Risen Star Stakes draws strong cast

Daily Racing Form Saturday Stakes Preview - - FRONT PAGE - – Mar­cus Hersh – Steve An­der­sen

NEW OR­LEANS – The Grade 2, $400,000 Risen Star high­lights a six-stakes card dubbed “Louisiana Derby Pre­view Day” on Satur­day at Fair Grounds.

The 1 1/16-mile Risen Star is the first of seven races be­tween Feb. 20 and March 20 that each of­fer 85 Ken­tucky Derby qual­i­fy­ing points dis­trib­uted 50 -20 - 10 -5 to the race’s first four fin­ish­ers. On the face of things, this ap­pears to be one of the best edi­tions of the Risen Star in mem­ory.

Thir­teen horses were en­tered, but Laoban isn’t ship­ping from Cal­i­for­nia. Ex­pected to start, though, are four of the 23 in­di­vid­ual bet­ting in­ter­ests from Pool 2 of the Ken­tucky Derby Fu­ture Wa­ger: Airo­force, Gun Run­ner, Mo Tom, and Tom’s Ready.

Mo Tom and Tom’s Ready fin­ished one-two here last month in the Le­comte Stakes. Airo­force and Gun Run­ner make their first start com­ing in first and fourth in the Ken­tucky Jockey Club Stakes last Novem­ber at Churchill. The weather fore­cast this week is beau­ti­ful, which means Airo­force will race for the first time on a fast track af­ter mak­ing three starts on dirt and win­ning the Ken­tucky Jockey Club over sloppy go­ing.

The card’s se­cond Grade 2 is the $200,000 Rachel Alexandra for 3-year-old fil­lies, a race won the last two years by horses who would go on to be Eclipse Award fi­nal­ists: Un­ta­pable, who was cham­pion 3-year-old filly in 2014, and I’m a Chat­ter­box last year.

This year’s race drew nine en­trants headed by the Steve As­mussen-trained Stage­play, who beat Rachel Alexandra ri­val Mid­night On Oconee by 1 1/4 lengths last month in the Sil­ver­bul­let­day Stakes. For­ever Dar­ling is in from Cal­i­for­nia, while As­mussen has a tal­ented se­cond en­trant in Royal Ob­ses­sion. The promis­ing de­but win­ner Shaken could be scratched in fa­vor of an al­lowance race, though trainer Mike Stid­ham said Wed­nes­day he was lean­ing to­ward run­ning.

Choco­late Ride is the star of the Grade 3, $125,000 Fair Grounds Hand­i­cap, in which he’s the 123-pound high­weight. Just emerg­ing from ob­scu­rity at this time last year, Choco­late Ride won the 2014 Fair Grounds Hand­i­cap on the way to a vic­tory in the big­gest turf stakes of the Fair Grounds meet, the Mervin Mu­niz Me­mo­rial. De­part­ing and Ro­man Ap­proval look like the most se­ri­ous threats.

In­ter­na­tional Star won all three 3-year-old dirt-route stakes last sea­son at Fair Grounds and ran his lo­cal record to 4 for 4 when he beat Ea­gle last month in the Louisiana Stakes. The two re­new their ri­valry Satur­day in the Grade 3, $125,000 Mi­ne­shaft Hand­i­cap, a 1 1/16 -mile dirt race that drew only three other en­trants. Ea­gle gets a fa­vor­able shift in weights Satur­day, get­ting one pound from In­ter­na­tional Star af­ter giv­ing him six pounds un­der the al­lowance con­di­tions in the Louisiana.

The two other stakes, the Dun­can Ken­ner and the Daisy Devine, both boast fields su­pe­rior to their $60,000 purses. Cinco Char­lie, Clearly Now, and Shot­gun Kow­boy head­line the Ken­ner, a six-fur­long dirt sprint, while the Daisy Devine in­cludes the tal­ented fe­male turf-route horses Street of Gold, Mizz Money, and Cash Con­trol.

Santa Anita: Buena Vista

AR­CA­DIA, Calif. – Her Em­my­nency is the only prob­a­ble starter in Satur­day’s $200,000 Buena Vista Stakes at Santa Anita with a Grade 1 win in her last start, the Queen El­iz­a­beth II Chal­lenge Cup at Keeneland last Oc­to­ber.

Since then, Her Em­my­nency has switched train­ers – go­ing from Mike Stid­ham to Kristin Mul­hall – and bat­tled a throat in­fec­tion that kept her side­lined briefly last fall.

The Grade 2 Buena Vista Stakes is run at a mile for fil­lies and mares on turf, ideal con­di­tions for Her Em­my­nency. With her race record, she will at­tract plenty of at­ten­tion from bet­tors – and ri­val jock­eys.

That could pose a prob­lem. Mul­hall said on Wed­nes­day that Her Em­my­nency is not in peak fit­ness for the Buena Vista and ex­pressed con­cern that the filly might be too ea­ger for her own good early in the race.

“She’s not dead fit yet,” Mul­hall said. “It de­pends on the pace and if she re­laxes.”

Owned by Ike and Dawn Thrash, Her Em­my­nency has won 4 of 7 starts and earned $540,250. She made four starts at 3 in 2015, a sea­son de­layed af­ter a se­vere bout with colic in the au­tumn of 2014.

Mul­hall has spent re­cent months get­ting to know Her Em­my­nency’s habits.

“She’s very high-strung and a good-feel­ing filly,” Mul­hall said. “We school her a lot.”

The Buena Vista will have a large field, in­clud­ing Keri Belle, Stormy Lucy, and Theatre Star, who were the first three fin­ish­ers of the Grade 3 Mega­hertz Stakes on Jan. 18, and Prize Ex­hibit, who won the Grade 3 Mon­rovia Stakes on the hill­side turf course Jan. 3.

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