Road to the Derby Heats Up with Pair of Major Preps

Michael Dempsey@turfnsportFeatured ColumnistFebruary 21, 2014

HALLANDALE, FL - MARCH 30:  Orb #6 (L), riden by John Velazquez, comes aound turn four behind Itsmyluckyday #3, riden by Elvis Trujillo, and Narvaez #10, riden by Rajiv Maragh, during the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on March 30, 2013 in Hallandale, Florida.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The points race for the Kentucky Derby heats up in a big way on Saturday with a pair of key prep races on tap, the $400,000 Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park and the $400,000 Risen Star (G2) at the Fair Grounds.

Both races are a part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series of races. The earlier preps were worth 10-4-2-1 points to the top four finishers, but the stakes go up on Saturday with 50-20-10-5 points awarded to the top four. The 50 points to the winners will virtually lock up a starting spot at the gate in Louisville on the first Saturday of May.

Here are my top two picks in each race:


Risen Star

Albano (12-1) ran well in a runner-up finish in the LeComte (G3) at 11-1 although he was no match for Vicar's in Trouble. He needs to make up nearly seven lengths to turn the tables, but should move forward in his second start going two turns. He also draws a better post, breaking from the rail while the morning-line favorite is parked to the outside.

The colt has come back with a couple of good works for the Larry Jones barn that won this race in 2009 with Friesen Fire. The colt is out of the stakes, however, with winner Poncho's Dream Girl ($336,974), who has dropped six other winners including stakes winner Mark Valeski ($658,452), who ran second in this race and the Louisiana Derby (G2) in 2012.

The colt is currently listed at 300-1 in early Kentucky Derby future odds according to Oddshark.

Rise Up (4-1) makes his first start since taking the field gate to win the Delta Jackpot (G3). The race has produced a pair of next-out winners including fourth-place finisher Roman Unbridled, who won the Big Drama by eight and one-half lengths and then was fourth at the Lecomte (G3). The colt owns solid early and mid-pace numbers, and even put in a near bullet work on Feb. 15 over the surface. The Tom Amoss barn is 30 percent winners with runners coming back off of a 61-180 day layoff.

The colt earned 10 points for his Delta Jackpot victory which puts him in eighth place in the Road to the Kentucky Derby standings.


Fountain of Youth

We Miss Artie (8-1) looks as if he is going to be a decent price in this wide-open race. The Todd Pletcher trainee makes just his third start on conventional dirt. Last out he tracked the early pace, grabbed the lead heading for home and battled on gamely while coming up a head shy of winning the Kitten's Joy on turf here off of a two and one-half month break.

Trainer Todd Pletcher has won three of the last seven editions of the Fountain of Youth.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has won three of the last seven editions of the Fountain of Youth.Rob Carr/Getty Images

The colt won the Breeders' Futurity (G1) last year on polytrack and then had a tough trip in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) on dirt, beaten four lengths at 12-1. The colt has put in a pair of solid works since his last outing, has some tactical speed and should be in the first flight early. The Pletcher barn is 30 percent winners (with a plus-ROI) moving runners from turf to dirt. The barn has won this race in three of the last seven editions, the most recent being Eskendereya in 2010.

The colt earned 10 Derby points with his win in the Breeders’ Futurity and is currently listed at 40-1 in early Derby wagering.

Top Billing (7-2) was beaten a neck by morning-line favorite Commissioner who was two back in his first start against winners and then came back to beat first level optional claimers last out in a good looking effort that sent his Derby future price plummeting. His trainer Shug McGaughey won this race last year with Orb, who was coming off a first level optional claimer and then went on to win the Florida Derby (G1) and Kentucky Derby (G1).

The well-bred colt still appears to have a ton of upside although he does draw a tough post. He is out of the graded stakes winner Parade Queen ($419,357), who has dropped four other winners, and top earner and graded stakes winner Untouched Talent ($243,550).

Despite not having raced in a stakes race until Saturday, his Derby future odds shrunk to 6-1 after his last win according to Oddshark—co-second choice behind the early favorite Shared Belief at 5-1.

Morning-line odds: Equibase

Statistics: Daily Racing Form


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