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Normandy Invasion (outside) finished second to Overanalyze (center) in the Remsen Stakes. He has a big chance to earn a breakthrough first stakes win in the Risen Star on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of Adam Coglianese/NYRA)

The 40th running of the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (G2) gains new perspective this year on the Road to the Kentucky Derby as it is one of two races this weekend that kick off the Kentucky Derby Championship Series. The winner of the Risen Star, as well as the winner of the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park, will earn 50 points toward a starting spot in the gate on the first Saturday in May. With this new point-qualification system in place, the Risen Star has drawn an overflow field of 15 runners, with 14 of them capable of going in the race.

Leading the group is Normandy Invasion, who put in a breathtaking run but came up a nose shy of victory in the Remsen Stakes (G2) last fall. His main competitor, on paper at least, appears to be Oxbow, who dispatched eight opponents with ease last month in the Lecomte Stakes (G3) at Fair Grounds, drawing off to win by 11 1/2 lengths. Although those two may have an edge in terms of having run the best at the highest level, there are no slouches among the other 13 horses. Mylute finished in the top three in both the Jean Lafitte Stakes and Delta Jackpot Stakes (G3) and recently won a race at Fair Grounds by nearly 11 lengths, so he could have a say in the outcome, as could Todd Pletcher’s Palace Malice, who makes his second start after returning from a 5-month layoff and just finished second to a top 3-year-old in Majestic Hussar, who is running in the Fountain of Youth. Another trainer loaded with sophomore talent, Bob Baffert, ships Code West in from California off a runner-up effort to Super Ninety Nine, who decimated the field in the Southwest Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn Park this past Monday.

Like Mylute, Proud Strike has a sharp win on the Fair Grounds track to his credit coming into the race and could step up and compete, as could Lecomte runner-up Golden Soul. Hardrock Eleven was the runner-up around one turn in the Allen’s Landing Stakes last month. Circle Unbroken did not run well in the Lecomte (sixth) but had been away from the races for five months and could return to the form shown when beaten by a nose in the Mountaineer Juvenile Stakes before the rest. He's Had Enough missed by a head to leading Derby contender Shanghai Bobby in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) last fall but has only fifth- and third-place efforts since then. Louisiana Futurity winner Sunbean has won his last two races at Fair Grounds and could have a say in the outcome, but but is the lone also-eligible entrant in the field and would need a horse to withdraw (scratch) to run. Agent and Departing are recent winners stepping up considerably in class. Bethel and Ive Struck a Nerve round out the field.


Normandy Invasion stretched out to a mile in his second career start last November, after a poor debut effort in a sprint, and won as he pleased by more than nine lengths. Stepped up from the maiden ranks into top company three weeks later and asked to run 1 1/8 miles in only the third start of his career, Normandy Invasion rallied from next-to-last in the field of 10 and into a slow pace to miss by a nose at the finish line, earning a career-best 115 Equibase Speed Figure that was tied for the best 2-year-old figure in North America in 2012. Rested since then, Normandy Invasion has been working consistently every seven days for his return to the races. As such, and having demonstrated both the physical and mental ability that could make him a strong contender on the road to the Kentucky Derby, Normandy Invasion should be fit and ready to pick up where he left off last fall with a top effort good enough to win the Risen Star.

Palace Malice stretches out in distance to run in a two-turn race for the first time, making his second start after being away from the races for 5 1/2 months and having improved his Equibase Speed Figure in both starts since his debut by five points, his most recent being 95. One of many top 3-year-olds from the barn of Todd Pletcher, Palace Malice recently finished second to Majestic Hussar, who is running in the other Derby prep race this weekend, the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Bred to run this far and beyond as a son of 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner Curlin, Palace Malice should run very well with logical improvement in his second start off a layoff.

Mylute showed he fit with top company last fall when third behind Goldencents and Bern Identity in the Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (G3), earning a career best 100  Equibase Speed Figure with that effort. With this race in mind, top trainer Tom Amoss gave Mylute some experience on the Fair Grounds main track on Dec. 26 in an allowance level race, a test he passed with flying colors as he won by 10 3/4 lengths. Rested since then, Mylute has the ability to move forward past his Delta Jackpot effort, which could see him running well enough to win the Risen Star and stamp himself a strong contender on the road to the Kentucky Derby. 

Oxbow shipped in from Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, where he trains, to win the Lecomte Stakes, the local prep for the Risen Star, doing so easily by 11 1/2 lengths. Earning a career-best 101 speed figure with that effort, Oxbow returned to his home base and to regular training under the tutelage of Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. He now comes back to Fair Grounds ready to take another step forward and perhaps win his second graded stakes race in a row. It must be noted, however, that he led from start to finish in both career wins and gets a potentially disadvantageous outside post that will require him to expend a lot of energy getting the lead before the first turn without going very wide.


Oxbow Lecomte

Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire

Proud Strike and Code West are two more horses worth noting in the Risen Star. Proud Strike won at the distance of the Risen Star by 7 1/2 lengths in his most recent race (87 speed figure). Although just a maiden race, Proud Strike is an exceptionally well-bred colt who gets the ground-saving rail and could take a big step forward to run well at high odds. Code West ships in from California for Bob Baffert off a runner-up effort against his stablemate Super Ninety Nine on Jan. 31. Considering Super Ninety Nine shipped out of California to destroy the field in the Southwest Stakes this past Monday, Code West, who earned a 98 speed figure in that recent race, should probably be taken very seriously if he shows the same kind of improvement as Super Ninety Nine.

The rest of the field (with their best representative Equibase Speed Figure): Agent (91), Bethel (82), Circle Unbroken (91), Departing (85), Golden Soul (88), Hardrock Eleven (92), He's Had Enough (92), Ive Struck a Nerve (90) and Sunbean (101).

My Selections:

Normandy Invasion

Palace Malice




$400,000 Risen Star Stakes (G2)

Saturday, Fair Grounds, Race 10, 5:57 p.m. ET

1 1/16 miles, 3-year-olds






Proud Strike (VA)

G L Stevens

S Asmussen


Code West (VA)

M Garcia

B Baffert


Agent (OK)

R E Eramia

J McAnally


Golden Soul (KY)

M Mena

D Stewart


Mylute (KY)

S Bridgmohan

T M Ammoss


Palace Malice (KY)

R Napravnik

T A Pletcher


Hardrock Eleven (FL)

J Theriot

D P Banks


Ive Struck a Nerve (KY)

J Graham

J K Desormeaux


Normandy Invasion (KY)

J Lezcano

C C Brown


Oxbow (KY)

J K Court

D W Lukas


Bethel (KY)

I V Diego

G Dorochenko


He's Had Enough (KY)

M Gutierrex

D F O'Neill


Circle Unbroken (FL)

L R Goncalves

G W Simms


Departing (KY)

B J Hernandez

A M Stall Jr.


Sunbean (LA)

C J Hernandez

A M Stall Jr.

AE – denotes also-eligible entrant who need one defection from the field in order to start in the race. All horses carry 116 pounds.

Image Description

Ellis Starr

National Racing Analyst for Equibase, Fan Education Specialist, Bettor, Magister of Equine Prognostication (Handicapper).

Image Description

Ellis Starr

National Racing Analyst for Equibase, Fan Education Specialist, Bettor, Magister of Equine Prognostication (Handicapper).

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