Kentucky Derby

Risen Star Stakes Preview: Mo Town Makes 3-Year-Old Debut

Susie Raisher/NYRA

The Grade 2 $400,000 Risen Star Stakes features a clash between a formidable Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots-based home team and a pair of potent stakes-winning invaders from each side of the country in its 2017 edition. Led by Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes winner Guest Suite, the New Orleans squad features the top-five finishers from said Jan. 21 prep who will take on Mo Town, a New York Grade 2 winner based in Florida this winter, and highly regarded California Derby winner So Conflated, from the barn of top conditioner Doug O’Neill. The Risen Star is contested over 1 1/16 miles and will go as the 11th of 12 races on a card that features six stakes, four of which are graded.

William S. Farish and Lora Jean Kilroy’s homebred Guest Suite has improved in each of his five starts, including three victories and a professional tally in the mud last out in the mile and 70-yard Lecomte. Twice a winner around two turns, the Neil Howard trainee was last beaten when third to divisional leader McCraken three back in the $83,000 Street Sense Stakes around one turn. Looking to become the third winner of the Risen Star for his veteran conditioner after Comic Strip (1998) and Gradepoint (2004), the gelded son of Quality Road will start from post six in the full field of 14 under Robby Albarado.

Mo Town, owned by Team D and the powerful international Coolmore team of Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, has proven a serious talent in a trio of tries. After a seven-length Belmont Park romp to graduate at second asking, he jumped up in class considerably to prove a clear victor in the Grade II Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct at 1 1/8 miles in late November. The Risen Star will be his first race of 2017 and comes on the heels of three consecutive bullet drills at Payson Park. John Velazquez flies in from Florida for the mount for the perpetually high-percentage Tony Dutrow barn that has 25 victories at this level or above since the turn of the century.

Top Choice

#9 Mo Town – The highly anticipated three year old debut of Mo Town is here, and many pundits have this horse very high on their Kentucky Derby lists.  Personally I’ve taken a “wait and see approach” on that front, but as far as this race goes it looks to really set up nicely for him.  His tactical speed should allow him to work out a nice stalking trip from his outside post, and I love that jockey John Velazquez is coming in to ride.  Velazquez came to Oaklawn and won the Southwest Stakes last Monday, and I look for him to make it two Derby preps in a row in this one.

Horses to Use in Multi Race Wagers

#3 Local Hero – Went two turns for the first time last time out and completely destroyed a maiden special weight field by over seven lengths.  That win gave Asmussen the confidence to throw him into deeper waters, and I don’t blame him one bit as his win may have been the most impressive maiden triumph of the meet at Fair Grounds.  His timeform number is higher than any in the race including Mo Town, but is he ready to win a stakes like this right off the bat?  Maybe not, but this is one to watch closely.

#6 Guest Suite – Lecomte winner looks to take the next step today against a tougher field than last time, but this horse has ran numbers good enough to compete with almost anyone.  Last time out the track was such a mess that its very difficult to get a good read on that race so hopefully we get to see them on a dry track today.  I’m on the fence with this one, and perhaps unfairly, but I feel like he could go either way.  Have to put him on your tickets in this spot though because he looks pretty logical on paper.

#2 Untrapped – Very solid effort last time out to jump into the deep end of the pool and finish second in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes.  As I wrote with Guest Suite as well it will be interesting to see how those Lecomte runners fair in this one as the track was a mess in that race.  From day one Untrapped has had some hype around him, and if he can continue to progress he could get that big graded stakes win sooner rather than later.

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Exotic Plays 

#1 Girvin – Horse has only had two races, but both have been very impressive to me.  After breaking his maiden nicely on the dirt he came back last time out to finish second in a small stakes on the turf.  His speed figure improved on the turf, but only slightly and both of them have been strong.  I’m not sure if he’s ready to win a race like this or not, but I do think he might be a pretty nice horse as he continues to progress.

Party Crashers

#14 So Conflated – Sneaky entry here for Doug O’Neill who is shipping in to get this horse on the Derby trail.  Last time out he was victorious in a 100k stakes race on the synthetic surface at Golden Gate, and two races back he was moved up to first in a race where he finished behind Dabster by a nose.  Dabster is a horse I think is flying under the radar nicely, so this is what intrigues me about So Conflated.  We’ll see what happens here as the outside draw does him zero favors, but I think the talent is there.

Throw Outs

#10 Takeoff – Solid third place effort in the Lecomte Stakes last time out after beating Arklow two races back.  He’s a pretty nice horse, but I think this race is tougher than the Lecomte Stakes was so we’ll see what happens.  Maybe he can prove me wrong.

#4 Arklow – Might be better off trying to break his maiden before trying this kind of competition, but it’s worth noting that he did finish fourth in the Lecomte Stakes.  Just don’t view him as a logical contender here though.

#5 Shareholder Value – Tough effort last time out in the slop for him in the Lecomte Stakes as a horse that took a little bit of money.  A dry track might help him turn the tables, but I’ll have to see it first before I have confidence in him against a group like this one.

#7 U S Officer – Has been beaten by Cool Arrow a couple of times so it’s hard for me to put him as a win contender against this kind of competition.  Yet another horse that I like, but might not be up to this level.  

#8 Cool Arrow – Hated to throw him out in this spot because I do believe he has some talent, and but I’m very worried there will be too much pace in here for him.  I’m also a little concerned with the long stretch being tough for him to handle.

#11 Sorry Erik – Winner of two races in a row including an allowance at Santa Anita last time out.  I’m skeptical that he can jump up to this class level, but they’ve shipped in for a reason so he’s a bit sneaky in this spot.

#12 Horse Fly – Has ran two very sharp races in a row, and last time out broke through and got the win.  This may be too much too soon for him though, but Lukas likes to take a shot so we’ll see how it will turn out.

#13 It’s Your Nickel – This is a horse that is making some steady progress so far, but this step today might be a little too steep for him.  It will take a big jump up in speed figures for him to play a factor.

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