02/25/2017 9:17PM

Girvin goes turf to dirt to capture Risen Star Stakes

Amanda Hodges Weir/Hodges Photography
Girvin, ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr., wins the Risen Star by two lengths.

NEW ORLEANS – As the Fair Grounds assistant to trainer Mike Maker, Joe Sharp went down the Kentucky Derby trail in 2014 with Louisiana Derby winner Vicar’s In Trouble. Later that year, Sharp went out on his own, and now, as a head trainer, Sharp has a Triple Crown prospect in his own stable, Girvin, who was a two-length winner of the Grade 2, $400,000 Risen Star Stakes on Saturday at Fair Grounds.

Girvin earned 50 qualifying points – plenty to get into the Derby field – by winning the Risen Star, an 85-point race on Churchill Downs’s Road to the Kentucky Derby program. Second-place Untrapped got 20 points and, since he was second in the Lecomte here last month, now has 24 points. Local Hero, who set the pace and held third, got 10 points, while fourth-place Guest Suite got five points after earning 10 in his Lecomte win.

Girvin got a great trip under Brian Hernandez Jr., who is the regular rider for leading Derby prospect McCraken, a Florida-based colt whom he is scheduled to work next week.

Brad Grady owns Girvin, a son of Tale of Ekati and the Malibu Moon mare Catch the Moon who has won two of his three starts. He’s a brother to Cocked and Loaded, who won the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes as a 2-year-old.

Girvin, away decently from post 1, was fifth around the first turn and down the backstretch while hugging the rail as Local Hero, who was sent to the lead by Florent Geroux, went his first quarter-mile into the wind in 23.70 seconds and a half-mile in a robust 47.02. Mo Town, the 3-2 favorite, chased in second, with Untrapped on the rail in third and Cool Arrow outside in fourth.

Around the far turn, Local Hero held his advantage, and when Mo Town failed to go on, jockey Ricardo Santana guided Untrapped off the rail and into the No. 2 path to take aim on his stablemate, Local Hero. Hernandez, asking his mount for some run, moved Girvin up into the spot vacated by Untrapped, and when Mo Town came off the fence before the quarter pole, Girvin shot through a hole along the rail. He and Hernandez had plenty of room to maneuver outside Local Hero, and Girvin mowed down that rival and comfortably outfinished Untrapped, going past the wire clearly the best, and galloping out with good energy.

Girvin ran 1 1/16-miles on a fast track in 1:43.08, good for a provisional Beyer Speed Figure of 93, and paid $18.20 to win.

“The good thing about this horse is his mentality,” said Hernandez. “For him to do what he did today first time going two turns on dirt, that says a lot. The way he settled and found a nice rhythm, he was always there for me. Every time I needed to hit a spot, boom, and then he turns off again.”

Girvin, who gave Sharp the most important win of his training career, has had a roller-coaster of a winter. He debuted here Dec. 16 in a six-furlong sprint and scored an eye-catching, hard-fought win over the talented Al Stall-trained colt Excitations, running a fast six furlongs. Sharp and Grady decided to point Girvin for the Jan. 21 Lecomte, but Sharp sent Girvin to his string at the Evangeline Downs Training Center just before an outbreak of equine herpesvirus put the Fair Grounds backstretch under quarantine, preventing Girvin from being entered in his intended spot.

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At Evangeline, Girvin also had a minor foot problem and missed a work, but that issue resolved, and the quarantine lifted, Sharp ran Girvin here Feb. 4 in the Keith Gee Memorial Stakes, a turf mile, as a prep for the Risen Star. Girvin, who had shown sprint speed in his debut, settled behind a slow pace in the Keith Gee, finishing second, and Sharp had seen enough to move forward.

“It all worked out, but everybody thought it was crazy putting him on the turf. I had to get two turns into him before I did this,” Sharp said. “This was a huge race. When Brian took him inside, you saw his ears go back. The horse likes a dog fight. It engages him.”

Sharp said that if all goes well Girvin will make his next start April 1 in the $1 million Louisiana Derby.

Plans were not as firm just after the Risen Star for the Steve Asmussen-trained second- and third-place finishers, Untrapped and Local Hero.

Untrapped appeared to move forward from his Lecomte, and ran his second solid race at two turns.

“We’re in agreement that he stays, and that was kind of the question with him,” Asmussen said.

Guest Suite raced in ninth place around the first turn and down the backstretch, farther from the lead than he had been winning the Lecomte. He probably didn’t improve substantially Saturday, but Guest Suite ran decently.

“He was a little further back than he wanted to be,” said trainer Neil Howard, who said it was likely Guest Suite would return for the Louisiana Derby.  “It was a good race, though; a tough race. You’re not going to win every one of these things along the way.”