By Margaret Ransom
Saturday’s Risen Star (G2) at the Fair Grounds drew so many runners it was split into two full fields, which isn’t much of a surprise since it’s the first Kentucky Derby (G1) prep in North America offering 50 points to the winner.
The race is named for the much beloved Louisiana-based champion who went on to win the 1988 Preakness (G1) and Belmont Stakes (G1) and is the required local prep to make the Louisiana Derby (G2) in five weeks. This year the race distance has been extended to nine furlongs, a sixteenth of a mile further than previous years.
The Risen Star divisions, each with a purse of $400,000, are sponsored by Lamarque Ford-Lincoln, which is interesting since owner Ronnie Lamarque was a co-owner of Risen Star. A New Orleans native, Lamarque had a ton of fun and earned national recognition owning horses back in the 1980s and early 1990s and even wrote songs about a few of them.
In 1987, Lamarque and trainer Louis Roussel plunked down $300,000 for a son of Secretariat at the Fasig-Tipton 2-year-olds in training sale in Florida and the colt was named Risen Star by using symbols of Roussel’s deep religious faith – the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the Star of Bethlehem. At the time, Roussel was part owner of the Fair Grounds, so the colt making his debut in the Pelican State was a foregone conclusion. And, his career came at a time when Louisiana wasn’t as popular a winter destination for Northerners looking for warm weather as it is now; most went to South Florida to escape the snow. Risen Star, who made his first two starts at Louisiana Downs as a 2-year-old for trainer Rene Gebbia before shipping to Roussel, stayed in Louisiana until his last Derby prep, which was a win in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, and it may be fair to say that Risen Star helped put the Louisiana route to the Kentucky Derby on the map.
He was third behind Winning Colors and Forty Niner in the Derby and then won the Preakness by 1 ½ lengths. In the three weeks between the Preakness and Belmont, Risen Star slightly injured his right front suspensory, but ran anyway and cruised to a 14 ¾-length victory in 2:26 2/5. Due to his performances in the three Triple Crown races, he
earned the most points in a Derby bonus being offered, and collected a $1 million bonus for his connections.
Risen Star only raced 11 times, but put together an awesome championship season within those races. His last race was the Belmont and despite several attempts to bring him back off his injury, he was retired to Walmac Farm in Lexington, where he lived until his death from colic in 1998. He produced a few stakes winners, but like his sire he was never much of a sire himself, his most notable offspring being millionaire Star Standard. Lamarque has owned other good horses and remains an active owner today, but has never had one as successful as Risen Star. Always an amateur singer, he most recently earned some notoriety with his appearance on America’s Got Talent. He didn’t make it far, but he reminded racing fans of the good natured and fun guy we all got to know in the days of Risen Star.
The Risen Star was once known as the Louisiana Derby Trial Stakes and many good horses have used this race to go on to exceptional careers, including 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner. Other standouts to have won the Risen Star include Mucho Macho Man, Lawyer Ron, Badge of Silver, Dollar Bill and Exchange Rate. A year ago War of Will won the Risen Star and then took home top honors in the Preakness after finishing seventh in the Derby. He was, however, compromised by the incident at the quarter pole that resulted in the disqualification of Maximum Security from the win, which promoted Risen Star runner-up Country House to the win.
Eleven horses have won both the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby — Girvin (2017), Gun Runner (2016), International Star (2015), Friesian Fire (2009), Pyro (2008), Repent (2002), Comic Strip (1998), Line in the Sand (1992), Risen Star (1988), Taylor’s Special (1984) and Master Derby (1975).
Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas has saddled three winners (Bravazo, 2018; Exchange Rate, 2000; Open Forum, 1997).
Jockey Robby Albarado (Notional, 2007; Gradepoint, 2004; and Badge of Silver, 2003) and Shane Romero (Line in the Sand, 1992; Dispersal, 1989; and Risen Star, 1988) have each ridden three winners.
The fields, with riders, trainers, odds and pedigree: Division 1
1. Digital, Brian Hernandez, Jr., Bret Calhoun, 6-1
(Into Mischief–Cool Spell, by Grand Slam)
2. Silver State, Ricardo Santana, Jr., Steve Asmussen, 4-1 (Hard Spun—Supreme, by Empire Maker)
3. Ready to Roll, Gabriel Saez, Bret Calhoun, 20-1
(City Zip–One for London, by Eskendereya)
4. Perfect Revenge, Shaun Bridgmohan, Saffie Joseph, Jr., 20-1
(I Want Revenge—Ourperfectpastor, by Pleasantly Perfect)
5. Moon Over Miami, Junior Alvarado, Bill Mott, 10-1
(Malibu Moon—Zinzay, by Smart Strike)
6. Shashashakemeup, James Graham, Keith Desormeaux, 20-1
(Shackleford—Churchflower, by Pulpit)
7. Blackberry Wine, Adam Beschizza, Joe Sharp, 5-1
(Oxbow—Classicism, by A.P. Indy)
8. Enforceable, Julien Leparoux, Mark Casse, 7-2
(Tapit—Justwhistledixie, by Dixie Union)
9. Mr. Monomoy, Florent Geroux, Brad Cox, 6-1
(Palace Malice—Drumette, by Henny Hughes)
10. Farmington Road, Javier Castellano, Todd Pletcher, 8-1
(Quality Road—Silver La Belle, Langfuhr)
11. Scabbard, Joel Rosario, Eddie Kenneally, 12-1
(More Than Ready—Cowgirl Mally, byGone West)
1. Modernist, Junior Alvarado, Bill Mott, 8-1
(Uncle Mo—Symbolic Gesture, by Bernardini)
2. Truculent, Declan Carroll, Jack Sisterson, 20-1
(Raison d’Etat—Raver, by Tiznow)
3. Mr. Big News, Robby Albarado, Bret Calhoun, 20-1
(Giant’s Causeway—Unappeased, by Galileo)
4. Fame to Famous, C. J. Hernandez, John Mc Allen, 20-1
(Tapit—Assateague, by Stormy Atlantic)
5. Liam’s Lucky Charm, Edgard Zayas, Ralph Nicks, 9-2
(Khozan—P. S. I Love You, Stormy Atlantic)
6. Excession, Ricardo Santana, Jr., Steve Asmussen, 20-1
(Union Rags–Draw It, by Tapit)
7. Major Fed, Julien Leparoux, Greg Foley, 10-1
(Ghostzapper—Bobby’s Babe, by Smart Strike)
8. Anneau d’Or, Joel Rosario, Blaine Wright, 9-5
(Medaglia d’Oro—Walk Close, by Tapit)
9. Lynn’s Map, Corey Lanerie, Mark Casse, 10-1
(Liam’s Map–Puxa Saco, by Dehere)
10. Finnick the Fierce, S. Leon, Rey Hernandez, 10-1
(Dialed In—Southern Classic, by Southern Image)
11. Mailman Money, Gabriel Saez, Bret Calhoun, 8-1
(Goldencents–Running Debi C, by Unbridled’s Song)
12. Ny Traffic, Javier Castellano, Saffie Joseph, Jr., 10-1
(Cross Traffic–Mamie Reilly, by Graeme Hall)