gBrad Cox-trained Victory Formation looks to stay unbeaten when he takes on 13 other talented 3-year-olds in the $400,000 Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes on Saturday at Fair Grounds in New Orleans.
The son of Belmont Stakes winner Tapwrit is 3-for-3, including a gate-to-wire victory in the 1-mile Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas on Jan. 1. Jockey Flavien Prat will be aboard for the second straight race. The 1 1/8-mile Risen Star will go off as Race 13 at about 7:14 p.m. ET and it awards 50 Kentucky Derby points to the winner.
Angel of Empire (6), who finished three lengths behind barn mate Victory Formation in the Smarty Jones, is entered in the field along with Lecomte runner-up Two Phil’s (10) and Curly Jack (9) – second in the Kentucky Juvenile Cup last November.
Instant Coffee, the winner of the 1 1/16-mile Lecomte at Fair Grounds on Jan. 21, is being rested and pointed toward the Louisiana Derby on March 25.
Good Trip Vital at Fair Grounds
Victory Formation, the morning-line favorite (3-1) in the horse betting odds, has the speed to get position from the No. 13 post and may end up on the lead or just behind some of the speed horses on the inside.
Determinedly (4) and Harlocap (5), with Hall of Famer John Velasquez on board, could be involved in the pace while many others will be battling for the golden spots just behind the speed.
Trainer Tom Amoss sends out Curly Jack, who should enjoy the long stretch at Fair Grounds to unleash his late kick. The son of Kentucky Derby third-place finisher Good Magic won the 1 1/16-mile Iroquois at Churchill Downs, followed that up with a fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and closed for second behind Instant Coffee in the Kentucky Juvenile Cup before taking 2½ months off.
Cox also sends out Angel of Empire and Tapit’s Conquest (8), who was second by a neck behind Determinedly in an optional claimer at Fair Grounds on Jan. 21. Veteran trainer Steve Asmussen has Harlocap along with lightly raced Silver Heist (11) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint third-place finisher Private Creed (14).
Two Phil’s was 2½ lengths behind Instant Coffee in the Lecomte after winning the 1 1/16-mile Street Sense Stakes at Churchill on a sloppy sealed track last October. Trainer Todd Pletcher, the 2022 Eclipse Award winner, also sends out Crupi (12), a maiden who has been second or third in all five career races and is expected to show improvement.
If Victory Formation does not display dominance, this race is wide open. Even trainer Ken McPeek’s Sun Thunder (7) could be in the hunt off a fourth-place finish in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn a few weeks ago.
The odds are that Victory Formation will be there at the end, but we think Curly Jack may give him all he can handle in the final yards if you are betting online.
- PICK: Bet exacta box 9-13 and play trifecta 9-13 (9-13 with 6, 7, 10, 11, 12)
Key Derby Preps Ahead
The Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn is the only race on the Derby trail scheduled for next weekend and the field is still unknown, but Cox’s colt Verifying may lead the way.
The son of Triple Crown winner Justify was a troubled sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and followed that up with a win in a 1-mile allowance race at Oaklawn on Jan. 14. Gun Pilot, who was second in that race, is also under consideration for the Rebel.
BC Juvenile winner Forte worked on Feb. 11 and he is being pointed toward his 2023 debut in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park on March 4.
Bob Baffert is still under suspension at Churchill Downs and may have to transfer some of his top horses to other trainers at the end of the month.
The futures of current Kentucky derby odds favorite Arabian Knight, who won the Southwest in late January, along with BC Juvenile runner-up Cave Rock and San Felipe winner Reincarnate are up in the air due to Baffert’s status. Harlocap was already moved from Baffert’s barn to Asmussen.