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Home / Articles / Jeff's 2024 Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes

Jeff's 2024 Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes

By: Jeff Hochman
Date: Feb 15, 2024
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The Risen Star Stakes of 2024 is set to take place at Fairgrounds on Saturday, February 17th, and is expected to be an exciting event for horse racing enthusiasts. This Grade II race is considered a vital prep race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby and holds great significance for both horses and trainers. Post time for Race 14 is 7:17 PM E.

The Risen Star Stakes is a prestigious horse racing event that spans 1 1/8 miles. It brings together some of the best three-year-old horses in the field, all vying to showcase their skills and earn valuable Derby qualifying points. The race is named after the legendary Risen Star, who successfully won the Preakness and Belmont Stakes in 1988. The Risen Star Stakes is a highly competitive horse race that offers a purse of $400,000. Talented contenders worldwide participate in this race, hoping to prove their skills and secure a spot in the prestigious Kentucky Derby. This race is crucial for aspiring trainers and jockeys who see it as an opportunity to showcase their talents and make a name for themselves in the racing world.

The Risen Star has produced some impressive winners in recent years. Among them are five Grade 1 champions, a Kentucky Derby winner, and a Horse of the Year. In 2022, Epicenter won the Risen Star and continued to win the Louisiana Derby (G2) and the Travers (G1). The horse finished second in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness that same year. In 2021, Mandaloun won the Haskell (G1) and was later awarded the Kentucky Derby win. Another Risen Star winner, War of Will, went on to clinch the Preakness title in 2019. Gun Runner, who won the 2016 Risen Star, was named the 2017 Horse of the Year. He has amassed almost $16 million in earnings and has two runners sired in today's field.


Here are my top contenders in a very competitive race with rain in the forecast.

#3 Honor Marie (6/1), trained by Whit Beckman and ridden by Rafael Bejarano

Honor Marie is one of three horses in the field who have achieved a 10-point victory on the road to the Kentucky Derby. His victory was in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club in November, and all three of his races were at Churchill Downs. This includes his debut maiden victory and a second-place finish in an allowance race on a sloppy track behind winner Otto the Conqueror. Honor Marie is the leading money earner ($318,175) in the field and could be sitting on a huge race. Honor Marie is all set to debut at the age of three, and since moving south after a three-month break, he has been training consistently at Fair Grounds. Based on his pedigree (Honor Code), he should have no trouble stretching to 1 1/8 miles. His regular jockey Rafael Bejarano, usually based at Oaklawn Park during the winter, is flying in for the ride. Improved speed figures (according to Equibase) for three consecutive races from 87 to 98. Trainer Beckman and jockey Bejarano have a 33% win rate with an ROI of +308% when working together. Additionally, the horse owns the fastest late-pace speed figure (108.5) in the field. Win Contender!

#4 Sierra Leone (4/1), trained by Chad Bown and ridden by Tyler Gaffalione

Sierra Leone bought for $2.3 million as a yearling, proved his mettle by winning his debut at Aqueduct in November. He defeated Change of Command, who participated in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis race last Saturday. Sierra Leone joined the Kentucky Derby trail in December by participating in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes. Despite starting from the last position in a field of 10 horses, he took the lead, only to lose by a nose on a sloppy track, earning five Derby points. Chad Brown sent him to Florida for training, and for his first start as a 3-year-old, he will be wearing blinkers to help improve focus. Tyler Gaffalione will ride Sierra Leone for the first time on Saturday. He won the 2019 Risen Star aboard War of Will and later won the Preakness Stakes. This 3-year old by Gun Runner has been training exceptionally well, and Chad Brown has a 27% win rate with a +16% ROI when his horses race with blinkers for the first time. Win Contender!

#5 Moonlight (12/1), trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Florent Geroux

Moonlight began his racing career on the turf at Saratoga, where he initially took the lead but eventually finished second by a neck. In September, he shifted to the main track at Aqueduct and dominated the race, winning by eight lengths, even though the race was initially planned for the grass. Moonlight participated in the Kentucky Derby trail, where he secured a second-place finish in the Grade 3 Street Sense Stakes and fourth in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes, accumulating seven Derby points. It's worth noting that Todd Pletcher, who has trained Moonlight, has won the Risen Star three times, with his most recent win being in 2014 with Intense Holiday. Florent Geroux, the jockey riding Moonlight for the first time, has a remarkable record of winning this race three times before. He emerged victorious with Gun Runner in 2016, Mr. Monomoy in 2020, and Mandaloun, who later became the Kentucky Derby winner in 2021. Intriguing horse at a nice price although hasn’t run his best on an off track. It's worth noting that the sample size is small. Live Long shot!

#6 Real Men Violin (8/1), trained by Kenny McPeek and ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr.

Real Men Violin, a Mendelssohn colt, is set to make his 3-year-old debut in the Risen Star after a three-month break from racing. His last race was in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on Nov. 25 at Churchill Downs, where he finished second by two lengths to Honor Marie. Real Men Violin has shown promising performance in all six of his starts in 2023, including two turf races, and has never finished worse than third. He won a one-turn mile race at Churchill, one start before the Kentucky Jockey Club, where he edged Track Phantom by a half-length. Real Men Violin has been training steadily at Fair Grounds under the tutelage of Kenny McPeek and will be ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr., who has been aboard for his past four starts. He broke his maiden on a track with a lot of mud, and he defeated Track Phantom, the favorite according to the morning line. Live Long Shot!

#8 Catching Freedom (5/1), trained by Brad Cox and ridden by Luis Saez

One of the top contenders in the Risen Star field is Catching Freedom, who managed to win two of the three races as the post-time favorite. He arrives from Oaklawn Park, where he showed promising development in his first race as a 3-year-old, winning the Smarty Jones Stakes (listed) by 2 ½ lengths after making a comeback from the back of the pack. Before this, he had a two-month break after participating in two races at Churchill Downs. Traffic problems hampered his juvenile races, but he still won a one-turn-mile maiden race by 3 ¾ lengths in October at Louisville, Kentucky. In his next race, he finished fourth out of ten in a 1 1/16-mile two-turn allowance-optional claiming race on Nov. 9. Brad Cox has won three of the last four Risen Star races. Another horse with increasing speed figures in all three career races. Don't disregard this 3-year-old horse sired by Constitution despite his lack of experience racing on a wet track. Win Contender!

#11 Track Phantom (7/2), trained by Steve Asmussen and ridden by Joel Rosario

The 3-year old son of Quality Road is currently second on the Kentucky Derby points leaderboard with a total of 30. He has the second highest career earnings ($285,000) in the field. Last autumn, the Steve Asmussen-trained horse showed great potential in his first three starts at Churchill Downs, finishing third and second on a sloppy track, and then broke his maiden, winning by 4 3/4 lengths on November 25th. However, when he moved south, Track Phantom began to shine. He won the Gun Runner Stakes (listed) and the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes, both 1 1/16-mile races held at Fair Grounds, with impressive performances. In the Gun Runner Stakes, he took control of the race and won by 1 ¼ lengths, while in the Lecomte Stakes he established an early lead and never looked back winning by 2 ¾ lengths. Joel Rosario has ridden this horse in two of its three career victories. It's expected that Track Phantom will be among the front-runners in the early stages of the Risen Star. Rain is in the forecast, and he's got the speed to steal the race but will have to overcome an outside post. Steve Asmussen has a winning percentage of 21% and a return on investment (ROI) of +31% in all types of stakes races. Impressive. The One to Beat!

My Selection: #11 Track Phantom (7/2) to Win, Place, and Show

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  Jeff Hochman
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