Racing Roundtable: Risen Star, Saudi Cup, and Pegasus World Cup Day

January 23rd, 2024

This week, the Racing Roundtable examines the top contenders in February's Risen Star (G2) and Saudi Cup (G1) as well as this weekend's Pegasus World Cup Day at Gulfstream.

Who's the horse to beat in the Risen Star: Track Phantom, Hall of Fame, or Honor Marie?

James Scully: Track Phantom’s tactical ability provides an edge over a pair of confirmed late runners, Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) winner Honor Marie and Remsen (G2) runner-up Sierra Leone, who figures to be well-supported in the Feb. 17 Risen Star (G2) after being bet down as the 13-1 second choice among individual interests in Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager. Hall of Fame looms as a very promising sort, but he will face a serious class check after rallying from just off the pace to a 10 1/4-length maiden win on the Lecomte undercard.

I will side with Track Phantom, who has progressed nicely in a pair of stakes appearances at Fair Grounds this winter. Unbeaten in a trio of two-turn starts, Track Phantom captured the Lecomte with complete authority, and he will take some beating over 1 1/8 miles in the Risen Star.

Vance Hanson: The Risen Star is shaping up as a potentially excellent prep with all of the above mentioned, plus Remsen runner-up Sierra Leone. However, race trends since 2010 have not been favorable to horses making their season debut in the race (only Gun Runner won) nor to previous stakes winners (only two won). If both of those trends continue, Hall of Fame is probably the one to fear, especially after running two-fifths of a second faster than Track Phantom did while breaking his maiden under wraps at Fair Grounds on Saturday.

Ashley Anderson: Among the three, I give the slight edge to Track Phantom, who's on a three-win streak since breaking his maiden and has back-to-back stakes victories. Stablemate Hall of Fame, who was a $1.4 million yearling purchase, did finish in a slightly faster time than Track Phantom at the same 1 1/16-mile distance on Saturday at Fair Grounds, but Hall of Fame faced weaker competition in a maiden special weight, and the Risen Star will be his first true test. I think down the line he'll be the better Kentucky Derby contender but in the Risen Star, Track Phantom's experience will play to his advantage. Honor Marie has raced exclusively at Churchill up to this point in his career, and trainer Whit Beckman is 0-for-7 thus far at Fair Grounds with one in-the-money finish.

Is Saudi Crown the horse to beat in the Saudi Cup?

JS: I like his chances following an impressive comeback win in Saturday’s Louisiana (G3) at Fair Grounds. Saudi Crown came along too late for last year’s Triple Crown, recording his first stakes win in September’s Pennsylvania Derby (G1), and he looked better than ever opening his four-year-old season. Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner White Abarrio will be favored in the Saudi Cup (G1), but Saudi Crown should appreciate the one-turn 1 1/8-mile distance and has the benefit of a tightener.

VH: Perhaps not the horse to beat, but he'll be a solid second or third choice behind White Abarrio, whose stalk-and-pounce running style has been the preferred one to have in the brief history of the Saudi Cup. Although the Riyadh surface is not an overly quick one, there's always a bit of a concern in a one-turn race that a horse like Saudi Crown might set too strong a pace that he can not sustain the entire 1800 meters (1 1/8 miles). Nonetheless, he figures to be a tough foe to run down.

AA: The four-year-old bounced back from his 10th in the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) with a dominant gate-to-wire performance in the Louisiana (G3), and he's won at the Saudi Cup distance of about 1 1/8 miles when taking the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) over a sloppy track. However, I like the chances of Derma Sotogake coming off his length second to White Abarrio in the Classic, and he has experience running over the King Abdulaziz course, where he finished third in last year's Saudi Derby (G3). Derma Sotogake also won at the nine-furlong distance in the UAE Derby (G2) and can get back to the winner's circle in his return to overseas racing.

Early thoughts on the Pegasus World Cup Day features?

JS: Along with being excited about Integration’s four-year-old debut in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1), I was glad to see a full field in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup (G1). The 1 1/8-mile race lacks the marquee names from past editions, but it has betting appeal. The entire 13-race program looks strong from a betting perspective.

In the main event, National Treasure appears poised to make a mark after concluding last season with an outstanding nose second to Cody’s Wish in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1), Clark (G2) runner-up First Mission must be considered a major player, and Hoist the Gold enters on the upswing following a convincing frontrunning win in the Cigar Mile (G1).

VH: The Pegasus World Cup Turf got a huge boost with the entry of Warm Heart, the multiple Group 1-winning filly who missed by a neck in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf (G1) in November and later ran third in the Hong Kong Vase (G1) in her first attempt against males. Nine furlongs might prove to be on the short side for her, though, but it shouldn't be an issue for Integration, whose three wins from as many starts last term suggested he could become America's top older turf male this year. I'm also interested to see how well Kingmax fares after a solid try in last month's Ft. Lauderdale (G2), his first start back in five months.

AA: Chad Brown is a surprising 0-for-26 at the Gulfstream meet but will have 14 runners entered on Pegasus World Cup Day, including two also-eligibles. Among his most notable trainees are Hill Prince (G2) second #4 I'm Very Busy and 2022 United Nations (G1) hero #7 Adhamo in the Pegasus World Cup Turf; French-bred #2 Chili Flag and Grade 2 winner #7 Fluffy Socks in the Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf; and #8 Gerrymander in the Inside Information (G2). Brown will also be represented by graded stakes-placed #8 Accretive in the Fred W. Hooper as well as stakes-placed #8 Portfolio Company in a one-mile and 70-yard handicap, where he'll duel with stablemate #1 Exact Estimate, who was just three-quarters of a length shy of a win in the Artie Schiller S. at Aqueduct last out. With a large contingent on Saturday's card, Brown should get over the hump and back in the winner's circle at Gulfstream. I'll peg Gerrymander as one of his winners with the potential to upset Intrepid Daydream while breaking from an outside post in the Inside Information.