Risen Star Draws Contenders from Both Coasts — Can La Crete or North County Remain Unbeaten in Rachel?

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Risen Star Draws Contenders from Both Coasts

Florida Invader Smile Happy Installed as 7/2 Morning Line Favorite


New Orleans, LA (February 15, 2022)—Have points? Will travel.

That seems to be the theme this time of year as the Road to the Kentucky Derby heats up with the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (G2) presented by Lamarque Ford at Fair Grounds Race Course and Slots on Saturday.

Six stakes have been carded by racing secretary Scott Jones and his crew for Saturday’s “Louisiana Derby Preview Day,” including the Risen Star’s sister race, the $300,000 Rachel Alexandra presented by Fasig-Tipton. The top four in that 3-year-old filly event will earn Kentucky Oaks qualifying points (50-20-10-5). The “All Stakes Late Pick Five” covers the final five races on the card (9-13) and there will be a $500,000 guaranteed pool. First post is scheduled for noon CT.

The Risen Star, the first “50-point” contest on the calendar, was extended from 1 1/16 miles to 1 1/8 miles in 2020. This year’s field drew 10 talented runners from coast to coast to take on a local contingent that has spent the winter pointing for this race. While the winner will seal a starting spot in the gate for the Kentucky Derby, the 20 points offered for second is often enough to secure entry as well. Third place collects 10 points and the fourth-place finisher will receive 5 points.

“One reason we chose this spot is because there’s more points in this race,” said trainer Kenny McPeek, who will ship in 7/2 morning line favorite Smile Happy from his Gulfstream Park winter base.

Owned by Lucky Seven Stable, the talented son of Runhappy won the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) in his second and final start of his juvenile season. That race has come back to produce three next out stake winners in Lecomte victor Call Me Midnight, Holy Bull winner White Abarrio and Sam F. Davis winner Classic Causeway.

McPeek admitted he would like to keep Smile Happy and Breeders Futurity (G1) winner Rattle N Roll separated for the time being, meaning one of them would have to ship away from Gulfstream Park.

“I think this is a good first step for Smile Happy,” said McPeek, who hopes to get two quality preps into him before the first Saturday in May. “He’s doing super. He’s done everything right. He’s a very low maintenance horse who makes our job easy. He eats good. He loves to train. We’re trying to keep him and Rattle N Roll separated, with Rattle N Roll pointing for the Fountain of Youth.”

This is McPeek’s first Risen Star starter since Rogue Romance finished third as the favorite in the 2011 edition. According to McPeek, recently retired jockey Robby Albarado will accompany Smile Happy to Fair Grounds.

Zandon will also make the long van ride to Fair Grounds from his south Florida base at Payson Park. Owned by Jeff Drown and trained by Chad Brown, Zandon had two eventful trips to begin his career in New York. In his debut maiden win he collided with the gate at the start but overcame his competition with a determined stretch run to win the six-furlong sprint at Belmont.

That impressive maiden breaker prompted favoritism at Aqueduct in the Remsen Stakes (G2) with Zandon battling inside of eventual winner Mo Donegal. Mo Donegal made things very tight just before the wire but after an extended look by the stewards the result went the way of Mo Donegal.

“We just felt like that surface and the longer stretch would suit his style better than the short stretch at Gulfstream that is usually speed favoring,” Brown said. “He’s got to get over the shipping, but the horse couldn’t be training any better. This guy has only run twice, so a little different situation than some of the others I had on the (Kentucky Derby) trail that had more races under their belt. He’s a very exciting prospect and I don’t see any reason why he won’t get up to a mile and quarter.”

Trainer Doug O’Neill is back in the Crescent City with a prime contender in Slow Down Andy.

The Nyquist homebred is bred up and down by Paul and Zillah Reddam being out of Square Eddie mare Edwina E. O’Neill trained both the sire and dam’s sire, which makes this horse extra special to the connections.

“It’s so cool to have a Square Eddie mare by Nyquist entering a race like the Risen Star,” O’Neill said. This is just a true Paul and Zillah Reddam homebred and that makes it even more special. We’re all pinching ourselves at this point.”

After a pair of sprints at Santa Anita and Del Mar, Slow Down Andy captured the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) over the well-regarded Messier. He has been kept in training at Santa Anita and his connections feel with a good trip he will be with them at the wire.

“He really hasn’t missed a beat out of his last race,” O’Neill said. “We’re coming into this race really optimistic he is going to run a big race. With a clean break, he’ll show good tactical speed and he’s got tremendous stamina. For $400,000 at Fair Grounds, you expect it to be a tough spot. We knew entering that we were jumping into some deep water, but we think Slow Down Andy can swim with them.”

O’Neill shipped in to capture the Louisiana Derby (G2) last year with Hot Rod Charlie.

The local delegation of Epicenter, Pappacap and Trafalgar all exited the Lecomte Stakes with secondary points. A board finish by any of these three in the Risen Star would heavily bolster their chance at running for the roses at Churchill Downs.

Epicenter and Pappacap share 4-1 morning line odds after finishing in a tight photo for the place spot in the Lecomte with Epicenter gaining the slight advantage.

Pappacap figures to be a little tighter this time around in his second start of the season and will get a jockey change to Tyler Gaffalione breaking from the rail. Owned by Rustlewood Farm Inc. and trained by Hall of Famer Mark Casse, Pappacap is bidding to give his trainer a second Risen Star trophy following War of Will’s victory in 2019.

Winchell Throughbreds’ Epicenter found himself on a contested lead through fast fractions in the Lecomte and will likely be part of the pace again for trainer Steve Asmussen. Asmussen knows the son of Not This Time should improve off that effort and hope he can relax going the extra furlong in the 1 1/8-mile contest.

“We like his chances and he’s doing well,” Asmussen said. “Disappointing he didn’t win last time but he has a chance to prove himself against a nice group on Saturday.”

Trainer Brad Cox, who won last year’s Risen Star with Mandaloun, has a pair of perceived outsiders entered in this year’s race in Bodock and Tawny Port.

“Both will have to step up,” Cox said on the Fair Grounds Racing Podcast. “Bodock, he’s a Street Boss, a full to Hence which was a successful horse for Calumet. We’re hoping and thinking this horse will stretch. He came here and was doing well, but had a little setback. We got him back to the races planning on stretching him out but a 6-furlong race came up and we thought let’s just run him, it’s been a while since he’s run, and we need to get a run in him. We’re hopeful he’ll get the 1 1/8 miles. It’s a big ask but hopefully he’ll step up.”

“The other colt, Tawny Port, two-for-two on synthetics, both around two turns,” Cox continued. “I think he’ll get the 1 1/8 miles. His figures are definitely going to have to improve, but I think it is possible. He’s a good-looking colt, expensive yearling that was bred to go two-turns and hopefully he can put it all together and step forward.”

“They are both happy, healthy, and well, so I expect them to run good races, and we’re going to see if they can swim at this end of the pool,” Cox said. “This is obviously deep water for both and they obviously are going to have to step up.”

All runners will carry 122 pounds. The race offers qualifying points toward the Kentucky Derby (G1) on a 50-20-10-5 scale to the top four finishers.

With a post time of 5:58 p.m. CST, the Risen Star (G2) presented by Lamarque Ford will cap a 13-race card. The field with post position, jockey/trainer and morning line odds is as follows: Rustlewood Farms’ Pappacap (Post 1, Tyler Gaffalione/Mark Casse, 4/1 ML), third as the favorite in the Lecomte Stakes (G3) last out; Glockenburg’s Russian Tank (Post 2, J Vega/Gennadi Dorochenko, 50/1 ML), making his stakes debut in the Risen Star; Columbine Stable’s Trafalgar (Post 3, Colby Hernandez/Al Stall Jr. 10/1 ML), will add blinkers off his fourth place in the Lecomte; Peachtree Stable’s Tawny Port (Post 4, Geroux/Cox, 12/1 ML), $430,000 colt tries conventional dirt for the first time; Winchell Thoroughbred’s Epicenter (Post 5, Rosario/Asmussen, 4/1 ML), winner of the Gun Runner and second in the Lecomte; Sumaya U. S. Stables’ Pioneer of Medina (Post 6, Luis Saez/Pletcher, 10/1 ML), Fair Grounds allowance winner makes stakes debut here; Jeff Brown’s Zandon (Post 7, Jose Ortiz/Chad Brown, 9/2 ML), making his 3-year-old debut off a close second in the Remsen; Lucky Seven Stable’s Smile Happy (Post 8, Corey Lanerie/Kenneth McPeek, 7/2 ML), undefeated in two starts including a win in the Kentucky Jockey Club; Calumet Farm’s Bodock (Post 9, Marcelino Pedroza/Cox, 10/1 ML), undefeated colt making his stakes debut; and Reddam Racing’s Slow Down Andy (Post 10, Mario Gutierrez/O’Neill, 9/2 ML), winner of the Los Alamitos Futurity.


Can La Crete or North County Remain Unbeaten in Rachel?
Hidden Connection Starts Sophomore Campaign with Outside Post


Any graded stakes race victory is a feather in the cap of owners and trainers alike but the $300,000 Rachel Alexandra Stakes (G2) presented by Fasig-Tipton Saturday at Fair Grounds hits different for Stonestreet Stables and Steve Asmussen.

Those connections campaigned the champion filly for which this race is named and last year celebrated once again when their homebred Clairiere won the race on her way to the Longines Kentucky Oaks. The family affair continues with Clairiere’s undefeated half-sister La Crete, who enters the “Rachel” off a solid win in last month’s Silverbulletday.

“It’s a special race named for a very special filly,” said Asmussen who has won this race six times since 2005. “La Crete is doing really well. We were extremely impressed with her effort in the Silverbulletday and look to build off that race in here.”

La Crete will break from the rail under Joel Rosario with 8-1 morning line odds.
The tepid 3-1 morning line favorite for the race is Hidden Brook Farm and Black Type Thoroughbreds’ Hidden Connection, who makes her sophomore debut for trainer Bret Calhoun.

Calhoun has taken his time with the daughter of Connect who captured the Pocahontas (G3) at Churchill by a widening nine lengths in her second career start.

“Anytime you transition from (age) two to three, you always have questions in the back of your mind until they do it,” Calhoun said. “We’ve targeted this race for a long time and I think she is ready for it. I can’t say that I got her dialed in 100% for this race, wouldn’t really expect to. It’s a long year but her best work was her last one. She seems to be going into it the right way.”

Reylu Gutierrez will be back aboard Hidden Connection who will break from the far outside in the 11-horse field.

Right under Hidden Connection on the morning line at 7/2 odds is Southern California invader Awake at Midnyte from the barn of Doug O’Neill.

O’Neill is not shy about putting his young stars on a plane and ships the daughter of Nyquist to the Bayou state for longtime owner J. Paul Reddam. It will be her first trek outside of California but O’Neill feels she is ready to step up her game despite only having a maiden win in three starts.

“She’s built like a colt,” O’Neill stated. “She’s a daughter of Nyquist. Even though she wasn’t a homebred, my brother Dennis scouted her out, and Paul and Zillah (Reddam) wrote a big check for her. She’s got first round draft choice type of physical qualities about her. She’s mentally tough. She hasn’t disappointed us in any of her races so far. We think she fits in with these and she’s got a big chance.”

Mario Gutierrez has been aboard for all three of her starts and will retain the mount. Awake at Midnyte is already multiple-graded stakes placed with back-to-back-runner up finishes in the 7-furlong Santa Ynez (G2) and on the turf in the Jimmy Durante (G3) at Del Mar.

“I expect her to be up close and play the pace,” O’Neill added. “She can try to go wire-to-wire, but if there’s pace she can sit just off.”

O’Neill’s last starter in the Rachel was back in 2017 when Shane’s Girlfriend finished fifth as the 7/5 favorite.

North County returns in this spot to put her unbeaten ledger on the line for the ownership team of Rebecca Hillen, Stonecrest Farm and Bruno De Julio. Trained by Brendan Walsh, the Not This Time filly got some time off following her third career win in the Untapable Stakes back on Dec. 26. She skipped last month’s Silverbulletday Stakes with a purposeful eye toward bigger and better things this spring.

“We backed off her and gave her a couple of weeks jogging,” Walsh said. “It made sense to give her down time now if we are going to go forward from here. We gave her three works since, and she is ready to go again.”

North County broke her maiden at Indiana Grand sprinting on the turf before winning an off-the-turf allowance on a sloppy track at Keeneland. Last time out in the Untapable she displayed a determined late kick to get up by a neck under Adam Beschizza.

“This is the acid test for her,” Walsh remarked. “She hasn’t done anything wrong so far. She seems to like the track here–likes the long stretch. It’s time for her to take a shot.”

Dream Lith is another intriguing prospect looking to add to her black-type resume.

Owned by Cypress Creek Equine and Arnold Bennewith, Dream Lith was last seen rallying to win the Golden Rod Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs in November. She has two wins from four starts with both defeats coming in Grade I company as a juvenile.

“I think she is coming off the layoff really well,” said her trainer Robertino Diodoro, who will employ Oaklawn-based jockey Ramon Vazquez with the mount. “I’ve been very happy with the way she has worked, especially her last couple (works) have been very impressive with good gallop outs. I think the big thing is she has filled out some, and I think the short little break has helped her in a few different ways.”

Dream Lith has been based at Fair Grounds all winter.

“I would have liked to get another work into her before the Rachel Alexandra,” Diodoro admitted. “It was between this and the race here at Oaklawn next weekend. Secret Oath looks very tough right now. She is training very well at Fair Grounds and I’m trying to get in (more stalls next year) so we might as well run her out of her stall. Especially first off the layoff, I thought it made sense to leave her right where she is at.”

Ike and Dawn Thrash’s Turnerloose should find herself in the front half of the field under Florent Geroux when the gates open. The daughter of Nyquist will make her dirt debut after four two-turn turf races as a juvenile last year. Trainer Brad Cox won this race back in 2018 with champion Monomoy Girl but feels this is the right spot to see if Turnerloose could make a run on the Oaks trail.

“She trained well enough on the dirt last fall,” Cox said. “She was a bit of lighter-framed filly so that led us to the turf at Ellis and then she stepped up and won at Kentucky Downs. She’s had a couple nice moves here at Fair Grounds on the dirt since we gave her some time off after the Breeders Cup so we decided to give her a chance and see if she likes racing on it.”

All fillies will carry 122 pounds. The race offers qualifying points toward the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) on a 50-20-10-5 scale to the top four finishers.

With a post time of 5:27 p.m. CST, the Rachel Alexandra is scheduled as the 12th race on the 13-race card. The field with post position, jockey/trainer and morning line odds is as follows: Stonestreet Stable’s La Crete (Post 1, Rosario/Asmussen, 8/1 ML), winner of the Silverbulletday; Rebecca Hilton, Stonecrest Farms and Bruno DeJulio’s North County (Post 2, Beschizza/Walsh, 8/1 ML), undefeated from three starts including the Untapable; Westlake Racing’s Miss Mattie B (Post 3, Mike Smith/Robert Hess Jr., 15/1 ML), third in the Santa Ynez last out; Cypress Creek Equine and Arnold Bennewith’s Dream Lith (Post 4, Ramon Vazquez/Robertino Diodoro, 6/1 ML), winner of the Golden Rod; Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Long Valley Stables’ Divine Huntress (Post 5, Jose Ortiz/H. Graham Motion, 6/1 ML), winner of two straight at Parx; Don’t Tell My Wife Stables and Keith Desormeaux’s Candy Raid (Post 6, Jose Riquleme/J. Keith Desormeaux, 30/1 ML), fourth in the Silverbulletday; Ike and Dawn Thrash’s Turnerloose (Post 7, Geroux/Cox, 12/1 ML), a stakes winner on turf trying dirt for the first time; Red Oak Stable’s Goddess of Fire (Post 8, Luis Saez/Pletcher, 8/1 ML), second in the Gasparella last out; Reddam Racing’s Awake at Midnyte (Post 9, Gutierrez/O’Neill, 7/2 ML), second in the Santa Ynez last out; Chris Walsh’s California Angel (Post 10, Deshawn Parker/George Leonard III, 30/1 ML), a grade 3 winner on turf; and Hidden Brook Farms and Black Type Thoroughbred’s Hidden Connection (Post 11, Reylu Gutierrez/Calhoun, 3/1 ML), winner of the Pocahontas.

With such a stellar history of recent participants, Fair Grounds remains hopeful the Rachel Alexandra Stakes will soon achieve the Grade I status it deserves. In 2018, Rachel Alexandra champion Monomoy Girl went on to win both the Longines Kentucky Oaks and the Breeders’ Cup Distaff en route to earning an Eclipse Award as Champion 3-Year-Old Female. The following year (2019) Serengeti Empress and Liora, the 1-2 finishers in the Rachel Alexandra, would also make up the exacta in the Kentucky Oaks. Our 2020 third-place finisher Swiss Skydiver went on to win six graded stakes, including the Alabama (G1) (in advance of a runner-up finish in in the Kentucky Oaks), the Preakness, which was run as the third leg of the Triple Crown that year, and the Beholder Mile (G1). Last year’s winner Clairiere was fourth in the Kentucky Oaks, and she would capture the Cotillion (G1) later in the year.

In the last 25 years, nine winners of the Kentucky Oaks also participated in the Rachel Alexandra. They include:

2019 – Serengeti Empress, won both
2018 – Monomoy Girl, won both
2015 – Lovely Maria, 2nd in the Rachel, won the Kentucky Oaks
2014 – Untapable, won both
2012 – Believe You Can, 4th in the Rachel, won the Kentucky Oaks
2008 – Proud Spell, 2nd in the Rachel, won the Kentucky Oaks
2005 – Summerly, won both
1999 – Silverbulletday won both
1997 – Blushing K.D., won both


About Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots
Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, one of the nation’s oldest racetracks, has been in operation since 1872. Located in New Orleans, LA, Fair Grounds, which is owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ Global Select Market: CHDN), also operates a slot-machine gaming facility and 15 off-track betting parlors throughout Southeast Louisiana. The 150th Thoroughbred Racing Season – highlighted by the 109th running of the Louisiana Derby – will run from November 25, 2021 through March 27, 2022. More information is available online at www.fairgroundsracecourse.com.

12/26/2021 - Epicenter with jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr. aboard pulls away to win the inaugural running of the $100,000 Gun Runner Stakes at Fair Grounds. Hodges Photography / Amanda Hodges Weir