03/25/2013 2:21PM

Louisiana Derby: Risen Star also-rans look to take big step forward

Lou Hodges Jr./Hodges Photography
Proud Strike, who faded to eighth in the Risen Star, returns for trainer Steve Asmussen in Saturday's Louisiana Derby.

NEW ORLEANS – A little improvement.

That’s all trainers Dallas Stewart, Tom Amoss, and Steve Asmussen want to see from the 3-year-olds they’re running in the Louisiana Derby on Saturday.

Sure, Golden Soul, Mylute, and Proud Strike were also-rans in the Risen Star on Feb. 23, but only 3 1/2 lengths separated the first eight finishers.

The farther, the better for Golden Soul, Stewart has been saying for weeks. A late-runner, Golden Soul lacked punch in the stretch in the 1 1/16-mile Risen Star and finished sixth, losing by 2 3/4 lengths.

“The distance separates them,” Stewart said. “He’s doing great. He’s training good. He looks good. He’s put on weight. I just think the distance is going to help him. Even after a mile and an eighth, it should benefit him – running style, pedigree. I think it’s a wide-open race.”

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

Amoss has made a few tweaks with Mylute, who made a bid for the lead in the stretch in the Risen Star but couldn’t sustain his run, finishing seventh.

“Our game plan going into this race, rather than training sharply into this race, we have two easy works behind it,” Amoss said.

Also, the blinkers are coming off Mylute to “try to make him finish better,” Amoss said.

A little smoother training schedule also might help Mylute.

In January, a partial stake in him was sold, and although he was galloping in the morning, he didn’t work while the sale was pending.

“There’s a case to be made that he should be a better-prepared horse based on some training interruptions that we had,” Amoss said.

Proud Strike, who broke from the rail in the Risen Star, battled for the lead on the backstretch before fading.

“He got tired,” Asmussen said. “It was disappointing for him not to run better, but he didn’t run bad. He lost concentration at the half-mile pole. It wasn’t what I wanted. It wasn’t what I expected, but I see reasons for him to improve off of it.”

Departing, Sunbean ready for Stall

Trainer Al Stall Jr., who scratched Departing and Sunbean from the Risen Star because of their outside post positions, is looking forward to running both colts in the Louisiana Derby.

Departing won his prep race, the Texas Heritage Stakes on March 2 at Sam Houston, by 2 3/4 lengths and is undefeated in three starts. Sunbean, who was on the also-eligible list for the Risen Star but would have drawn into the field, instead raced that day in the Crescent City Derby, overpowering Louisiana-breds by 4 3/4 lengths.

As long as there are no surprise entrants Wednesday for the Louisiana Derby, Sunbean will be part of an expected full field of 14 3-year-olds. If the race overfills, because all of his earnings came in Louisiana-bred races, he would be pushed to the also-eligible list.

Stall said he can’t separate Departing and Sunbean.

“Who would know?” Stall said. “Sunbean can be a little more forward than Departing. Departing can switch off and do whatever you want, but Sunbean is learning to do that.”

Both colts are late nominees to the Triple Crown races, Stall said.

Sunbean is owned by the Brittlyn Stable of Maurice and Evelyn Benoit.

She said she was disappointed that Sunbean didn’t run in the Risen Star, “but everything’s worked out probably for the best.” She also said she thinks he would have won the Risen Star and is “very confident” he can be competitive in the Louisiana Derby.

“I have my work cut out for me, don’t get me wrong,” she said. “But I like the horse, and he deserves a shot. More than that, I’m proud to represent Louisiana. It’s about time Louisiana had a horse in the Kentucky Derby.”

Stakes debut for Ground Transport

Ground Transport, who won a two-turn optional claimer the day of the Risen Star, will make his stakes debut in the Louisiana Derby. His only loss in three starts was a runner-up finish in his debut sprinting behind Departing.

“I think it’s coming up as one of the toughest of the Derby preps, a deep and contentious field,” trainer Mike Stidham said. “I hope he’s going to fit well. Numbers-wise, he’s got to move up a few points to be competitive with these horses. I think he’s going in that direction.”

Other local horses expected for the Louisiana Derby are Whiskey Bravo, trained by Keith Desormeaux, and Hip Four Sixtynine, trained by Bobby Barnett.

Desormeaux won the Risen Star with Ive Struck a Nerve, who is sidelined with an injury. Whiskey Bravo, whose only victory in four starts came in a maiden-claiming race at Fair Grounds, is coming off a fourth-place finish in the Texas Heritage, 5 3/4 lengths behind Departing.

“I’m trying to be careful that I’m not entering this horse because I lost the other one,” Desormeaux said. “There’s a lot of reasons why he belongs.”

He said he was encouraged by Whiskey Bravo’s last race, even though the colt couldn’t sustain his run.

“I attribute that to his lack of experience,” Desormeaux said.