Track Phantom’s Hot Streak to be Tested by Talented Risen Star Field  

Contact: Kevin Kilroy
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  • 50-25-15-10-5 Derby Points are on the line at Fair Grounds as the Risen Star signals the next stage of preps 
  • Track Phantom’s stablemate Hall of Fame makes two for Steve Asmussen, who looks for his fourth title
  • Catching Freedom enters, attempting to make it back-to-back Risen Stars for Albaugh Family Stables and Brad Cox
  • Chad Brown enters Sierra Leone, joining a pair from Todd Pletcher and Resilience from Bill Mott on the list of Derby hopefuls shipping in for the Risen Star

New Orleans, La (Feb. 12, 2024) – Racking up 30 points towards the $5 million Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve with wins in both the Gun Runner and the Lecomte (G3), Track Phantom streaks into Saturday’s $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (G2) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots looking to beat 11 rivals and seal the deal on earning a spot in the 150th “Run for the Roses.”

The first prep race to offer 50-25-15-10-5 points to the top five finishers, the 3-year-old colts’ stamina will be tested, as the Risen Star asks the field of twelve to go 1 1/18 miles. Post time is 6:17 p.m (all times Central). With six stakes carded for Saturday’s “Louisiana Derby Preview Day,” the 52nd running of the Risen Star is the finale of the 14-race program, which begins at noon. The $300,000 Rachel Alexandra presented by Fasig-Tipton (G2) goes as race 13 (5:48 p.m.) and will award Kentucky Oaks qualifying points (50-25-15-10-5) to the top five in that 3-year-old filly event.

Owned by L and N Racing, Clark Brewster, Jerry Caroom, and Breeze Easy, forward-minded Track Phantom survived grueling opening fractions in the Gun Runner to prove best by 3 lengths. The Quality Road colt trained by Steve Asmussen took command of the Gun Runner field and

“It was great to see him win the race against a talented field, but especially with going as fast as they did early and showing enough quality to still respond,” Asmussen said ahead of Track Phantom’s next start in the Lecomte.

Looking to rebound for his defeat in the Gun Runner, Nash stood in Track Phantom’s way in the Lecomte. But the Asmussen-trainee engaged that foe in the first turn, sped clear, and never entertained the idea of letting any of his five foes menace him as he pulled away by three in the stretch and won by nearly the same margin with Joel Rosario in the irons. 

“I think the Lecomte was as easy on him as you could have wanted it to be, with him still getting something out of it,” Asmussen said.

Rosario will once again leg up on the 7-2 morning line favorite who drew post 11. 

Though Tack Phantom won the biggest race on “Road to the Derby Preview Day,” the fastest time at the 1 1/16 miles distance went to his stablemate, Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, Westerberg, Gandharvi and Brooke Smith’s Hall of Fame. In just his second race, the $1.4 million dollar purchase was tasked with stretching out and he passed with flying colors, beating seven maiden foes by over ten lengths, and stopping the clock almost a half second faster than Track Phantom.

“He was ridden much more aggressively (in his maiden win) because he’s playing a little catch up on a horse like Track Phantom, but the ability is there,” Asmussen said.

Both of Asmussen’s Derby hopefuls are gifted with natural speed, and made 6-1 in the morning line, Hall of Fame will load to his stablemate’s inside, breaking from post 7 under Ricardo Santana Jr.

“You want a clean run to the first turn,” Asmussen said. “One mile and one-eighth gives us a little more room going into it. (I) want and expect them to break cleanly, establish some position, and just be allowed to show who they are.” 

Asmussen’s most recent top Derby prospects, Epicenter and Disarm, both raced through Fair Grounds’ Road to the Derby on their way to finishing in the top four on the first Saturday in May. Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Epicenter won this event in 2022, one of three Risen Star titles on North America’s all-time winningest trainer’s resume.

“It’s easy to compare what Track Phantom’s done with what Epicenter did two years before,” Asmussen said. “It is also very easy to compare Hall of Fame to what Disarm was last year, but with better-timing. We are extremely excited about (both of) them.”

Brad Cox entered three in the 2023 Risen Star and won it with Albaugh Family Stables’ Angel of Empire. Those same connections will try to run it back, as Cox entered Catching Freedom in the 2024 edition. Already with one Derby prep on his resume, Catching Freedom scored 10 points taking the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn with a strong off the pace run as the 8-5 favorite. 

“We’re going to need to improve off the Smarty Jones,” Cox said. “Physically he looks great. He’s had a good bit of time between races, he shipped back here and is moving well, so we’ll see if he’s up for it.”

On Saturday, Diliberto has him tabbed at 5-1, and with Luis Saez aboard, the bay colt who sold for $575,000 at the 2022 Keeneland September Yearling Sale will break from post 8.

Working in company with the Rachel Alexandra morning line favorite, Alpine Princess, on Feb. 3 and a top Derby prospect in Timberlake on Feb. 10, Catching Freedom finished up each 5-furlong breeze several lengths behind his stablemates. 

“He’s a fairly average workhorse in the mornings,” Cox said. “Always been like that.”

Bred by WinStar, the Constitution colt out of Catch My Drift is a half-sibling to the impressive Peter Pan (G3) and Ohio Derby (G3) runner-up, Bishop’s Bay, who was also trained by Cox.

“Physically, they’re different,” Cox said. “Bishop’s Bay was a stronger, faster horse. Catching Freedom is built more for stamina, which marching toward the Derby is a positive. I think he is a horse where the distance shouldn’t be an issue.”

Cox has won three of the last four Risen Stars, including Mandaloun in 2021 and Mr. Monomoy in 2020.

After Ribble Farms, Michael Eiserman, Earl Silver, Kenneth Fishbein, and Daniel Fishbein’s Honor Marie took the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) on Churchill Downs’ “Stars of Tomorrow II” card, trainer Whit Beckman circled the Risen Star for the son of Honor Code’s next start and made plans to winter at Fair Grounds. Hitting the work tab on Dec. 31, Honor Marie has put in six published drills.

“He’s been training well throughout the winter down here, we’re very happy with his overall condition,” Beckman said. “To me he’s a very talented quality horse and we’ll see if he made the jump from two to three. Early on he was always just kind of aloof, lights weren’t really on, but now we’re really starting to see him wake up, and I know he knows what he’s doing out there. He’s put on a lot of weight, a lot of muscle; he’s been doing what he needs to do.” 

Drawing post 3 and made 6-1 in the morning line, Honor Marie’s wins have come from dropping back early and producing one late run under Rafael Bejarano, who will be in the irons on Saturday. 

“He’s not one that is going to gun it away from there, so I don’t care about being on the inside,” Beckman said. “He’s had some really sharp, nice works which leads me to believe he’ll lay a little closer. This horse to me is a true mile-and-a-quarter horse.”

Honor Marie currently has 10 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

Second in the 1 1/8 miles Remsen (G3),  Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, Westerberg, Brooke Smith and Peter Brant’s Sierra Leone was installed as the 4-1 morning line second choice. Having settled near the back in both of his starts, trainer Chad Brown adds blinkers for his third run and has named Tyler Gaffalione to ride him for the first time. The $2.4 million Gun Runner colt will break from post 4.

In search of his fourth Risen Star title, Todd Pletcher entered two, as Town and Country Racing and Madaket Stables’ Moonlight exits a fourth-place finish in the Remsen and Stonestreet Stables’ Cardinale will make his third career start–his first under jockey Flavien Prat. Cardinale will take the blinkers off after falling a neck shy to Change of Command in a 1 1/16 miles allowance at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 5.

Here’s the complete field for the Risen Star from the rail out (with jockey, trainer, and morning line): 1. Tizzy Indy (James Graham, Keith Desormeaux, 50-1); 2. Awesome Ruta (Mitchell Murrill, Joey Foster, 30-1); 3. Honor Marie (Rafael Bejarano, Whit Beckman, 6-1); 4. Sierra Leone (Tyler Gaffalione, Chad Brown, 4-1); 5. Moonlight (Florent Geroux, Todd Pletcher, 12-1); 6. Real Men Violin (Brian Hernandez Jr., Ken McPeek, 8-1); 7. Hall of Fame (Ricardo Santana Jr., Steve Asmussen, 6-1); 8. Catching Freedom (Luis Saez, Brad Cox, 5-1); 9. Cardinale (Flavien Prat, Todd Pletcher, 12-1); 10. Resilience (John Velazquez, Bill Mott, 12-1); 11. Track Phantom (Joel Rosario, Steve Asmussen, 7-2); 12. Bee Dancer (Corey Lanerie, Dallas Stewart, 20-1).


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