Road To The Triple Crown: Risen Star & Fountain Of Youth Stakes

The Road To The Triple Crown continues this weekend, with races on Saturday and Sunday. The stakes are quite literally getting higher as he close in on springtime. Saturday’s Risen Star Stakes at the Fairgrounds in Louisiana has a purse of $300,000. And on Sunday a $400,000 jackpot is on the line at Gulfstream Park in Florida with the Fountain Of Youth Stakes. The SportsNotebook takes a look at both…

Risen Star Stakes (Sat, 5:55 PM ET, HRTV, TV-G): It’s an 11-horse field and the favorite is El Padrino, a horse with a good trainer/jockey combo of Javier Castellano and Todd Pletcher. The horse has the connections, but I’m not sure he has the resume (I’m really trying to avoid the use of the term “track record”, thus requiring the follow-up “no pun intended”) to win a race of this caliber. Padrino finished third at a stakes race in Aqueduct (NY) last November and his wins are in non-descript races. At minimum, this looks like a good spot to go against the favorite.

Fairgrounds hosted another Derby prep back on January 21, the Lecomte Stakes. It was previewed here at TheSportsNotebook and I managed to spill enough ink to get through the entire post and never even mention—forget pick, just mention—the winner. Mr. Bowling won the race and he’s a 4-1 shot in the Risen Star. With a victory in Delaware’s Dover Stakes, he’s good bet here on Saturday. The two other hoses who finished in the money in the Lecomte were Z Dager, who’s available at 5-1 and Shared Property at 6-1. Both horses have a win or two apiece in non-stakes races. Also at 4-1 is Mark Valeski (yes, the horse’s name, not a person), who’s ran three no-name races and won two. At a better price, he’d be worth a shot, but when you get a horse that’s already beaten stakes-caliber competition at this same track at the same 4-1 odds, you have to take him. That’s why I’m picking Mr. Bowling to win this race.

The horses I didn’t mention, but now have to so I avoid utter embarrassment in future posts are Adena’s Chance, Hero of Order, Afford, Ted’s Folly and Tizan’s Expense. You can get odds of anywhere from 8-1 to 30-1 on all of them. But none have a top jockey or trainer in the mix, and that’s what I like to see before taking a flier on a longshot.

Fountain Of Youth (Sat, 5:10 PM ET, HRTV, TV-G): Like Fairgrounds, this is the second of three Derby Preps that Gulfstream will host. The Holy Bull Stakes ran on January 29 and was won by Algorithm. That horse, trained by Pletcher and ridden by Castellano is a solid favorite in the eight-horse Fountain of Youth, going off at 8-5. Algorithm won two other races prior to the Holy Bull. The Florida circuit is one to watch when it comes to the Kentucky Derby, so another win by Algorithm moves him to the forefront of discussion of early Derby favorites and presumably makes him the odds-on favorite for the Florida Derby here at Gulfstream, the most prestigious of the prep races and considered a bellwether for Churchill Downs.

Castellano had quite the stable to pick from when it came to this race. He’s also the regular jockey for Union Rags (2-1) and Discreet Dancer (3-1) who are the top challengers and would have been the favorites in a lot of the prep races we’ve seen thus far. With Castellano having to give up the mounts to ride Algorithm, Julian Leparoux, with two prep wins under his belt will be on Union Rags. This horse is 3-for-4 in his career. Two of his wins are stakes races and the second-place finish was in the Breeders Cup. Aboard Discreeet Dancer will be John Velazquez, another top rider, who was able to get out of riding the more mediocre Casual Trick when this mount became available. Discreet Dancer has yet to run a stakes, but has won both starts of his career, while Casual Trick is 1-for-4.

The latter did finish second at the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year’s Day, so it’s possible Velazquez may end up regretting his decision to surrender the mount on a horse trained by New York powerhouse Nick Zito. Zito’s most recent triumph came with Drosselmeyer in the 2010 Belmont Stakes, and his horse Ice Box finished second in that year’s Kentucky Derby. Zito has had a great career, and I like him because he’s played a role in pushing for better treatment of the horses, something badly needed in a sport where win-at-all costs is the norm too often. At least athletes who use steroids are only abusing themselves. There’s something even more unseemly about doing it to an innocent and majestic horse.

If you want to try your hand at a longshot, News Pending is ridden by a solid jockey in Kent Desormeaux, as is Fort Loudon, with Rajiv Maragh. There’s a lot of quality in this race, so I can see the case for taking a longshot. But The Road To The Triple Crown needs an early frontrunner, and I think its Algorithm’s time to step up.