This Saturday, things get serious at Fair Grounds. Since the inauguration of the points system in 2013, 50 points has been far more than enough to get a horse into either the Kentucky Derby or the Kentucky Oaks. And, Saturday's card in New Orleans features the first pair of 50-20-10-5 point preps: the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (G2) for open company, and the $200,000 Rachel Alexandra Stakes (G2) for fillies.
In addition to this preview of the three-year-old prep action at Fair Grounds, we will also drop in on the two other Derby points races this weekend: Saturday's El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields, and Monday's Southwest Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn.
Race 7: Rachel Alexandra Stakes (G2), three-year-old fillies, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 4:05pm CST
First run in 1982 as the Davona Dale Stakes, the race was renamed for Silverbulletday in 2001, then named for Rachel Alexandra in 2011. It was run at a mile and forty yards in its first three editions, and then stretched to its current mile and a sixteenth distance. First named a Grade 3 in 1999, it got a promotion to Grade 2 in 2016. Rachel Alexandra never won the race named in her honour. But, she did win the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) in 2009 on her way to a dominant 20 1/4 length win in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) , and then beat males in the Preakness (G1), Haskell (G1), and Woodward (G1) later that year.
Over its history, the Rachel Alexandra has been a productive source of Kentucky Oaks winners. Six winners of this race have taken home the blanket of lilies: Tiffany Lass (1986), Blushing K. D. (1997), Silverbulletday (1999), Summerly (2005), Believe You Can (2012), and Untapable (2014). Another of the most notable winners of this race fell a length and a quarter short in the Kentucky Oaks. Take Charge Lady (2002) won eight graded stakes, including the 2003 Arlington Matron. As a producer, she already has two champions on her direct female line: she is the dam of Will Take Charge (2013 Champion Three Year Old Male), and the second dam of Take Charge Brandi (2014 Champion Two Year Old Filly, via her daughter Charming).
Untapable gets her championship three-year-old year started with a romp in the 2014 Rachel Alexandra Stakes.
Though the Rachel Alexandra drew a relatively small field, just eight, it drew a lot of speed. That includes the two biggest players here, WONDER GADOT and MONOMOY GIRL. WONDER GADOT was beaten as the favourite in the Silverbulletday, but it was a solid effort nonetheless. Before being caught at the wire by Stronger Than Ever, she did the dirty work on a contested pace, and still finished the job. She should be in the picture late once again here. But, will WONDER GADOT have to do too much on the front end at a short price once again? ACTRESS ON BOARD, CLASSY ACT, and outside-drawn MONOMOY GIRL have all shown a propensity to go to the front, making it likely WONDER GADOT will have it just as tough on the lead this time out as last time.
MONOMOY GIRL brings class, but she also brings pace questions. In three of her four starts, she was right there on the front end as well. Though she rallied from off the pace on debut, all three starts she has made with Florent Geroux in the irons she has been on the front, and Geroux returns to the saddle here. Thus, she has similar questions surrounding her as WONDER GADOT: will she do too much front-end dirty work to hold off the late runner at a short price? MONOMOY GIRL also has the question of the layoff, as she has not raced since finishing second in the Golden Rod (G2) last November. She has done little wrong, and trainer Brad Cox has been winning a lot at Fair Grounds, but it's hard to want her more than defensively here given the pace setup and the layoff.
Where does this leave us? Looking for a price with a credible off-pace type, and siding with TESTING ONE TWO. TESTING ONE TWO does get a class test here, as she comes to Fair Grounds from the Delta/Evangeline circuit. Yet, this seems the perfect time to do it. She comes into the Rachel Alexandra second off a break. In her first start off the lay, the Louisiana-bred daughter of Star Guitar rallied for a convincing victory over open stakes company in the Take Charge Brandi Stakes at Delta. That rate-and-rally style should serve her beautifully here. And, though TESTING ONE TWO's connections (trainer Victor Arceneaux and rider Diego Saenz) are Delta/Evangeline regulars, they're ones who have been firing well in their occasional forays to New Orleans.
#2 TESTING ONE TWO (6/1)
#4 WONDER GADOT (4/1)
#8 MONOMOY GIRL (8/5)
Longshot: #7 PATRONA MARGARITA (6/1) has been in witness protection since a surprise victory in the Pocahontas (G2) last September. But, it was impressive, the way she blossomed there, in her first start at two turns. She also has the right rate-and-rally running style to be a factor in this race. The time off is the question, but trainer Bret Calhoun knows how to get a horse ready off a lay. If she can run back to that Pocahontas effort in her first start at three, PATRONA MARGARITA should be a factor late, and has a shot to win this at a price.
Race 9: Risen Star Stakes (G2), three-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 5:03pm CST
Inaugurated in 1973 as the Louisiana Derby Trial Stakes, this race was renamed in 1989 to honour Risen Star. Risen Star won this race in 1988, following it up with victories in the Louisiana Derby (G3) and the Lexington Stakes (G2). Third behind Winning Colors in the Kentucky Derby (G1) that year, the Louie Roussel trainee returned to his winning ways to take the Preakness and the Belmont that year. He took the Belmont by a dazzling 14 3/4 lengths, faster than every Belmont Stakes winner up to that point save one: his sire, Secretariat.
Never has the winner of the Risen Star won the Kentucky Derby, though Master Derby (1975), like Risen Star, won the Preakness. Other notable winners of this race other than its namesake include 2007 Champion Older Horse Lawyer Ron (2006) and 2013 Breeders' Cup Classic (GI) winner Mucho Macho Man (2011). The Risen Star's most recent winner, Gun Runner (2016), has progressed since his victory in this race. He won the Louisiana Derby (G2), finished third in the Kentucky Derby, and closed out his sophomore year by beating older in the Clark Handicap (G1). The race has also had its share of curious winners, such as 135/1 stunner Ive Struck a Nerve (2013), and perennial bridesmaid Dollar Bill (2001), who finished second or third in nine graded stakes (including the 2002 Hawthorne Gold Cup), but captured his sole graded stakes win in the Risen Star.
Surprise! Ive Struck a Nerve springs a triple-digit upset in the 2013 Risen Star.
The two major players from the Lecomte (G3) are again the two major players in the Risen Star: INSTILLED REGARD and PRINCIPE GUILHERME. INSTILLED REGARD hardly needs introduction: he held his own with west coast heavyweights like McKinzie and Solomini, came to the Lecomte, and comprehensively asserted his class. Second-place PRINCIPE GUILHERME, making his stakes debut in the Lecomte, was a fine second behind him. Yes, PRINCIPE GUILHERME could improve some here: he still only has three starts under him, he was extremely wide in the Lecomte, and he did prove last out that he can remain interested in a race from somewhere other than the front end. Even so, he proved no match for INSTILLED REGARD last out in the Lecomte, and it's difficult to imagine him improving enough in one start to turn the tables on the horse who flat-out left him in the dust last month. Perhaps if PRINCIPE GUILHERME looked like the one who would set the fractions, he could turn the tables, but with NOBLE INDY and SNAPPER SINCLAIR in the field, that seems unlikely. He'll be coming from off the pace again, and he'll need a misfire from INSTILLED REGARD to finish best.
The third slot was a tight choice between that front-end pair, NOBLE INDY and SNAPPER SINCLAIR. Both of them have shown some fight on the front end, and should be the ones the top choices have to run down. But, it's hard to take NOBLE INDY at a shorter price when you can have SNAPPER SINCLAIR at a bit longer price. NOBLE INDY hasn't lost in two starts -- but both of those starts have come at Gulfstream, and trainer Todd Pletcher has to find non-Gulfstream places for his other horses given that he has his Florida Derby beast in Audible. SNAPPER SINCLAIR, on the other hand, comes in off a gritty third-place finish in the Lecomte. That was his best dirt outing to date. With both sharp early pace and a bit truer proven rating gear than NOBLE INDY, particularly at a bit better price, it's advantage SNAPPER SINCLAIR.
#5 INSTILLED REGARD (8/5)
#9 PRINCIPE GUILHERME (7/2)
#4 SNAPPER SINCLAIR (8/1)
Longshot: #6 SUPREME AURA (8/1) has raced just twice, and makes his first foray into stakes company here. So, this will be a class test. But, this looks as good a time as any to make that move. SUPREME AURA graduated at Delaware last summer, got a long rest, and then came back just as sharp to win a sprint allowance at Fair Grounds last month. So, we know SUPREME AURA can handle the course. The running style is a positive, too: he'll be forward, stretching out from a sprint, but has shown he can rate and pass horses. Demand a price on SUPREME AURA -- in addition to the the class test, he also has to prove he can get two turns. But, the pedigree (Candy Ride out of a Mr. Greeley mare who has Abraham, Miss Isella, and Sir Cherokee in the family) suggests that a mile and a sixteenth is an eminently reasonable ask for SUPREME AURA. The jockey is also a positive; Joe Bravo returns to the irons from the last-out victory, and Bravo is a rider you can trust to do well at Fair Grounds and outrun his odds in stakes races.
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