02/18/2013 5:44PM

Fair Grounds: Risen Star attracts 15 in search of Kentucky Derby points

Barbara D. Livingston
Normandy Invasion, in the first start of his 3-year-old season, likely will be favored in the Risen Star.

NEW ORLEANS – Short fields lacking depth have been an all-too-regular part Fair Grounds racing this winter. And it’s not just day-to-day Fair Grounds fare. Even the glamour 3-year-old graded-stakes division has felt the pinch at tracks across the country. The Feb. 2 Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita, for instance, went with a field of four.

Put it this way: It would take almost four Lewises to equal the field entered Monday for Saturday’s Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds.

Fifteen 3-year-olds, headed by Remsen Stakes runner-up Normandy Invasion, passed the entry box for the Grade 2, $400,000 Risen Star, though one horse, He’s Had Enough, will race instead in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, and two others, Sunbean and Bethel, were cross-entered in other races on the Saturday card here.

Normandy Invasion, making the first start of his 3-year-old season, figures to be favored in the Risen Star, but the race includes several other strong prospects. Oxbow won the Lecomte Stakes here last month by more than 11 lengths, about the same margin of victory as Mylute recorded in a first-level dirt-route allowance win Dec. 26. The 3-year-old juggernauts of the East Coast, Todd Pletcher, and the West, Bob Baffert, are sending horses, Palace Malice for Pletcher and Code West for Baffert. Both make their stakes debut. Locally based Risen Star entrants Departing and Proud Strike have flashed serious talent this winter.

The Risen Star traditionally has attracted large fields; between 10 and 13 have started the last six years. The rich purse is a draw, as are 85 Kentucky Derby qualifying points that will be awarded the race’s top four finishers on a 50-20-10-5 scale.

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

The draw was unkind to New Orleans native Al Stall, who entered two in the Risen Star. Sunbean, a Louisiana-bred, was placed on the also-eligible list, which consigned him to the outside stall no matter what, and Stall’s other entrant, Departing, landed post 14. With He’s Had Enough out, Departing will be no wider than 13, and he could move inside even more into post 12 if Bethel’s connections opt to run in an allowance race.

Proud Strike, an impressive Jan. 12 maiden winner trained by Steve Asmussen, drew the rail, and will be ridden for the first time by Gary Stevens, who makes his first appearance outside California since coming out of retirement this winter. Code West drew post 2, while Mylute has post 5 and will be ridden for the first time by Shaun Bridghmohan. Rosie Napravnik rode Mylute in his last start but on Saturday winds up on Palace Malice, who drew post 6. Normandy Invasion (Jose Lezcano) and Oxbow (Jon Court) are side by side in posts 9 and 10.

The Risen Star is one of six stakes and four graded races on a 13-race Saturday program. In the Grade 3, $200,000 Rachel Alexandra, Pletcher should have a definitive favorite in Unlimited Budget, who beat the talented filly Emollient winning the Grade 2 Demoiselle Stakes last November in her most recent start. Dancingithecircle, a sharp winner of the By the Light Stakes last month at Delta Downs, tops the local group of fillies. The top three finishers in the Jan. 23 Silverbulletday Stakes – Touch Magic, Gal About Town, and Smitten – weren’t entered in the Rachel Alexandra, nor was Golden Rod Stakes winner Seaneen Girl.

The Grade 3 Mineshaft Handicap features a rematch between Infrattini and Mark Valeski, who were separated by three-quarters of a length in the Louisiana Handicap last month. Golden Ticket, who dead-heated for first in the 2012 Travers Stakes, is in from Florida, and 2012 Louisiana Derby winner Hero of Order also runs.

Optimizer, who won the Colonel Bradley Stakes here in his last start, meets multiple graded stakes winner Willcox Inn in the Grade 3 Fair Grounds Handicap, which drew an interesting field of 11. And Daisy Devine, the leading turf female at Fair Grounds, will try to win her third grass stakes of the meet in the $75,000 Bayou Handicap.