(Mandaloun returns in G2 Risen Star Stakes this Saturday / Photo by Holly M. Smith)

From the Fair Grounds Media Team:

It’s 712 miles from Remington Park in Oklahoma City to Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots in New Orleans. Trainer Todd Fincher always wanted to make the trip to the historic local oval, but he never had the right horse for the journey. He does now. Fincher rolls into town with the undefeated Senor Buscador, who rates as an exciting newcomer in a sterling renewal of Saturday’s $400,000 Risen Star (G2), presented by Lamarque Ford-Lincoln.

Run at 1 1/8 miles, the Risen Star is the 13th and final race on a six-stakes card billed as Louisiana Derby Preview Day. It is by far the deepest and most competitive Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) prep to date and will offer a total of 85 Derby qualifying points to the top four finishers (50-20-10-5). The $300,000 Rachel Alexandra (G2) presented by Fasig-Tipton, at 1 1/16 miles, will be offered for 3-year-old fillies, with the same 85 qualifying points up for grabs for the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1). In addition, four stakes for older horses will also be presented on the card – the $200,000 (G3) Mineshaft at 1 1/16 miles, the $150,000 Fair Grounds (G3) at 1 1/8 miles on turf, the $100,000 Colonel Power Stakes at 5½ furlongs on turf, and the $100,000 Albert M. Stall Memorial Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on turf.

Joe Peacock Jr.’s homebred Senor Buscador (post 5 at 6-1 on Mike Diliberto’s morning line with Luis Quinonez to ride) went from an unraced maiden in early November to a wise guy Kentucky Derby contender a little more than six weeks later, as he parlayed a 5 ½-furlong maiden win at Remington November 6 into a dominant 5 ¾-length win in the Springboard Mile there December 18. With Senor Buscador an unknown no more, Fincher had plans to make. Fair Grounds, with a long stretch and the Risen Star, which is followed by the March 20 TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) at 1 3/16 miles, made perfect sense. Saturday can’t come soon enough.

“I’ve never been there, it’s a big race, there’s Kentucky Derby points on the line and I’m really looking forward to it,” Fincher said. “I think the distance is absolutely in his favor. My wish list would be two preps and hopefully qualify for the Kentucky Derby.”

Senor Buscador, a son of Mineshaft, has lagged in last in both starts before unleashing a devastating stretch run to win going away, though it was the two-turn Springboard Mile that really got people talking. Last on the backstretch in the field of 10, he delivered an extended wide run, circled the field, and drew off with ease by 5 ¾ lengths. And while he’s been a turtle early in his races and a hare late, Fincher says it’s not necessarily by design.

“He has more speed than you’ve seen but he just does his own thing,” Fincher said. “We didn’t teach him to do that. We taught him to come from behind but not walk out of the gate and do a slow roll before he does anything. He’s so nerve-racking to watch him run. They get so far back and you think ‘What the heck.’ But he makes it work.”

Fincher and the Peacock family have had a long relationship and he’s trained several of Senor Buscador’s siblings, including his half-brother Runaway Ghost, who won the Sunland Derby (G3) in 2018 but was forced to miss the Kentucky Derby that year with an injury. Fincher knew his little brother had a pedigree to be a runner, but also knew you can’t count on anything in this game.

“We hoped he would develop into this kind of horse but you get let down too many times,” Fincher said. “We knew he could run quite a bit but we didn’t have any idea he could be this level, but we hoped. But you just never know until you see it on the track. There are no similarities (among his siblings), they are all different. The Peacocks have been great to me and I’ve been very fortunate to have them in my corner and we’re really looking forward to seeing what Senor Buscador can do.”

Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Midnight Bourbon (post 6 at 6-1 with Joe Talamo) led every step of the way in the local January 16 Lecomte (G3) but has shown plenty of versatility in his career as well. The son of Tiznow took advantage of an alert beginning from his rail draw and had plenty left in reserve while winning his first start of the year for trainer Steve Asmussen. Midnight Bourbon showed promise at 2, hitting the board twice in graded stakes but looked like a more polished product in his 3-year-old debut. With the distance of the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby a bit longer than the typical mid-winter Derby prep, Asmussen expects Midnight Bourbon to only get better.

“I think the 1 1/8 miles is right in his wheelhouse and we’re excited about running him in this series because of the distance of these preps,” Asmussen said. “He’s an efficient mover with a high cruising speed and horses like that can be very effective at the Fair Grounds. We were very pleased with how he started off the year, and this is the next step.”

Godolphin’s homebred Proxy (post 2 at 8-1 with John Velazquez), a 3-year-old son of Tapit, has progressed nicely in New Orleans this winter for trainer Mike Stidham, as he led gate-to-wire over maidens then did the same against allowance foes in December, before stepping up and running a strong second in the Lecomte. For Stidham, seeing Proxy settle a bit off the pace in the Lecomte and battle on late against much tougher horses was a sign he’s moving in the right direction, though he also feels there’s still more room for improvement.

“He’s still a work in progress but I like having a 3-year-old that I think has something left that we haven’t seen yet,” Stidham said. “He’s still figuring it out, both mentally and physically. But in his works, and in his races, he seems to be getting a little better, and I think that’s where he is right now. Now that we’re getting into these longer races, it starts to separate them a little bit, and I think that’s really going to help my horse, and I’m not sure that’s the case for everybody.”

Juddmonte Farms’ homebred Mandaloun (post 11 at 9-2 with Florent Geroux) was a somewhat disappointing third at odds-on in the Lecomte for trainer Brad Cox after chasing the pace while wide throughout. The son of Into Mischief entered that race 2-for-2 off sprint wins in Kentucky but didn’t kick on quite enough through the lane behind Midnight Bourbon. Cox has opted to add blinkers to Mandaloun for the Risen Star. He is looking for a more focused performance, and has been extremely pleased by his two works with them.

“I feel like the works with blinkers have shown some progression and he can take that next step forward with them and have more focus late,” Cox said. “He was right there in the Lecomte and he was wide. The two horses that finished in front of us had a little more seasoning and I think he got a lot out of that race.”

Cypress Creek Equine, Arnold Bennewith, and Spendthrift Farm’s Keepmeinmind (post 12 at 3-1 with David Cohen) would bring plenty of class should he make the trip from Oaklawn Park for trainer Robertino Diodoro. The deep closing son of Laoban was third to 2-year-old champion Essential Quality in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland in November then won Churchill’s November 28 Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) to end his campaign. Keepmeinmind is also entered to run in the February 15 Southwest (G3) at Oaklawn, but with a few potential pitfalls, Diodoro wants to have options.

“We just wanted to cover our bases,” Diodoro said. “We are concerned with the weather in Arkansas, and we’re also concerned with a short field as well. The rumor is it could be a five or six-horse field. That’s good for a speed horse, but with his (Keepmeinmind’s come from behind) running style, I’m not doing backflips over that, to be honest. We’re going to make a decision by Wednesday.”

Trainer Tom Amoss has an uncoupled pair of Union Rags colts in Greg Tramontin, Joel Politi, Brittlyn Stable, and Asaro Enterprises’ Carillo (post 4 at 15-1 with James Graham) and Nice Guys Stables, Manganaro Bloodstock, and Steve Hornstock’s Defeater (post 9 at 12-1 with Dean Saenz), and both will look to bridge the gap from a one-turn debut win to the grade 2 ranks. The former won going a one-turn mile at Aqueduct January 8 for trainer Chad Brown and was subsequently purchased January 14 for $875,000 out of a dispersal sale from the Estate of the late Paul Pompa, while the latter pulled clear late going 6 furlongs locally January 2 and defeat a strong field that included third-place finisher Gershwin, who impressed breaking his maiden here February 6. Carillo hasn’t been with Amoss long but shows two local works, which give his trainer reason for optimism.

“He trains like he ran and shows a great deal of stamina in the mornings and in his workouts,” Amoss said. “He shows a very good turn of foot at the end. The horse is pretty straight forward since I’ve gotten him. He needs to show he can make the transition from one to two turns, but he’s not the only horse like that at this time of year. All things point to that being something he’s going to successfully do, but he hasn’t done it at this point.”

Completing the Risen Star field from the rail out: trainer Dallas Stewart Racing Stable’s and WinStar Farm’s homebred Starrininmydreams (post 1 at 12-1 with Brian Hernandez Jr.), undefeated in a pair of Churchill starts at 2 and making his stakes and 3-year-old debut; Marylou Whitney Stables’ homebred Beep Beep (post 3 at 20-1 with Miguel Mena), fourth in a strong local optional-claimer January 16 for trainer Norm Casse; Barrett Bernard, Tagg Team Racing, and West Point Thoroughbreds’ O Besos (post 7 at 12-1 with Marcelino Pedroza), an easy stretch running winner of a pair of sprints at the meet for trainer Greg Foley; Kevin Porter’s Sermononthemount (post 8 at 50-1 with Declan Carroll), a 7-furlong allowance winner at Delta Downs January 21 for trainer Tim Dixon; Calumet Farm’s homebred Santa Cruiser (post 10 at 15-1 with Adam Beschizza), fourth after a slow break in the Lecomte for trainer Keith Desormeaux; and Wayne T. Davis’ Rightandjust (post 13 at 15-1 with Mitchell Murrill), who wired Beep Beep and eight others in the optional-claimer off the claim for trainer Shane Wilson.

 

 

Additional Risen Star quotes:

 

Stidham, Proxy: “He’s done nothing but good things since the Lecomte. He’s had two solid works, the last one with (graded stakes winner) Mystic Guide. He broke off in front, Mystic Guide came to him, and Brian Hernandez was on Mystic Guide and he said, ‘being on an older horse, I thought I would have Proxy whenever I wanted him,’ but Proxy dug in and was there every step of the way. He drew a good post for the race and it never hurts to have Johnny V. either. We got a commitment for the next two races and if he runs well, he’s going to want to ride him back, and if he doesn’t, we might not even be looking at the next race. If you look at his first race, he was closing far back that day, so if there’s a bunch of speed and he’s laying fourth or fifth, I think he’ll run just as well if he’s sitting back a little bit.”

 

Cox, Mandaloun: “It wasn’t a strong pace (in the Lecomte) and I think it kind of played out how it was supposed to, after watching the race back. Both horses in front of us had experience around two turns and you can’t train that into them, they get that from racing in the afternoon. I want to be up in the mix, I’m not a guy that wants to take back and weave through a bunch of horses going long. I think we’ll be forwardly placed.”

 

Diodoro, Keepmeinmind: “He breezed really good this morning (Monday). Our hand is forced a little bit; we can’t jump in the truck and trailer on a Friday night and head over. We’ve thought about it all; the longer distance of the Risen Star, the added points you get for running it. With his running style and the way he’s trained, I don’t think the 1 1/8 miles off the bench is too much to ask. He puts a lot into his training, so I don’t think it’s a concern at all.”