Remembering the 2008 Risen Star: ‘Pyro comes back full of fire’

Profile Picture: James Scully

February 18th, 2016

Fair Grounds will host the lone points’ race in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series this weekend, Saturday’s $400,000 Risen Star (G2), and the 1 1/16-mile test serves as the 2016 launching pad for Airoforce.

Listed as the 5-2 morning line favorite in a 13-horse field, Airoforce will make his first appearance since a convincing victory in the November 28 Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs.

The Kentucky Jockey Club has proved to be a key race, with runner-up Mor Spirit and third-placer Mo Tom winning graded stakes next time out, and fourth-placer Gun Runner will make his first start back in the Risen Star and is listed as the 6-1 third choice on the morning line.

Back in 2008, another well-regarded colt, Pyro, made his sophomore debut in the Risen Star. And what a display he offered in the final furlongs.

A Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred, Pyro was trained by Steve Asmussen at the time (sold to Godolphin after his 3-year-old season) and showed fine class as a juvenile, recording a fast-closing second in his stakes bow, the Champagne (G1) at Belmont Park before concluding 2007 with a rallying runner-up finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Monmouth Park.

After being deluged by torrential rain, the Monmouth track was very sloppy early in the program and favored speed in the two-turn races, with Indian Blessing dominating the Juvenile Fillies (G1) on the front end and War Pass following suit in the Juvenile. Pyro was the only Juvenile runner making up ground in the latter stages, winding up a whopping 12 lengths clear of third as he tried mightily to catch the loose-on-the-lead winner.

By Pulpit and out of a mare by Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Wild Again, Pyro established himself as a leading Kentucky Derby contender entering his 3-year-old season. And bettors hammered him down as the 4-5 favorite among 11 rivals in the Risen Star.

Pyro took up his customary position at the tail of the field, rating behind glacial early splits in :24 2/5, :49 2/5 and 1:14 3/5, and he was still last and stuck behind a wall of horses turning for home. The New Orleans track is famous for its long stretch, but only the most optimistic observer would’ve give Pyro a chance at the head of the stretch.

And then the afterburners came on.

Pyro unleashed a visually phenomenal turn of foot, running diagonally for a bit as he altered course to the outside through horses for clear sailing. The dark bay surged to the front in the blink of an eye, drawing away to a two-length decision.

Tom Dooley’s call is one of stunned amazement:

“Pyro’s coming like a rocket at them, he was last a moment ago!”

Granted, the horses in front of him didn’t have much to offer as Pyro wasn’t facing the cream of the 3-year-old crop that afternoon, and his distance limitations became apparent when finishing up the track as the 5-1 third choice behind Big Brown in the Kentucky Derby.

But give Pyro credit for a spectacular late kick, a jaw-dropping type performance that is easily remembered. He registered a 129 BRIS Late Pace rating for the effort.

Pyro photo courtesy of Alexander Barkoff/Hodges Photography


3 Million Points Rolling P4 Bonus on Risen Star Day: The second stepping stone to the Twinspires Louisiana Derby takes place Saturday with the running of the $400K Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds.

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