Rising stars come together in Risen Star Stakes

Trainer Larry Jones will have Bluff ready for the Risen Star Stakes.

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The 43rd running of the Grade 2, $400,000 Risen Star Stakes is one of two races on Saturday that kick off the "Road to the Kentucky Derby Championship Series."

A total of 50 points go to the winner, with additional points also awarded to the next three finishers.

As such, each finish becomes more and more relevant as to who is going to start in the Derby on the first Saturday in May.

Leading the Risen Star field in terms of current status in the standings is International Star, winner of the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes over the track last month. Lecomte runner-up War Story can improve and is a contender as well. Imperia is proven at the level but hasn’t been seen since November when he finished second, beaten just a head, in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. Last but not least among the top contenders are two horses coming into the race off impressive maiden wins by wide margins – J S Bach and Bluff, both lightly raced with room to improve and step up their game to this level.

Bluff ran as well winning last month at Fair Grounds as J S Bach did winning at Gulfstream Park in Florida. Bluff earned a 92 Equibase Speed Figure, J S Bach a 93 figure, yet because of the hype surrounding J S Bach and the fact he is trained by Todd Pletcher, Bluff will go to post at much higher odds.

Bluff won by a 5 3/4-length margin that may not do justice to how easily he actually ran and how much gas he had left in the tank at the end. Trained by Larry Jones, who knows how to get a horse ready for the spring classics, Bluff also has stakes winning blood flowing through his veins, as his granddam (his mother’s mother) was the dam of Borrego, who finished second in both the Louisiana Derby and Arkansas Derby in 2004 and who earned over $2 million in his career. As such, I’ll give Bluff top billing in the Risen Star.

War Story is also an improving type, having gone from an 88 Equibase Speed Figure winning his debut in November to a 95 figure when second in the Lecomte Stakes over the track last month. In the Lecomte, War Story rallied from sixth to make the lead with an eighth of a mile to go but was overtaken by International Star in the stretch before gamely holding second by a head over the next horse. With Fair Grounds leading trainer Tom Amoss at his side and jockey Kent Desormeaux in from California to ride, War Story certainly appears capable of taking another step forward in his career and that might be good enough to win.

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International Star won the Lecomte last month with a career best 99 figure, drawing off by 2 1/2 lengths at the end.

He leads the field in races run to date, with seven, having won three and finishing second in two others including a stakes win as a two-year-old in Canada. However, in the Lecomte, International Star started from the rail whereas he gets the outside 10 post in the Risen Star.

Earning a 93 speed figure and winning handily by 8 3/4 lengths in his maiden win, J S Bach almost certainly did not show what he is fully capable of going forward. With Santa Anita’s leading jockey Rafael Bejarano in to ride for Todd Pletcher, J S Bach adds to the intrigue of this year’s Risen Star and must be strongly considered as a contender.

Imperia won the Pilgrim Stakes on turf in only the second start of his career last September and two races later tried dirt for the first time in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, missing by a head to El Kabeir with a big effort and 99 speed figure. El Kabeir is the points leader in the division, so the only question as to whether Imperia can run well enough to win the Risen Star is whether he is ready to pick up where he left off almost three months ago, compared to most of the others, who have already run this year.

The rest of the field with their best representative  EquibaseSpeed Figures: Big Big Easy (82), Hero of Humor (84), Keen Ice (82), St. Joe Bay (92) and Tiznow R J (98).

Contenders to win (in preference order)

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