They each have matching $400,000 purses and offer as many as 50 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby. But that is where the similarities end for the two divisions of Saturday’s oversubscribed Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans.
The first division features plenty of front-end speed that should play to the strength of likely favorite Enforceable, the deep closer that won last month’s Lecomte on the same track. The second division lacks a true pacesetter for Anneau d’Or, a mid-pack colt that may overmatch the rest of the field.
If last month’s prep was any indication, Saturday’s 6:38 p.m. EST race has more depth of quality than the 7:12 p.m. finale. Five of the top six from the Lecomte are in the first-division field, including all three that hit the board.
These races are the first two Derby preps that are worth 50, 20, 10 and 5 points to the top four finishers. Not quite a mathematical clinch, 50 points are usually enough to get to the gate at Churchill Downs, making each of these races a virtual “win and you’re in.”
Although Anneau d’Or may have the easier path, Enforceable (7-2 opening line) has had the attention of wise-guy bettors for weeks. He went from opening at 125-1 in the Kentucky Derby futures at William Hill Nevada to 20-1 odds after his Lecomte win. Trained by Mark Casse, ridden by Julien Leparoux and drawn into post 8, he is a Tapit colt that was bred to covet longer races – even longer than Saturday’s 1⅛ miles.
“We’re happy with the split of the race,” said David Carroll, Casse’s assistant at the Fair Grounds. “He has so much foundation that he doesn’t need a whole lot of training at this point.”
Only seven of the other 346 nominees for the Triple Crown have raced more than Enforceable. His seven starts have resulted in five in-the-money finishes including two wins, the first of which was a nine-furlong maiden breakthrough during the Saratoga summer. After looking green losing his first two graded stakes last fall with jockey Florent Geroux, Enforceable has grown into a more comfortable-looking, long-striding colt, especially with Leparoux riding him for the first time in the Lecomte.
“He’s a horse I’m very excited about,” Leparoux said right after last month’s Lecomte victory. “He broke like he usually does – not as fast as the others. Down the back side he was just dragging me. When we got around the second turn I got out in the clear, and he had a big run.”
Among Enforceable’s rivals in Saturday’s first division, trainer Steve Asmussen’s closer Silver State (4-1), Brad Cox’s front-runner Mr. Monomoy (6-1) and Eddie Kenneally’s beaten favorite Scabbard (12-1) were second, third and fifth to Enforceable in the Lecomte. Allowance winner Blackberry Wine (5-1) has won his last two starts on dirt and is one of four would-be pacesetters along with Mr. Monomoy, Shashashakemeup (20-1) and Ready To Roll (20-1). Blackberry Wine is trained by Joe Sharp, who is now dealing with eight retroactively positive drug tests on horses that ran at the Fair Grounds in December in addition to others that were flagged last fall at Churchill Downs.
“There’s no shortcut to the Derby,” Carroll told the Fair Grounds media-relations team last weekend. “It’s a long road to get there. You have to earn your way in. We just want to keep Enforceable sound. We’re looking forward to the race and seeing where we stand.”
The William Hill odds provide another sign that the first division is deeper. Five of the 11 starters in that race carry odds of 75-1 or shorter in the Derby futures. Only the California shipper Anneau d’Or does in the second division. After an eight-length debut win going a mile on the Golden Gate Fields turf, he opened 30-1 last fall. Despite coming out of nowhere to lose by only a head to Storm The Court in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he drifted to 40-1. But then he finished only a neck behind Thousand Words as the 6-5 favorite in the Los Alamitos Futurity. Now Anneau d’Or carries the same 20-1 Derby odds as Enforceable.
“This horse was probably ready to go a mile-and-a-quarter in his first start,” his trainer Blaine Wright said. “If I’ve done my job right, then I hope I got him fit enough to run nine furlongs.”
Drawn into post 8 in the field of 12 and with jockey Joel Rosario taking over from Juan Hernández, Anneau d’Or (9-5) gets blinkers for the first time Saturday. He will be challenged by two-time Florida sprint stakes winner Liam’s Lucky Charm (9-2), 2-for-2 Goldencents colt Mailman Money (8-1), Casse’s allowance winner Lynn’s Map (10-1) and Gulfstream Park allowance winner Ny Traffic (10-1), a colt that will try to get to the early lead from post 12.
Wright hopes to avoid putting Anneau d’Or through the futile points chase that he endured last year when Anothertwistafate came up short in the Sunland Derby and Lexington Stakes.
“That was probably the No. 1 factor in our decision to come to Fair Grounds,” Wright said. “We decided we wanted to do our training at (Golden Gate Fields). The spacing between the Risen Star and the (April 4) Santa Anita Derby is really nice. It allows us to travel across the country, come back and still get six weeks (actually seven) in between races.”
Since the National Weather Service has forecast dry weather Saturday for Hot Springs, Ark., I will take a chance that all that front-end speed in the first division will burn out – even though Blackberry Wine’s Brisnet late-speed figure is almost as good as it gets for this race. While I will certainly include Enforceable, I will box him with Blackberry Wine and Bret Calhoun’s maiden winner Digital.
Anneau d’Or is unquestionably the class of the second division, and the blinkers could cure him of his seconditis. But trained by Calhoun (13-for-48 at this meet), Mailman Money is not to be overlooked, especially the way he extended to a 5¾-length win going a mile and 70 yards over the same Fair Grounds dirt last month.
If things fall just right Saturday, and if the investment at the window is not spread thinly, a Risen Star daily double could pay nicely. Maybe not with Enforceable and Anneau d’Or. But deep quality in a big field has a way of wiping out chalk. At least that is the hope, especially in the first division.
Racing notes and opinions
So much for the promise of Churchill Downs Inc. and the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association burying the contract hatchet. Although they came to terms on the framework of an agreement, they did not finish their work in time for last weekend’s second pool of the pari-mutuel Kentucky Derby Future Wager operated by CDI. Three Nevada casino sources admitted to VSiN that the expectation of a quick signing was premature, but they were not sure of what the hold-up was. They deferred to NPMA executive director Patty Jones, who has not returned phone calls and text messages sent by VSiN. Neither has CDI vice president of communications Tonya Abeln. The impasse over CDI’s share of the Nevada handle on races specifically run at Churchill Downs began in October. Of course, with a certain $3 million race coming May 2, that looms as the drop-dead date, and it says here Nevada will have no choice but to blink and sign.
Azul Coast (2-1) should be an odds-on favorite by post time Saturday in the $100,000 El Camino Real Derby Stakes, a 1⅛-mile Derby prep on the synthetic track at Golden Gate Fields. A distant second to Authentic in last month’s Sham Stakes, the deep-closing colt sired by Super Saver was shipped north from Santa Anita by trainer Bob Baffert in a bid for as many as 10 more Derby points. Ridden for the first time by Rafael Bejarano, Azul Coast is 35-1 in the William Hill futures. None of the six colts and four geldings that are challenging him Saturday are listed in any Derby pool. In fact, eight of the would-be starters, including Azul Coast, are still eligible for non-winners of more than one race. Second in two stakes since December, Sacred Rider (9-2) could set the pace. Rail starter and two-time winner Indian Peak (7-2) has the field’s best Brisnet speed rating on fake dirt. Course horse Mysterious Stones (15-1) has two wins and a third in three starts on Golden Gate’s main track. Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux is conspicuous by his presence on American Farmer (15-1), a maiden winner three weeks ago on the same track. Without much enthusiasm, the play here is Azul Coast cold on top of Mysterious Stones and Sacred Rider. The El Camino Real is posted for Saturday at 6:45 p.m. EST on what is forecast to be a clear, mild day at Albany, Calif.
Winner of three in a row including last month’s Smarty Jones Stakes, front-running Gold Street tries to win another 10-point Derby prep at Oaklawn Park for Asmussen on Monday, when he is expected to start in the $750,000 Grade 3 Southwest Stakes. Cut to 50-1 in William Hill futures, all three of Gold Street’s victories have come on wet tracks. The National Weather Service forecast a 30-40 percent chance of showers for Hot Springs, Ark., on Presidents’ Day. According to HorseRacingNation.com, Asmussen may also saddle two other prep winners for Monday’s 8½-furlong race – Shoplifted from the Springboard Mile and Silver Prospector from the Kentucky Jockey Club. Trained by Cox, Answer In is also expected to start in the Southwest. He is 40-1 at William Hill as he prepares to make his 3-year-old debut coming off a narrow, second-place finish as an odds-on favorite in the Springboard Mile. The draw for the Southwest card was scheduled for Friday.
Added to my bucket list: A trip to the White Turf races in Switzerland. This weekend marks the last of this year’s three consecutive Sundays of racing on frozen Lake St. Moritz. The biggest feature of the meet that dates to 1907 is the 81st running of the $113,561 Group 2 Grand Prix of St. Moritz, a 1¼-mile flat race Sunday at 7:15 a.m. EST. When I read that 9-year-old Irish gelding Berrahri is back to defend his 2019 victory, curiosity got the best of me. I looked up his past performances on the website for the U.K.’s Racing Post. It lists the St. Moritz course condition as “f” – for frozen. If that was not unusual enough, the White Turf card includes gallopers, trotters, ponies and skikjöring, in which horses tow skiers. I also read that this event is not short on champagne, caviar and hot- and cold-running wealth, what with rooms at the nearby Carlton Hotel St. Moritz going for $2,000 a night. Somehow, on-line directions to a two-franc betting window were nowhere to be found.
This has nothing to do with horses, but while I am thinking of European ice events, is there any chance that the Elfstedentocht will ever happen again? That 14-letter word is Dutch for “11-city tour,” namely a 120-mile ice-skating competition in the Netherlands that was last held in 1997. The first rule of competition is that the ice connecting all the cities has to be at least six inches thick the whole way. It has been held only 15 times since 1909 – and only three times in the last 56 years. The call to competition comes with maybe only two days’ notice. Climate change has been blamed for this longest gap between Elfstedentochts. Wanderlust is to blame for my bringing it up here.
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning – more frequently for big races – at VSiN.com. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. On the current episode Fair Grounds track announcer John G. Dooley previews Saturday’s two divisions of the Risen Star Stakes, and National Thoroughbred Racing Association executive Keith Chamblin talks about the growth of handicapping contests. The RFRP is also available via Apple, Google, Spotify and Stitcher and is sponsored by Xpressbet.