As we move into the beginning of the 50-20-10-5 Kentucky Derby Prep races, the fields figure to get stronger by the week.
Such is the case with the running of the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds on Saturday. The 1-1/8-mile race is the 13th on the Fair Grounds card and is set for a 3:58 PDT post.
There are 85 points available to potential Derby runners and all figure to be awarded as Derby suspended trainer Bob Baffert has no horses entered in the race.
There are 10 horses set to go to post and it is a talented and balanced lot that make up the field, the strongest thus far of the Derby preps.
Smile Happy (Kenneth McPeak, trainer; Corey Lanerie, jockey) is the morning line favorite at 7/2. Smile Happy is perfect in his two starts but has not raced since winning the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs on Nov. 27.
The works have been solid and consistent, but it will be interesting to see if the closer is sharp enough to catch the front running speed.
Pappacap (Mark Casse, Tyler Gaffalione, 4/1) is coming a third-place finish as the favorite in the Lecomte over the Fair Grounds track. That was the first start for the horse in over two months, so I expect a much sharper performance for the horse that has two wins in six starts and prefers to sit just off the pace.
Epicenter (Steve Asmussen, Joel Rosario, 4/1) was second in the Lecomte as one of the favorites and set the pace throughout until getting nailed right at the end. The horse has a first and second in two starts at the Fair Grounds and look to this runner to be on the lead or pushing the pace early.
Zandon (Chad Brown, Jose Ortiz, 9/2) is another major contender, but has been off since running second in the Remsen on Dec. 4. He ran second, a beaten favorite to Mo Donegal, a horse that has picked up a lot of followers since the race. Has shown two different styles in his two starts, so not sure where to see him set up. Has a nice set of works for the return, including an impressive bullet work in his last effort.
Slow Down Andy (Doug O’Neill, Mario Gutierrez, 9/2) is a shipper from California, perhaps to avoid the Baffert runners at this point.
The last start was a win in the Los Alamitos Futurity, beating the favored Messier with a strong close. Messier came back and was an impressive winner in the Lewis at Santa Anita, making Slow Down Andy’s last race even more impressive. Three starts, none worse than second make the horse a major player, provided he ships well, having never run out of Southern California.
Those are your five single digit morning line runners, but there is another horse I am watching here.
Pioneer of Medina (Todd Pletcher, Luis Saez, 10-1) is a horse that could go off much lower by post time. Out of Pioneer of the Nile, the horse has been getting stronger. The horse has two wins in four starts, with those coming in an optional claimer and a maiden special weight race, but the optional claimer did come the Fair Grounds and he won that out front, showing a nice cruising speed. Is a step up, but the bloodlines with this one is strong, and he is one to watch.
By Dennis Miller