Five things to know for 2018 Risen Star
If the New Orleans road to the Kentucky Derby (G1) looked to be stronger than the historical norm for its first Derby points race, the January 13 Lecomte (G3), then the next Fair Grounds scoring race, Saturday’s $400,000 Risen Star (G2), has upped the ante.
As the first contest on the calendar to offer 50 Derby points to the winner, the Risen Star ushers in the “Kentucky Derby Championship Series,” and it has attracted a field commensurate with that status. Only time will tell if any of the 2018 entrants can match the exploits of 2016 hero Gun Runner, who went on to become last season’s Horse of the Year, or such other illustrious winners as champion Lawyer Ron (2006) and Mucho Macho Man (2011), but there’s plenty of raw talent in the line-up.
Here are my five things to know for the Risen Star:
1. Lecomte winner Instilled Regard now has to consolidate his position while facing new challengers. The Jerry Hollendorfer shipper brought top Southern California form into the Lecomte, having been beaten less than a length by Bob Baffert’s Solomini and McKinzie in a stretch battle. Instilled Regard benefited from that stakes debut trial-by-fire and took a step forward in the Lecomte, where he flaunted his advantage over stakes firster Principe Guilherme and the distance/surface question mark Snapper Sinclair. Now Principe Guilherme is eligible to be more street wise in the rematch, although he’s drawn wider than Instilled Regard once again. [Update: Principe Guilherme has been cross-entered to Monday's Southwest [G3] at Oaklawn Park. Blood-Horse's Alicia Wincze-Hughes reports that he's likely to run in the Risen Star though.] As persuasive as his Lecomte effort was, Instilled Regard likely has to continue his progress to add the Risen Star over the same 1 1/16-mile trip. The good news for Instilled Regard fans (and I am one) is that the $1.05 million OBS March juvenile purchase appears capable of much more, being by a late-developing influence in Arch and descended from champion Heavenly Prize.
2. Undefeated Noble Indy invades for the Todd Pletcher army. After exuding class in both of his starts at Gulfstream Park, the WinStar homebred (campaigned in partnership with Repole Stable) became yet another Pletcher sophomore to take his place on the Derby trail. By the A.P. Indy blueblood Take Charge Indy, Noble Indy showed high speed when airing in his seven-furlong debut on December 3. That flashy unveiling put him in the mix for stakes company straightaway. In light of his foibles at the gate, however, Pletcher opted for a two-turn allowance on January 11 instead. Noble Indy and Mark Casse’s well-regarded Mississippi turned it into a virtual match race, and Noble Indy ultimately imposed his will after an outside prompting trip. While the form would have looked better if Mississippi hadn’t come back to lose another allowance by a neck as the 4-5 favorite, it’s not entirely fair to downgrade Noble Indy as a result. He can’t afford any flubs at the gate here, but with a clean start from post 2, his tactical speed should ensure a good early position for Hall of Famer John Velazquez.
3. Givemeaminit and Bravazo, Grade 1-placed at two before going off the boil, have regained momentum versus lesser. Louisiana-bred Givemeaminit created a positive impression at Saratoga last summer, closing smartly for second to Sporting Chance in a maiden and missing by a neck to the same rival (and a head to Free Drop Billy) when third in the Hopeful (G1). But the Dallas Stewart pupil didn't progress as his pedigree indicated once he stretched out. Well beaten in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1), a long-way fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), and troubled but still disappointing in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2), Givemeaminit even got upset versus state-breds in the Louisiana Futurity. But dropping into a Louisiana-bred maiden – and adding blinkers – helped Givemeaminit get the confidence-boosting romp he needed. Now he goes back up in class, and in trip, in a bid to get back into the Derby game.
Bravazo, a Calumet homebred trained by Hall of Famer (and Stewart mentor) D. Wayne Lukas, outran his insulting 47-1 odds with a clear second in the Breeders’ Futurity. But the Awesome Again colt didn’t back that up in his two ensuing starts at Churchill Downs. If his third in the Street Sense could be excused after he was spent through a fast early pace, his lackluster 10th in the Kentucky Jockey Club was less explicable. Regrouping at Oaklawn Park and picking up Hall of Famer Gary Stevens, Bravazo overcame a squeeze play at the start of a January 13 allowance and prevailed over a gritty Ezmosh (who's in the Southwest).
4. High North brings a stealthily improving profile as a 15-1 dark horse. Representing high-percentage trainer Brad Cox, this May 9 foal held his own in salty company last season, and the more mature model is entitled to build on that foundation. High North was a debut fourth in the Travers Day maiden dominated by Hazit and eventual Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion Good Magic. Next seen at Belmont Park, High North was second to another good one in Godolphin’s Avery Island, now known as the Nashua (G3) and Withers (G3) winner.
After breaking through at Keeneland third time out, High North earned a stakes opportunity in the Kentucky Jockey Club. Unfortunately, his chances were scuppered early by a rival who ran loose after unseating the rider, and he found himself hopelessly far back thanks to the interference. Yet High North still somehow worked his way into fourth across the wire. Interestingly, jockey Corey Lanerie rides him back, not Givemeaminit. A nicely bred son of Midnight Lute and Grade 2 winner Spacy Tracy, High North is a half-brother to 2017 Eight Belles (G2) vixen Benner Island, from the further family of champion Eliza and Grade 1-winning sire Dialed In.
5. Unbeaten Supreme Aura is a wildcard in his first try past six furlongs and in a stakes. The Mike Stidham trainee is two-for-two in sprints but doesn’t give off the vibe of a pure speedball. By Gun Runner’s sire Candy Ride, and out of a Mr. Greeley mare from the family of Grade 2-winning routers Miss Isella and Sir Cherokee, Supreme Aura has both the pedigree and running style to handle 1 1/16 miles. While he had the speed to attend a swift pace in his Delaware debut last August, he was traveling comfortably before drawing clear. It was a similar case of easy restraint in his Fair Grounds allowance, where he rolled from just off the pace. Supreme Aura sits the acid test of class in this first routing attempt, but his 96 Brisnet Speed rating last out puts him right in the thick of it.
Instilled Regard photo courtesy of Amanda Hodges Weir/Hodges Photography