Hanson: Spot Plays for 2024 Risen Star Day

February 16th, 2024

Weather conditions in New Orleans should be improving by the time the major stakes are run late Saturday afternoon at Fair Grounds. However, uncertainty regarding surfaces and conditions earlier in the program lead me to concentrate ahead of time on the latter portion of a terrific 14-race Risen Star Day card.

Here are some contenders I'll be taking a strong look at:

Race 6 — Maiden, 3:25 p.m. ET

This six-furlong maiden for three-year-old fillies attracted a compelling mix of second-time starters and debut runners. Of Steve Asmussen's two debut entrants, I'm looking outside to #11 Gourmet (4-1). By 17% debut sire Constitution, she's out of a half-sister to Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1) winner Unrivaled Belle, who in turn reared champion Unique Bella. Gourmet's worktab is appealing enough, and Joel Rosario is named for her first assignment.

Race 10 — Albert M. Stall Memorial, 5:21 p.m. ET

If the turf course absorbs too much rain, I'd expect a sprint like the Colonel Power S. (Race 8) to come off and this race, the 1 1/16-mile Albert M. Stall Memorial for fillies and mares, to remain on as scheduled.

If that proves the case, #8 Not So Close (6-1) is an intriguing candidate to wire the field. She lacked the staying power when last seen at Keeneland in October, but the pace she set that day was much faster than what she had shown in her two prior starts, both of which were finer efforts in allowance company.

She'll be tested for class here, but worth noting Not So Close defeated Chili Flag and Sister Lou Ann in that Saratoga allowance two back. Both rivals subsequently won ungraded stakes and were beaten less than three lengths in the Pegasus World Cup Filly and Mare Turf (G3).

Race 11 — Mineshaft (G3), 5:50 p.m. ET

Although he's a bit exposed at this point in his career, I do like how #1 Red Route One (5-1) showed improved early foot in last month's Louisiana (G3) when facing the classier and speedier Saudi Crown. It's the kind of effort he can build upon if he reproduces the strategy against the less accomplished Brad Cox speedster #3 Best Actor in this modest edition of the Mineshaft (G3) for older horses over 1 1/16 miles.

Race 12 — Fair Grounds (G3), 6:19 p.m. ET

#10 Beatbox (7-2) has endured a case of seconditis this winter, but there's a good chance that ends here as he steps slightly up in distance to 1 1/8 miles for the Fair Grounds (G3). He was gaining on lone speed #3 Strong Quality at the end of the Colonel E.R. Bradley S., but the slow pace and shorter distance seemed to work against him.

I don't mean to be picking Rosario in virtually every race Saturday, but here's hoping he has a good day.

Race 13 — Rachel Alexandra (G2), 6:48 p.m. ET

#4 Intricate (3-1) looked a potential good thing when rolling to a 5 1/4-length win in the Golden Rod (G2) last fall, and she honestly won't have to improve a whole lot to take this strong renewal of the Rachel Alexandra (G2). She's unbeaten around two turns so far, and the Brendan Walsh/Tyler Gaffalione combo was on target in this spot last year with Pretty Mischievous.