Handicappers Debate: 2023 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds

February 17th, 2023

New Orleans is the destination for this week’s debate, as handicappers Alastair Bull and James Scully offer different opinions in Saturday’s $400,000 Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds.

Contested over 1 1/8 miles, the Risen Star anchors the $500,000 guaranteed, All-Stakes Pick 5 sequence, and the Road to the Kentucky Derby series event offers qualifying points on a 50-20-15-10-5 scale to the top five finishers.

James Scully: Let’s take a shot with #12 Crupi (15-1). I could make a case for a number of runners in the 14-horse field, but none have run particularly fast. From the last start, the second-best Brisnet Speed rating is a 93. Crupi netted a 98 figure recording a head second to Slip Mahoney last out, and I will side with the maiden.

Who do you like Alastair?

Alastair Bull: Hmm, I'm not quite so brave to take a maiden 15-1 shot, but good luck to you!

For me, the best form for this generation has been around Forte, especially with Instant Coffee going on from his Breeders' Futurity (G1) fourth behind Forte to record two victories on the Derby Road. With that in mind, I'm with #10 Two Phil's (8-1). He had some decent horses behind him in the Street Sense (G3) and should improve from his second to Instant Coffee in the Lecomte (G3).

I have to say it pains me to tip a horse with such a bad name. Can’t his owners learn when not to use an apostrophe?

James Scully: Ha, did you have an issue with American Pharoah? Two Phil’s outran my expectations placing second in the Lecomte, I thought the sloppy track benefited him in the Street Sense and was willing to fade him. And while I won’t be shocked to see an improved performance, I remain dubious of him on the stretch out to 1 1/8 miles given how he finished last time, and don’t favor his chances given the projected pace scenario.

Victory Formation and Harlocap are serious win contenders in my estimation, but they could hook up early off convincing frontrunning wins. And that may take a toll on early/pressers like Two Phil’s, who has been within a half-length of the lead at the second call in his last two stakes appearances, and set the table for a deep closer like Crupi.

Alastair Bull: For some reason American Pharoah didn’t seem quite such a word crime. I was probably still recovering from Sea the Stars…

I agree with you on Victory Formation and Harlocap: both can win, and both could knock each other out in front. But as long as Jareth Loveberry doesn’t commit too soon, I think Two Phil’s can save enough gas and challenge at the right time.

I’m intrigued as to how Determinedly and Tapit’s Conquest might go, though I have some doubt about the form from their allowance, while there’s a chance Curly Jack will be too easily forgotten. You’ve also argued enough to make me keep an eye on Crupi — and if he wins, what odds are the Derby on Slip Mahoney and Tapit Trice?

James Scully: Good points, Alastair. I’m keen on Slip Mahoney and Tapit Trice — horses making their stakes debut have won seven of the 10 Kentucky Derby qualifiers in 2023, and the progressing colts are trained by Kentucky Derby winners (Brad Cox and Todd Pletcher).

Editor’s Note: Thanks Alastair and James! We will keep tabs of our handicapper’s picks and provide a scorecard in the coming weeks.