Head-to-Head: Handicapping the 2021 Risen Star

Head-to-Head: Handicapping the 2021 Risen Star
Photo: Dustin Orona Photography/Remington Park

Saturday brings us the second Fair Grounds prep race for the 2021 Kentucky Derby, the Grade 2, $400,000 Risen Star Stakes. Midnight Bourbon prevailed in the Lecomte (G3) over many of the same rivals he will see here, but we do get some interesting new faces shipping in from elsewhere or stepping up in class. Morning line favorite Keepmeinmind has been scratched in favor of next week’s Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn; however, like with the first leg, we again get a full field of 3-year old colts and geldings, making for yet another juicy betting opportunity.

Laurie Ross of Pedigree Power and Ashley Tamulonis of Coast to Coast handicapped the latest stop on the Kentucky Derby trail.





Starrininmydreams was all out to win the photo in a weak allowance contest at Churchill last year. The rest of the field that started since then finished no better than fifth in their next start. The Dallas Stewart trainee’s female family is speed-oriented, and nine furlongs may be at the top of Starrininmydreams’ scope.

Undefeated in two starts in the fall at Churchill Downs, Starrininmydreams makes his 2021 bow here against experienced stakes runners. Distance nor track conditions appear to be an issue. However, Joe Talamo elected to stay with Midnight Bourbon. Brian Hernandez, Jr. pairs well with trainer Dallas Stewart, who is in turn a wily one. Laurie gives a great assessment of this colt, but I’ve been burned by Stewart many times. So I have to say, “He could be a live one.”


Proxy has placed first or second in each start. In the Lecomte, he had his hooves full battling Mandaloun to the wire, while Midnight Bourbon managed to keep the duo at bay. None of them looked impressive, and all looked tired.  By Tapit out of Panty Raid, a multiple Grade 1 winner at nine and ten furlongs, Proxy should handle the extra distance in the Risen Star. Note that he has only won when he’s set the pace.


Proxy was gallant in defeat in the Lecomte (G3), holding off Mandaloun by a head while finishing just a length behind winner Midnight Bourbon. He has never been out of the exacta and gets a jockey upgrade to John Velazquez. Both Laurie and I picked him on top last out, and I plan to include him on my tickets once again.

Beep Beep

Beep Beep shook the rust off in his 3-year-old debut. He raced wide, about six lengths off the pace, was widest of all around the far turn, and gradually passed tired horses to gain fourth place while wanting to duck in. It was the Norm Casse trainee’s first try around two turns, and he recorded a post-race bullet 1:00.00 (1/33) move. By Tapizar, out of a daughter of Birdstone, Beep Beep should handle the extra distance, but he’ll need to flash roadrunner speed to keep up here.


“So, baby, gimme that ‘toot-toot’ and lemme give you that ‘beep-beep.”

Okay, I’m done singing now. On to actual handicapping. I was not excited about Beep Beep for the Lecomte (G3), and I reckon that is a good thing as the colt was scratched from the race. Instead, he ran on the undercard where he finished a non-threatening fourth at the same 8.5-furlong distance. This is another that Talamo jumped off in favor of Midnight Bourbon. Pass.


Carillo showed a lot in his debut at a one-turn mile at Aqueduct. He was pinched back at the start, made a sustained 5-wide drive, and breezed past the front runners. This is an intense colt who kept his ears pinned the entire race. Carillo switched from Chad Brown to the Tom Amoss’ barn and produced two decent works at the Fair Grounds. Carillo’s dam is a full sister to the dam of Alabama (G1) heroine Dunbar Road. The colt’s leg action is turfy, but he should handle the distance. However, he’s facing more experienced colts over a new track, and it is his first time around two turns, plus there’s always the possibility of the dreaded maiden bounce. Amos is 18% win and 68% in the money with the first race after a trainer switch. He’s 17% with last-out maiden winners. Lots of questions, but Carillo might be worth a look for a lower exotics award if you’re spreading your bets. Since 2008, no colt has won the Risen Star in his second start.


By Union Rags, Carillo debuted a winner for Chad Brown last month at Aqueduct. He has since been transferred to the barn of Thomas Amoss and put in a couple of solid works at Fair Grounds. Like Laurie pointed out, this colt has the pedigree to be a talent on the track, but Fair Grounds is another track where I really like to see at least one previous race over the surface.

Senor Buscador

The 5 3/4-winner of the Springboard Mile was flattered when Cowan, the runner-up, finished a distant second in the Smarty Jones Stakes next out. Todd Fincher picked an ambitious place to kick off Senor Buscador’s 3-year-old season. The colt has recorded a series of three-furlong works and only one four-furlong move in the last month, so will he be fit to handle nine furlongs? If he’s fit, the distance shouldn’t be an issue, as Senor Buscador’s half-brother Runaway Ghost won the nine-furlong Sunland Derby. Only two colts since 2008 have won the Risen Star in their 3-year-old debut; the last was Gun Runner (2016).


Undefeated Senor Buscador ships in from Remington, where he won both his maiden and the Springboard Mile last year. In both races, he broke last, circled the field, and blew by in the stretch to win as he pleased. I love a good closer and feel like I have to include this colt on my tickets.

Midnight Bourbon

Midnight Bourbon held on by a diminishing length to win the Lecomte in his 3-year-old bow. So what will he do for an encore? His training pattern is consistent, and he certainly has the pedigree to handle the extra distance. Only four Lecomte winners in the last decade returned in the Risen Star. Two won the Risen Star, and one finished third. I wasn’t impressed by his Lecomte performance, but have to respect this colt.


Midnight Bourbon made me eat my words regarding the Lecomte (G3) in determined, front-running fashion. Runners that do well at Fair Grounds tend to continue to find success there. I will not be making the same mistake twice in leaving this colt off my tickets.

O Besos

O Besos certainly loves the Fair Grounds. He’s won both starts by a combined 7 3/4-lengths, and he glides over the track. By Kentucky Derby winner Orb out of a daughter of Soto, who is a graded winner at nine furlongs, O Besos has the pedigree and running style to handle the Risen Star distance. There are three knocks against him. He’s jumping from six to nine furlongs, he has been slow out of the gate in all three starts, and his speed figures are on the low side of average. In the last five years, Greg Foley has 4 winners from 45 starters with the sprint to route angle.


Cleverly named O Besos (“Or Kisses” for those that aren’t familiar with Spanish) is undefeated for Gregory Foley at Fair Grounds, but the big disclaimer here is that this son of Orb has not yet attempted two turns. I think I have to pass here.


Sermononthemount will pray for a better result in his second try against Fair Grounds stakes horses. So far, he’s done ok against lesser horses sprinting at the Delta Downs bull ring, but he was flat outrun in the Sugar Bowl Stakes, finishing 10 1/4-lengths out of it.


Sermononthemount if perfect at Delta Downs, but his previous foray into Fair Grounds territory did not end well as this Charles Fipke bred colt finished a distant sixth. Like O Besos, Sermononthemount also has not tried two turns. Pass.


Defeater was a bit slow out of the gate in his debut, but he made a sustained run down the stretch to graduate by 2 1/4-lengths, getting six furlongs in 1:11.06.  Same refrain as for other contenders. Last out maiden winner taking on more experienced runners and stretching out.


Defeater debuted a winner at Fair Grounds for trainer Amoss. Despite breaking a beat slow and getting bumped at the 5/16-ths pole, the colt still won easily. He comes back a month later for his first shot at two turns and graded company. Needs more experience.

Santa Cruiser

I picked Santa Cruiser to hit the board in the Lecomte. He was squeezed back at the start and had to steady, resulting in his trailing the field. At one point, he was 15 lengths out of it. The Keith Desormeaux trainee made a sustained 4-wide run down the stretch and passed tired horses to gain fourth place. His efforts were rewarded with the highest Brisnet late-pace speed figure in the field. Santa Cruiser gets a jock switch from James Graham to the meet’s leading jock, Adam Beschizza. In 2013, Desormeaux’s I’ve Struck a Nerve finished fourth in the LeComte and then won the Risen Star, paying $272.40. We won’t see those odds here, unfortunately. Santa Cruiser is a serious threat with the right trip.


As Laurie pointed out, Santa Cruiser had some awful luck in the Lecomte (G3). It does appear that this colt prefers to be up on or close to the lead, so I’ll be looking for Adam Beschizza to put him in a good spot. Let’s draw a line through the Lecomte and move on.


Mandaloun disappointed as the favorite in the Lecomte. True, it was his first start of the year and first around two turns. The son of Into Mischief returned to post two sharp works. That should set the Brad Cox trainee up for the Risen Start, right? Probably, but I don’t like how he refused to pass Proxy in the stretch of the Lecomte, despite being on the outside of his rival. He didn’t pass on the gallop out either.   


I expected better from Mandaloun last out and was disappointed. There was no catching Midnight Bourbon, but he had every opportunity to pass Proxy, and appeared to do so in deep stretch. Rather than keep that head of steam, he dropped the bit and lost second by a head. The Juddmonte homebred picks up a pair of blinkers for this start, so maybe we will see a more focused version of the colt.





Rightandjust was tossed into a $50,000 maiden claimer after finishing a distant fourth in his debut. Shane Wilson promptly claimed the son of Awesome Again and was rewarded with a three-length victory at the Allowance level, beating Beep Beep by 7 1/4-lengths. Rightandjust’s dam is a full sister to Grade 1-winner Morning Line. Her half-sister bore a couple of nine-furlong Grade 3-placed runners. On the negative side, Rightandjust’s speed figures are some of the lowest in the Risen Star field.


Front running Rightandjust has been on fire since switching to a pace setter position and stretching out. Trainer Shane Wilson is getting 40% winners in graded stakes, telling me that he knows how to place his charges. I love the pedigree, but I’m not sure how much I can appreciate that he needed strong urging in his last two starts despite winning by several lengths. I like the pedigree, but I’m just not sure about this colt right now.




Final Thoughts

Laurie: Here’s something to think about. Only two Risen Star favorites have won in the last decade, and only four, including the winners, have hit the board. I think Santa Cruiser can jump up and run a big race. Although he doesn’t meet the race criteria of recent past winners, he follows a similar pattern to the big longshot winner, I’ve Struck a Nerve. The top 3 from the Lecome look like the ones to beat, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them mix up the order this time. Others to toss onto your tickets if you are spreading the cash around are Senor Buscador and Rightandjust. I could see them hitting the lower exotics with good trips.


Ashley: I’m having an incredibly hard time looking past the top three from the LeComte, however, I do see a couple in here that have really caught my eye. Senor Buscador is quite the closer, and he is also one that does not quit once he gets the lead. In both previous starts, he closed and then opened up on his rivals, leaving them with a great view of his hindquarters. If Santa Cruiser can get a more on point ride from Beschizza, he could certainly have something to say at the wire. As for Mandoulon, I am on the fence. He had his opportunity but did not shoot his shot in the LeComte.








#10 SANTA CRUISER (15-1)


#2 PROXY (8-1)

#2 PROXY (8-1)


#10 SANTA CRUISER (15-1)

#11 MANDALOUN (9-2)



Meet Ashley Tamulonis

Despite growing up in a non-horse racing state, Ashley has been a fan of the sport since a young age. Her love for horse racing was fostered through the kids’ book series Thoroughbred by Joanna Campbell, which led her to educate herself on the ins and outs of the sport. Since becoming actively involved in the industry just a few years ago, Ashley has had the opportunity to meet many important players in the industry, attend the Eclipse Awards, see personal favorite Mucho Macho Man race twice in person, and befriend many of the fantastic fans and horsemen involved in the sport.

Ashley began her time with Horse Racing Nation covering racing in South Florida but also blogged about nationwide racing, industry issues and, from time to time, offered her opinion on how various changes could be beneficial to the industry. A move North to New Hampshire began both a new chapter in both Ashley's personal life and professional life. She currently pens the From Coast to Coast blog for HRN. Ashley also participates as a voter in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Polls.

An alumni of Macon State College, Ashley is from Central Georgia but is currently living in New Hampshire with her husband, Chris, and their two sons Charlie and Michael. A stay-at-home mom, Ashley juggles parenting with blogging and her other passions. Aside from horse racing, Ashley is a fervent football fan, enjoys reading and studying history, and hopes to someday author a historical work covering the Tudor period as well as biographies of horse racing’s stars, equine and human alike.

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