02/07/2009 12:00AM

Double threat in Risen Star


NEW ORLEANS - Old Fashioned has left the building, but trainer Larry Jones still has firepower for the Risen Star Stakes on Saturday at Fair Grounds. Friesan Fire won the Lecomte Stakes here last month, and may still be improving, but Jones puts his other Risen Star entry, It Happened Again, in the same league.

And the Jones boys are far from the only 3-year-olds with talent in the Grade 3, $250,000 Risen Star. Giant Oak was flying late finishing second in his last start, the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in November. Flying Pegasus has been away even longer, finishing second in the Sept. 13 Futurity at Belmont Park. Indygo Mountain will try to bounce back from a sixth in the Lecomte, while Lecomte show horse Au Moon is saddled with post 13 Saturday. Trainer Nick Zito sends maiden winner Nowhere to Hide in from Florida, and Steve Asmussen has three entries - Uno Mas, Dumar, and Soul Warrior - for the 1 1/16-mile Risen Star.

"This is going to be kind of a proving ground for us - and for everyone else," said Jones, who spent this week at Oaklawn Park after shipping top 3-year-old Old Fashioned there Monday. "I think you're going to see a real good horse coming out of here."

There are plenty of good horses on Saturday's 11-race, six-stakes card, which also includes three other Grade 3's - the Silverbulletday, the Mineshaft, and the Fair Grounds Handicap. The stakes sequence begins with race 4, the Pan Zareta, concludes with race 9, the Risen Star, and is linked by an all-stakes pick six. A 50-cent pick five and 50-cent pick four both end on the Risen Star, as does a daily double that starts with the Silverbulletday, which should have the Jones-trained Just Jenda as a favorite.

Friesan Fire basically ran off when Jones equipped him with blinkers for a Dec. 18 allowance race, but the colt was far more manageable working out a perfect trip while winning the Lecomte by 1 1/2 lengths.

"Oh, I think he can improve again," Jones said. "I don't think we're anywhere close to the bottom of the horse."

Jones was baffled by It Happened Again's eighth-place finish Dec. 20 in the Sugar Bowl Stakes, but It Happened Again rebounded nicely winning the two-turn, seven-furlong Triple Sec Stakes on Jan. 16 at Delta, and Jones thinks the horse will improve with more distance.

"As far as ability, I think [both horses] are close," said Jones. "If I felt like one was far superior going in, I'd only run one."

Giant Oak showed great promise over the summer at Arlington, and after traffic cost him any chance in the Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland in October, he rallied stoutly to just miss winning the Grade 2 KJC at Churchill. Sent shortly thereafter to Fair Grounds, Giant Oak has trained without a hitch, posting several sharp breezes for his 3-year-old debut. A closer, Giant Oak should be passing horses in the stretch Saturday if he runs to his ability.

"I think he can win, but he doesn't have to win to make me happy," said trainer Chris Block. "I just want to see him closing at the end. I'm waiting to see what I saw at Churchill, and maybe another step forward."

Comebacking Flying Pegasus has speed, and could make the early lead from post 12. "He's a forward horse," said trainer Ralph Nicks. "He should be close to the lead, somewhere in the first flight of horses."

Indygo Mountain finished sixth at odds of 5-2 in the Lecomte, but was compromised by various factors, and has trained well for the Risen Star.

"I thought he had one of his best works the other day," said trainer Bret Calhoun. "I still think we're not exactly where we need to be. I think we're still a little behind conditioning-wise."