Stars Shine In The Risen Star

Fairgrounds will host the $400,000, Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes on Saturday. It was 2002 when the race was awarded Grade 3 status, and then bumped up to Grade 2 status in 2010.

It will be the first 50-point race of the season on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Championship Series, for horses hoping to make it into the starting gate on the first Saturday in May.

The race was first held in 1973 as the Louisiana Derby Trial Stakes. In 1989, it was renamed in honor of Louisiana-based Preakness and Belmont Stakes Winner RISEN STAR.

The race was extended from one mile and 40 yards to 1 1/16 miles in 1990, and further increased to its current distance of 1 ⅛ miles in 2020.

Let’s take a look back at some of the race’s most recent notable Winners.

MUCHO MACHO MAN (2011) Trainer Kathy Ritvo brought him to the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes in February 2011, in hopes of revitalizing his Derby aspirations. MUCHO MACHO MAN had finished in the top four in three Stakes races, but had not yet won. In the Risen Star bettors sent him off as the 7-2 third choice in the field of ten.

Early on, jockey Rajiv Maragh sent him towards the lead, rating him just behind early leader DECISIVE MOMENT. Entering the stretch, MUCHO MACHO MAN pulled clear, and Won by 1 ½ lengths.

While he had a solid 3-year-old campaign, including a 3rd-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, it was as an older horse that MUCHO MACHO MAN made his biggest impact. As a 4-year-old, he Won the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap and the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap. He concluded that season with a 2nd place-finish in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic behind FORT LARNED.

A year later at age 5, MUCHO MACHO MAN avenged his BC Classic defeat from the previous autumn. He held off WILL TAKE CHARGE by a nose, while FORT LARNED finished a distant 4th, 3 ½ lengths back.

GUN RUNNER (2016) Off a 4th-place finish in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes to conclude his 2-year-old season, he was given a 5-1 chance in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes. He was impressive in his first two races, but the disappointing effort in his first stakes try left some bettors cold.

There was no reason for concern.  Jockey Florent Geroux kept GUN RUNNER in a good stalking spot most of the way, then angled him off the rail as they turned for home. He made the lead at the eighth pole, then held off the rally of hard-charging longshot FOREVAMO for a half-length victory.

GUN RUNNER went on to Win three more Graded Stakes that year, and finished 3rd in the Kentucky Derby. Yet, he truly blossomed as a 4-year-old. In 2017, he Won five Graded Stakes races, including four Grade 1s in a row. The year culminated with a front-running Win in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic, which sealed a near-unanimous Horse of the Year voting tally at the Eclipse Awards.

EPICENTER (2022) He began his road to the Kentucky Derby with an impressive Victory in the Gun Runner Stakes at Fair Grounds on December 26th, 2021, but then lost in a race prior to the Risen Star when 2nd by a nose in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds in January.

EPICENTER bounced back in a big way in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes. He set the early pace and just kept going to cross the line 2 3/4 lengths in front. He earned 50 Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying points with that Win. 

He went off as the justifiable favorite in the Kentucky Derby. He rated off a fast pace and struck the front at the top of the stretch and looked primed to give his trainer Steve Asmussen his first-ever Kentucky Derby Win until longshot RICH STRIKE came up the inside and pulled off a shocking upset. Two weeks later, EPICENTER was sent off as the heavy favorite in the Preakness but again had to settle for 2nd, this time beaten by EARLY VOTING.

Later in the season, EPICENTER finally got his cover-story Victory when he Won the $1.25 million Grade 1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course. The Mid-Summer Derby had been the goal for EPICENTER since his Triple Crown disappointments, and this time he came through to earn the first Grade 1 Win of his career. 


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