A very balanced and promising field of three-year-old colts will take center stage as they battle for Kentucky Derby qualifying points on Saturday's $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (G2) at the Fair Grounds Race Course in Louisiana.
This year, a new Kentucky Derby points system replaces the previous graded-stakes earnings system to determine the field of Kentucky Derby entrants.
The Risen Star awards the top four finishers 50, 20, 10 and 5 points, respectively.
It has drawn a full field of 14 entrants plus an also-eligible—Sunbeam. Doug O'Neill-trained He's Had Enough was also cross-entered in Saturday's Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park and is expected to run there, making Sunbeam a likely starter.
Normandy Invasion is the morning-line favorite at 5-2, and this will be his first race since finishing second by a nose in a head-bobbing finish to Overanalyze in the Remsen Stakes (G2) last November.
He made an impressive move after the three-quarter mark, erasing a deficit of seven lengths in just a furlong before losing a stretch-long duel with Overanalyze.
Trainer Chad Brown has him primed for his three-year-old debut, and it shows with his morning workouts. His last two have been impressive, going 1:00.40 for 5F on Feb. 10—best of 26—and 47.8 for 4F—second best of 74 that day.
Jose Lezcano will be back aboard the son of Tapit out of the Boston Harbor mare, Boston Lady. He will be the horse to beat.
But there are plenty of suitors for those first-place 50 points on Saturday besides Normandy Invasion.
D.Wayne Lukas-trained Oxbow comes off a visually impressive front-running win at the Lecomte Stakes (G3) on Jan. 19. But he benefited there from being able to set some easy fractions up front and came home an 11.5-lengths winner.
He broke his maiden three races back, also with a front-running easy win, but then shipped west to run in the G1 Cash Call Futurity, where he failed his test class against Violence and company, finishing fourth, nine lengths behind.
Jon Court retains the mount for this Saturday, and he will be able to get the lead again, but he will have to do it from post 11. The good news is that he seems ready for the big test, working out 48.40 for 4F on Feb. 19, the best of 19 works for the distance that day.
Bob Bafferts ships in Code West, who finished second in his last race to Super Ninety Nine, who comes from romping in the slop at Oaklawn Park to win the G3-Southwest Stakes last weekend, establishing himself as one of the top Derby contenders.
This is a tough group, but if his last race and subsequent workouts are indicative of Code West's opportunities, he has a chance. Besides, Baffert won't ship out a horse just to compete; he comes to win.
Mylute comes from romping to a 10-length win in an optional claimer race last December under Rosie Napravnik. Prior to that, he finished third, just three lengths behind Derby points co-leader Goldencents at the Delta Downs Jackpot (G3) this past November.
He has been improving consistently in his past three races and could sit off in a stalking mode and make a move midway through the final turn. The bad news is Napravnik will be riding Todd Pletcher's Palace Malice.
The aforementioned Palace Malice has a win and two second-place finishes in three starts. The two losses come to former top two-year-old Carried Interest and to prospect Majestic Hussar, who will be a contender at the Fountain of Youth.
He has shown enough promise to be able to contend on his three races, but this will be the class test for him and his first race around two turns. His trainer, Pletcher, has won this race twice in the past three years.
Proud Strike will give Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens his first shot at getting back on the Derby Trail with a contending colt.
Trained by Steven Asmussen, this horse has been improving in large chunks with his Beyer Figures on each of his three races. He won his last race at Fair Grounds impressively, and having Stevens fly in for this race makes it an interesting bet.
Put him on all your bets; this horse is a live one and could be the surprise of the race.
Unbeaten Departing is the top local prospect. He is very talented, but will jump in class for this race and has room to improve. But he must do it quickly to win here; he has a tough post from No. 13 and a full field will make this a tough test for him.
Agent, Golden Soul, Hardrock Eleven, Ive Struck a Nerve, Bethel, Circle Unbroken and Sunbeam round up the full 14 horse field.
Win - Normandy Invasion
Place - Proud Strike
Show - Code West
Risen Star Stakes | Grade 2 | Purse: $400,000
Fair Grounds | 10th Race | Post Time: 4:57 p.m. CT
Distance: 1700 Meters (8.5 furlongs)
|1 ||Proud Strike||Gary L. Stevens||Steven M. Asmussen||8/1|
|2||Code West||Martin Garcia||Bob Baffert||6/1|
|3||Agent||Richard Eramia||Joe McAnally||30/1|
|4||Golden Soul||Miguel Mena||Dallas Stewart||20/1|
|5||Mylute||Shaun X. Bridgmohan||Thomas Amoss||6/1|
|6||Palace Malice||Rosie Napravnik||Todd A. Pletcher||8/1|
|7||Hardrock Eleven||Jamie H. Theriot||David P. Banks||50/1|
|8||Ive Struck a Nerve||James Graham||Keith J. Desormeaux||30/1|
|9||Normandy Invasion||Jose Lezcano||Chad C. Brown||5/2|
|10||Oxbow||Jon K. Court||D.Wayne Lukas||5/1|
|11||Bethel||Inosencio V. Diego||Gennadi Dorochenko||50/1|
|12||He's Had Enough||Mario Gutierrez||Doug O'Neill||10/1|
|13||Circle Unbroken||Leandro R. Goncalves||Garry W. Simms||20/1|
|14||Departing||Brian Hernandez Jr||Albert M. Stall Jr.||12/1|
|AE||Sunbeam||Colby J. Hernandez||Albert M. Stall Jr.||12/1|
Morning Line odds by drf.com.