2023 Risen Star Stakes & Rachel Alexandra Odds & Picks

Two major preps for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks take the spotlight at the Fair Grounds on Saturday, with the unbeaten Victory Formation and G3 winners Two Phil’s and Curly Jack gunning for the 2023 Risen Star Stakes and the 50 Road to the Kentucky Derby points that would send them to the top of the Derby leaderboard. On the distaff side, the mighty Hoosier Philly returns to action in the G2 Rachel Alexandra with an unbeaten record and her position as Oaks future-book favourite to protect.

Risen Star Stakes

G2, $400,000, 1m 1f dirt, 3yo, 6.14pm CT

The first of the 50pt-to-the-winner, win-and-in preps for the Kentucky Derby is the Risen Star, the highlight of a big Saturday afternoon at the Fair Grounds and won last year by future Derby runner-up Epicenter.

That champion was trained by Steve Asmussen, who puts three in the gate as he bids to nail a record fourth success in the race. The most accomplished of the trio – so far – is Private Creed, who has been hung out to dry in the 14-hole and tries the main track for the first time, after winning two sprint stakes on the weeds and getting third in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint.

This is a different ballgame, and his stakes debutant barnmates Silver Heist – third in a strong allowance optional claimer here over a mile-sixteenth – and easy Santa Anita maiden winner Harlocap, who has recently moved over from Bob Baffert’s barn, have the scope to improve past him.

That strong AOC here was won by Determinedly, who went gate-to-wire and just lasted home by a neck from the grinding closer Tapit’s Conquest, who had three-quarters of a length to spare over Silver Heist.

Will the extra yardage be a step too far for the seasoned Determinedly, and will it be exactly what the relatively inexperienced Tapit’s Conquest wants? Perhaps and certainly are the answers, but Tapit’s Conquest is only a supporting actor for trainer Brad Cox, who has a list of Derby possibles as long as your arm.

Cox’s main chance today is the unbeaten Victory Formation, who stretched his streak to three when making all in the ungraded Smarty Jones over a mile at Oaklawn Park, cruising three lengths clear of barnmate Angel Of Empire, who could never get to grips but had three lengths in hand on the third horse.

Victory Formation is prominent in the Derby future book and there’s more to come, but the extra furlong is a query and he’ll have company on the lead, and he’ll have to use himself early from post 13.

The G3 Iroquois winner Curly Jack was later fifth in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile when he was too close to the heat, and then runner-up to the talented Instant Coffee in the mile-sixteenth G2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs in November, when he couldn’t find daylight. He’s a class act in a deep field, which also applies to Two Phil’s, winner of the G3 Street Sense at Churchill Downs before likewise playing second-fiddle to Instant Coffee, this time in the G3 Lecomte here over a mile-sixteenth.

Crupi is a five-race maiden, but ignore a Todd Pletcher horse at your peril, and he was only a head behind well-regarded barnmate Slip Mahoney – and 15 lengths clear of the third horse – over a mile at Aqueduct last month. Sun Thunder was fourth in the G3 Southwest at Oaklawn Park, nine lengths behind Derby favourite Arabian Knight, and he should provide a telling insight into that form.

2023 Risen Star Stakes Odds & Betting Pick

HorseJockeyOdds by JazzSports
Quiet as MidnightEmanuel Nieves+5000
Single RulerJose Riquelme+3000
Shaq DieselAdam Beschizza+3000
DeterminedlyReylu Gutierrez+800
HarlocapJohn R. Velazquez+800
Angel of EmpireLuis Saez+800
Sun ThunderBrian Joseph Hernandez, Jr.+1500
Tapit’s ConquestFlorent Geroux+600
Curly JackEdgar Morales+800
Two Phil’sJareth Loveberry+800
Silver HeistCorey J. Lanerie+1200
CrupiJames Graham+1500
Victory FormationFlavien Prat+300
Private CreedTyler Gaffalione+1200

A deep field and a tricky puzzle; perhaps CURLY JACK, who had a tough trip behind Instant Coffee on his last start, can make his class edge pay off.

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Rachel Alexandra Stakes

G2, $300,000, 1m 1/16 dirt, 3yo fillies, 5.41pm CT

It’s quite the opposite in the Rachel Alexandra, the distaff equivalent with 50 Road to the Kentucky Oaks points on offer to the winner, which boasts a stand-out celebrity who has frightened off most of the opposition.

That’s understandable, given the talent and promise shown by the unbeaten Hoosier Philly as she ran up a three-streak at Churchill Downs last fall. She blew away her rivals by seven and a half lengths in a stakes over a mile-sixteenth, and built handsomely upon that when cantering home by five lengths in the G2 Golden Rod over the same distance, wrapped up well before the line and value for a wider margin.

She has attracted interest as a Derby possible, although trainer Tom Amoss is sticking fast to the familiar path, and given normal improvement from two to three Hoosier Philly could really be quite something. The long stretch at the Fair Grounds is reminiscent of Churchill Downs, so she should feel at home.

Place and show in the Golden Rod were Knockyoursocksoff and Pretty Mischievous, separated by a neck, with Knockyoursocksoff finishing off her race strongly and rallying past Pretty Mischievous at the wire. That was the first start on the main track for Knockyoursocksoff after being G2-placed on the lawn and she adapted admirably, and could find more.

Pretty Mischievous was giving up her unbeaten record there, and returned to the winner’s circle next time when dominant in a stakes here over an extended mile, drawing off in style to hit the line eight and three-quarter lengths ahead of the favoured Vahva, previously comfortable winner of a Churchill Downs maiden, in third.

The runner-up The Alys Look franked the form nicely when winning her own stakes over the same course and distance next time, beating Chop Chop by a length with the third horse a mile back.

That’s all strong form, and Chop Chop herself had earlier been runner-up to champion Wonder Wheel in the G1 Alcibiades at Keeneland. It speaks volumes that Hoosier Philly was able to brush aside such rivals in the Golden Rod.

Saratoga maiden winner Miracle has since hit the board in three state-bred stakes and obviously has ability, but she’s been thrown into the deep end here and seems more likely to sink than swim.

Rachel Alexandra Stakes Odds & Betting Prediction

HorseJockeyOdds by JazzSports
VahvaLuis Saez+800
Hoosier PhillyEdgar Morales+120
KnockyoursocksoffFlavien Prat+1200
Chop ChopFlorent Geroux+160
Pretty MischievousTyler Gaffalione+450
MiracleJohn R. Velazquez+1200

Kentucky Oaks favorite HOOSIER PHILLY was hugely impressive in strong company last year and looks a solid choice to extend her unbeaten run to four.

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