Road to the Kentucky Derby: Risen Star Stakes

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Road to the Kentucky Derby: Risen Star Stakes
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Despite its relatively early positioning on the Kentucky Derby prep calendar, the 2022 Risen Star Stakes was arguably the most competitive points race on the road to the Derby.

Could the same thing happen this week, when the 100-point race returns to the historic Fair Grounds race track in New Orleans? It’s quite possible. 

Saturday’s $400,000 Risen Star drew a full field of 14, including eight stakes-placed. Two entrants, Curly Jack (sixth) and Victory Formation (11th), are among the top dozen on the Kentucky Derby points leaderboard. 

Last year, the top five finishers of the Risen Star all reached the Kentucky Derby. Risen Star winner Epicenter would finish second as the betting favorite in the opening jewel of the Triple Crown. Zandon finished third in both races.  

The Risen Star is the first 100-point race of the calendar year, with 50 points awarded to the winner, and 20-15-10-5 for second through fifth. The race, which virtually guarantees the winner enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, is a stepping stone to the 200-point, $1 million Louisiana Derby, the Fair Grounds’ signature race, on March 25.

The road to the Derby began in September 2022 and continues through April 15. The top 20 point qualifiers earn automatic entry into the 149th Kentucky Derby on May 6 at Churchill Downs

The Risen Star is the lone U.S.-based Derby points event this week. One international race is on the schedule: The Hyacinth Stakes at Tokyo Racecourse on Sunday, which offers 30 Kentucky Derby points to the winner. The Hyacinth was included in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series in 2017. 

Current 2023 Kentucky Derby Qualifier Standings

Rank HorsePoints Earnings
1 Forte 40 $1,545,650
2 Instant Coffee 32 $385,065
3 Rocket Can 20 $150,350
4 Hit Show 20 $137,500
5 Litigate 20 $120,000
6 Curly Jack 17 $348,120
7 Blazing Sevens 16 $411,000
8 Artic Arrogance 16 $130,000
9 Jace’s Road 15 $89,100
10 Red Route One 13 $219,375
11 Victory Formation 10 $152,750
12 Dubyuhnell 10 $137,500
13 Practical Move 10 $132,000
14 Lugan Knight 10 $82,500
15 General Banker 9 $48,000
16 Two Phil’s 8 $195,850
17 Shadow Dragon 8 $48,500
18 Denington 8 $43,110
19 Hayes Strike7 $95,750
20 Andiamo a Firenze 7 $72,000

Risen Star Stakes

Track: Fair Grounds, New Orleans

Date: Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023

Distance: 1 1/8 mile

Purse: $400,000

Risen Star Stakes Field

Position HorseTrainer RiderOdds
1 Quiet as Midnight Bernard Chatters Emanuel Nieves50-1
2 Single Ruler Keith Desormeaux Jose Riquelme 30-1
3 Shaq Diesel Renaldo Richards Adam Beschizza 30-1
4 Determinedly Mark Cassse Reylu Gutierrez 8-1
5 Harlocap Steve Asmussen John Valezquez8-1
6 Angel of Empire Brad Cox Luis Saez8-1
7 Sun Thunder Ken McPeek Brian Hernandez, Jr.15-1
8 Tapit’s Conquest Brad Cox Florent Geroux6-1
9 Curly Jack Tom Amoss Edgar Morales8-1
10 Two Phil’s Larry Rivelli Jareth Loveberry8-1
11 Silver Heist Steve Asmussen Corey Lanerie12-1
12 Crupi Todd Pletcher James Graham15-1
13 Victory Formation Brad Cox Flavien Pratt3-1
14 Private Creed Steve Asmussen Tyler Gaffalione12-1

Risen Star Stakes Analysis

Two of the sport’s top trainers, Steve Asmussen and Brad Cox, each have three horses in the race. Cox’s trio is more formidable, with Victory Formation, Tapit’s Conquest and Angel of Empire all solid contenders.

Asmussen’s top charge is Harlocap, recently transferred from the barn of Bob Baffert. Baffert's horses are ineligible to collect Derby points because of the trainer’s suspension from Churchill Downs. Look for more Baffert horses to change trainers in the next two weeks.

Other notable contenders include Curly Jack, winner of the Iroquois Stakes as a 2-year-old at Churchill Downs last year; Two Phil’s, second in the Lecomte Stakes over this track on Jan. 21; and even the Todd Pletcher-trained Crupi, a maiden who has two seconds and three thirds in five-lifetime starts.

Given the size and depth of the Risen Star field, this is a quality betting race

Risen Star Stakes Selections

1. Victory Formation is 3-for-3 after an easy gate-to-wire victory in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Jan. 1. Starting from the 13 post here is less than ideal, but Victory Formation has shown quickness out of the gate and should be able to gain a forward position without losing significant ground around the first turn. Despite the large field, there isn’t an abundance of early speed in the race. If Victory Formation can handle the extra furlong, it’s his race to lose.

2. Two Phil’s ran a strong second in the Lecomte last month behind Instant Coffee, who is currently No. 2 on the Kentucky Derby points leaderboard. Expect him to be rallying from mid-pack. His recent bullet workout indicates readiness. Anything near his morning-line odds of 8-1 is a square price. 

3. Angel of Empire took advantage of an ideal inside trip to finish second behind Victory Formation in the Smarty Jones Stakes. New jockey Luis Saez will need to work out a similar-type trip for this late-running colt, who has shown significant improvement in each dirt start. He can pick up some pieces late at double-digit odds.

Of the others, Tapit’s Conquest steps up to stakes company for the first time, but has three consecutive solid efforts. … Curly Jack already has 17 Derby points and will be a factor on the Derby trail, but is coming off a layoff and lands in a difficult spot to return.

Risen Star Stakes Betting Strategy

Win-place bets on Victory Formation. Exacta: box Victory Formation and Two Phil’s; key Victory Formation over Angel of Empire and Tapit’s Conquest. Trifecta: key Victory Formation first and second with Two Phil’s Angel of Empire, Tapit’s Conquest, Crupi and Harlocap. 

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Chet Fussman

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