Catching My Eye: Asmussen has two pointed for Risen Star

January 27th, 2024

In the end, the Lecomte (G3) didn’t tell me much besides reinforcing a lesson I thought I had etched into my skull. On the undercard of the Road to the Derby Day at Fair Grounds last Saturday, Steve Asmussen confirmed that both his three-year-old colts who won would be targeting the Feb. 17 Risen Star (G2) for their next start. Here’s the skinny on both Track Phantom’s win in the Lecomte, and Hall of Fame’s maiden-breaking score.

The Lecomte (G3)

Track Phantom backed up his Gun Runner S. win in the Lecomte, but do we want to back him going forward? I’m undecided because of who he beat and how he beat them.

Nash and Ethan Energy seemed like worthy foes, but in the end, they were not. Lat Long is still putting it together, and could step forward, but on Saturday, he was not a flattering foe. Track Phantom won dominantly, but he did not beat much. He ran a 90 Brisnet Speed figure, one point slower than in the Gun Runner.

First, the case for him going forward. It didn’t take much out of him, so we don’t have to worry about him bottoming out before the Louisiana Derby (G2). As opposed to the Gun Runner where he went fast early and hung on late, in the Lecomte he went slow early, and came on a touch down the stretch (Brisnet pace line 87, 87, 89). He’s a winner, a commander who has shown his professionalism breaking cleanly from the outside post twice. In the turn he was in perfect sync with his pilot, Joel Rosario, and extended his lead over Nash every time he felt him coming and Rosario let out an inch, and that is what keeps me interested in Asmussen’s runner.

The case against: Track Phantom didn’t move forward. Maybe he hit his ceiling in the Gun Runner. Maybe that very tough effort pressuring those sub :44 second fractions in the Gun Runner triggered a regression. No reason his form can’t rebound, but with the way the Risen Star is shaping up, he’ll have to run his best race yet to have a shot.  

What to do with Nash and why did we want him in the first place?

Maybe you could argue that if he didn’t hand the lead to Track Phantom in the first turn, he runs better. As his backer in the Lecomte, I wish he would’ve been ridden aggressively on the rail and forced a faster pace. But in the end, I am simply disappointed in myself. When a young horse runs a race like Nash did to break his maiden, earning a suspect number because of the speed bias, he should be an automatic fade going forward. I got caught up in the hype train and missed two opportunities to take a stand and realize the value of being against him.

He showed he does not have the heart nor the talent that his maiden win suggested, and though he could be a nice horse at some point, it will not happen for him in time for the Derby. I would be shocked to see him in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May.

Hall of Fame on the undercard

The pace got hot in the fifth race on Saturday, a maiden special weight going 1 1/16 miles. The winner ran huge, as Hall of Fame earned a 91 Brisnet Speed figure in just his second race and his first effort going long. This was faster than his stablemate Track Phantom ran when winning the Lecomte in the finale. Asmussen has already said he is targeting the Risen Star for both of them.

Brisnet scored the pace from early to late in 101-104-76. Big-time early kicks from Funnyflame and Hall of Fame were on display, but the 76 leaves something to the imagination. A horse who runs them off their feet early but does not sustain such speed through the wire, should be treated with caution at a short price next out. However, if the pace line from Hall of Fame does not impress you, then the visual of the race just might. Rosario’s schooling of Jose Guerrero, as well. 

Guerrero had Funnyflame on the lead and positioned in the two-path, baiting Hall of Fame to make a move so he could shut him off. Rosario did not take said bait, keeping his mount on the rail and perfectly positioned to get the jump on his rival when the time was right. At the top of the far turn, Rosario said it's go time, and as centrifugal force was carrying Funnyflame out, Hall of Fame boldly moved forward, out-quickening that front foe to the forward spot, rendering his seeming tactical advantage moot.

Funnyflame had little left, though he dueled on before capitulating soon into the stretch. They had run off so far away from the field, that once he beat Funnyflame, Hall of Fame was clear. And though he was asked until further, there was no need.

The big ole dark bay Funnyflame made the chestnut Hall of Fame look small, like he might have a future on turf with his slight frame, so either the son of Gun Runner has some more growing to do, or well, yeah, he could be nifty on turf. I doubt we’ll see that anytime soon.

The Shane Wilson barn said they were considering targeting the Risen Star if Funnyflame broke his maiden on Saturday. In no way am I counting that colt out of a nice year, but the Derby trail appears off the table to me.

Seeing hot fractions and a slower come-home time, what we know is that race won’t do it against a classier, more talented bunch. However, as Asmussen stated, they were aggressive with Hall of Fame to get the win and get a lot out of the race. If he builds off that effort, as we should expect Asmussen's best horses, especially Gun Runners, to do, then he will be very dangerous in the Risen Star.