NEW ORLEANS – The Grade II $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 III 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 II 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.
Reddam Racing’s $100,000 California Derby conqueror So Conflated will also be making his fourth career start when he ships in from the West Coast for O’Neill. The gray son of Eskendereya will be ridden from the far outside post by Mario Gutierrez and hails from the identical owner-trainer-jockey team that won last year’s Kentucky Derby with Nyquist. So Conflated has kept tough company in his two dirt tries prior to the Tapeta of Golden Gate last out, including finishing third behind highly regarded American Anthem on debut in early December.
Trainer Joe Sharp and owner Brad Grady have entered the talented duo of Girvin (Brian Hernandez, Jr., rail) and Cool Arrow (Gabriel Saez, post eight). While Cool Arrow is the more experienced and accomplished of the two, having won the $300,000 Springboard Mile last out on Dec. 11 at Remington Park and proven victorious in half his six starts, Girvin is arguably the more highly regarded. The son of Tale of Ekati enters on the strength of a local maiden victory over top promising sophomore Excitations at first asking and a second last out going a mile on the grass in the $50,000 Keith Gee Memorial on Feb. 4 — an effort designed to set him up for a wheel-back in the Risen Star.
Trainer Steve Asmussen also has a pair of talented 3-year-olds in the form of Michael Langford’s Untrapped (Ricardo Santana, Jr., post two) and e Five Racing Thoroughbreds’ buzz horse Local Hero (Florent Geroux, post three). The former was a driving second behind Guest Suite in the Lecomte in what was his third lifetime start and first around two turns. Local Hero broke his maiden last out at third asking after running nine others off their collective feet and easing up at the wire in the mile and 70-yard event a dominant 7¼-length victor.
John C. Oxley’s local maiden winner Takeoff (Julien Leparoux, post 10), Donegal Racing’s well-intended maiden Arklow (Shaun Bridgmohan, post four) and Klaravich Stables and William H. Lawrences’s local allowance victor Shareholder Value (Mitchell Murrill, post five) — the third-, fourth- and fifth-place finishers in the Lecomte — return for redemption and with hopes of a dry surface. All three must up their games to win here, with little separating them on paper and even less at the wire of the Lecomte in which they finished within a length of one another. Some notable shuffling of jockeys did occur, as Bridgmohan took off Tom Amoss-trained Shareholder Value in favor of Brad Cox-trained Arklow, Geroux left Takeoff for Local Hero and Murrill picked up the mount on Shareholder Value.
The remainder of the field for the Risen Star is comprised of U S Officer (Jose Valdivia, Jr., post seven), Sorry Erik (Kent Desormeaux, post 11), Horse Fly (Miguel Mena, post 12) and It’s Your Nickel (James Graham, post 13).
About Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots
Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, the nation’s third-oldest racetrack, has been in operation since 1872. Located in New Orleans, Fair Grounds is owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ Global Market: CHDN); it also operates a slot-machine gaming facility and 11 off-track betting parlors throughout southeast Louisiana. The 145th Thoroughbred Racing Season – highlighted by the 104th running of the Louisiana Derby – will run from November 2016 through April 2017. More information can be found online at www.FairGroundsRaceCourse.com.