There is one “sure thing” on this year's Road to the Kentucky Derby: compelling drama will be abundant.
Over the next nine weekends, 3-year-old Thoroughbreds will continue their quest for points in select races to secure a berth in the starting gate for the 144th running of the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (Grade I) on Saturday, May 5 at Churchill Downs.
The Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve is action-packed this weekend with a quartet of races, led by Saturday's Risen Star (GII) at Fair Grounds which is the first “Championship Series” race that will award 50 points to the winner and 20 to the runner-up. The third and fourth-place finisher will earn 10 and 5 points, respectively.
The “Prep Season” races, which award 10-4-2-1 points to the Top 4, conclude with Saturday's El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate and Monday's Southwest (GIII) at Oaklawn Park.
Also, one spot in the Kentucky Derby could be reserved Sunday morning as the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby concludes at Tokyo Racecourse with the Hyacinth. – Darren Rogers
INSTILLED REGARD IS RISEN STAR FAVE – Oxo Equine LLC's California-based Instilled Regard will invade New Orleans on Saturday as the 8-5 morning line favorite in the $400,000 Risen Star to kick off the 16-race “Championship Series.”
The 1 1/16 mile Risen Star is the ninth race on Fair Grounds' 12-race program and has a scheduled post time of 6:03 p.m. (all times Eastern).
The 3-year-old colt by Arch is familiar with traveling to The Pelican State. He scored a comfortable 3 ¾-length triumph in the Jan. 13 Lecomte Stakes (GIII) for the Hall of Fame duo of trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and jockey Javier Castellano.
Purchased for a hefty $1,050,000, Instilled Regard began his journey on the Road to the Kentucky Derby in the Dec. 9 Los Alamitos Futurity (GI) when he crossed the wire in third behind Solomini and McKinzie but was placed second due to a disqualification of Solomini.
Chief among Instilled Regards' challengers are Lecomte second and third place finishers, Three Chimneys Farm's Principe Guilherme (7-2 morning line, jockey Florent Geroux) and Bloom Racing Stable's Snapper Sinclair (8-1, Adam Beschizza), respectively. The Steve Asmussen-trained duo will attempt to give the 52-year-old Hall of Fame conditioner a record-tying third victory in the Risen Star. Trainers Neil Howard (1992, '98, 2004) and Todd Pletcher (2010, '12, '14) are the only three-time winners of the race.
Pletcher hopes to add a fourth win in the Risen Star with WinStar Farm and Repole Stable's Gulfstream Park-invader Noble Indy. The 3-year-old colt by Take Charge Indy is unblemished in the first two starts of his career after an eye-catching maiden triumph by 8 ¾ lengths on Dec. 3 and a hard-fought allowance win on Jan. 11, his first start around two turns. – Kevin Kerstein
MOURINHO TOPS SOUTHWEST – Phoenix Thoroughbred III's Mourinho will attempt to continue his success at Oaklawn Park when Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert ships the son of Super Saver from his Southern California base to Hot Springs, Ark. for Monday's $500,000 Southwest Stakes (GIII).
Mourinho made his name known on the Road to the Kentucky Derby after a front-running 3 ¼-length victory in the Jan. 15 Smarty Jones Stakes (GIII) at Oaklawn Park under jockey Drayden Van Dyke. The pair will reunite Monday and break from post position 4.
A horse on several insider's Kentucky Derby lists is Robert Baker and William Mack's Sporting Chance. The son of Tiznow scored a narrow triumph in the Sept. 4 Hopeful Stakes (GI) at Saratoga but was subsequently sidelined after he had a bone chip removed from his knee. Trained by Hall of Fame conditioner D. Wayne Lukas, Sporting Chance drew post 2 and will be ridden by Luis Saez.
Post time for the race is 6:10 p.m. – Kevin Kerstein
CHOO CHOO IS EL CAMINO FAVE – Only two of the nine horses entered in Saturday's $100,000 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate are nominated for the Triple Crown: Calumet Farm's Choo Choo, winner of the California Derby last time out, and Holly and David Wilson's turf maiden winner Calexman.
Choo Choo, trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, is the 9-5 morning line favorite for the 1 1/8-mile race over the synthetic Tapeta surface. Calexman, conditioned byVladamir Cerin, is 20-1.
The field for the 6:45 p.m. race also includes the filly Paved, a 5 ½-length maiden winner over 1 1/8 miles on turf at Santa Anita for trainer Michael McCarthy. – Darren Rogers
RUGGERO BACK FOR HYACINTH – Triple Crown-nominated Ruggero (JPN) and Work and Love (JPN) are among the 16 horses that were entered for Sundaymorning's Hyacinth at Toyko Racecourse.
The one-mile race for 3-year-olds, which has a 12:25 EDT post time Sunday, concludes the three-race Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby and will award points to the Top 4 finishers on a 30-12-6-3 scale.
Takashi Muraki's Ruggero (JPN), trained by Yuichi Shikato, garnered 10 points for winning the one-mile Cattleya Sho by a half-length at Tokyo in November.
According to racing officials, the connections of three horses will consider paying the $6,000 late Triple Crown nomination fee should they win the Hyacinth. The horses are Dark Repulser (JPN), Meisho Isana (JPN) and Meisho Opus (JPN).
All of the aforementioned horses also are nominated to the $2 million UAE Derby (GII) at Meydan Racecourse on March 31.
Only one invitation to compete in the Kentucky Derby will be extended with preference given to the horses with the most points in the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby series. No invitation will be extended beyond the Top 4 point earners but if a horse also qualifies through America's 35-race “Road to the Kentucky Derby” series, the invite will be extended to the next eligible horse.
If two or more horses have the same number of points, the tiebreaker is lifetime earnings as of April 14. – Darren Rogers
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