it, Hog Creek Hustle could add his name to the short list of contenders for the Louisiana Derby later at the Fair Grounds meeting.
Country House will likely go to post disregarded by some bettors as he only has a maiden win to his credit from three starts. However, the win came in his first two-turn race and it came after seven weeks off. In that race on January 17, Country House broke slowly but made an impressive move on the far turn to go from sixth, four lengths behind the leader, to a length in front with an eighth of a mile to go. The 92 figure would need improving to compete with more seasoned opponents in the Risen Star, but as a lightly raced three year old that type of improvement is not out of the question. Jockey Luis Saez, who rode Country House to victory last month, follows the colt from Florida and trainer Bill Mott is not one to rush horses into top races so this sign of confidence must be noted. Last year, Mott saddled Hofburg to a second place effort in the Florida Derby off a maiden win so this could be another case of a Hall of Fame trainer knowing his horse is good enough to compete in this race.
War of Will was very impressive winning the LeComte and earning a field high 107 figure while drawing off to an easy four length win. He drew the seven post in that 12 horse field but the 14 post in this 14 horse field may be another matter. According to STATS Race Lens, 26 horses have broken from posts 11 through 14 at this distance in the last five years at Fair Grounds, and their 2-3-2 record shows it takes a special horse to overcome the outside draw. War of Will could be that kind of horse, but is likely to go to post as the favorite and may not offer good value for the risk given that question.
Kingly also gets a potentially disadvantageous post, 13, but similar to Mott shipping in Country House, trainer Bob Baffert shipping in this colt off a maiden win at six furlongs and a runner-up effort at a mile shows a good deal of confidence. He's a son of Tapit, so there's little doubt about his ability to succeed on the Derby trail. Similarly, the 99 and 100 figures earned in his two starts to date suggest if he can overcome the outside post obstacle, Kingly is another horse who could be a contender in this year's Risen Star.
The rest of the field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures, is Chase the Ghost (96), Dunph (101), Frolic More (93), Gun It (92), Henley's Joy (96), Limonite (89), Manny Wah (97), Mr. Money (92), Plus Que Parfait (96) and Roiland (91).
Hog Creek Hustle
War of Will
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