As I watched a number of Joe Sharp trainees last Summer at Canterbury Park, I realized it rather quickly, that he must have been a sponge, soaking up all the knowledge he could under trainer Michael Maker as his assistant years ago. Now on his own, he saddles horses all over the country, and he wins all over this country. Girvin, a three year-old colt by Tale of Ekati won his debut in his only start as a two year old in December at the Fair Grounds by head showing a lot of heart. In what many probably thought was just a run of the mill maiden special weight debut victory in open company for Girvin, Joe Sharp had other plans for the young equine athlete. He started him in the Keith Gee Memorial Overnight Stakes, a turf route, six weeks after winning a six furlong sprint on the Fair Grounds dirt. Brian Hernandez Jr. guided Girvin to the inside on both turns, saving ground throughout, but was simply outfinished in a very game effort in his first attempt on the sod. Handicappers looking at this horse had a lot to think about even with limited data on this horse. In the Keith Gee, he sat well off the pace and made a move on the inside off the far turn, he was simply outkicked by Cowboy Culture who navigated five wide on the far turn, but had all the momentum and deserved the win. It has been three weeks since that runner-up effort in the Keith Gee and Girvin took a big step forward this afternoon in the $400,000 Grade 2 – Risen Star and stamped his name in this year’s Kentucky Derby field as long as he stays healthy over the next couple months.
In a race that looked to be setting up rather well for Steve Asmussen trainee and second betting choice, Local Hero, as he set rather comfortable fractions of :23.70 and :47.02 over the first half mile. During that span, Florent Geroux had extended Local Hero’s lead to near six lengths at the half mile pole. The $500,000 purchase by Hard Spun, Local Hero had opened up similar leads in his past start that he had won by more than seven lengths. It didn’t work out like that Saturday, as he was collared by Girvin and Untrapped in the stretch, but he did hold on for an important third place finish which earned him 10 Kentucky Derby qualification points.
As the field entered the stretch, Local Hero still paced the field, but Girvin angled out slightly and finished under a full drive with a very nice finishing kick as he switched leads. He drove clear over Local Hero and also got the jump on surprising eventual second place finisher Untrapped who was his biggest threat as the horses hit the furlong marker. It was very clear at that point, Girvin and Untrapped were going to settle this in the final furlong. Girvin saved ground throughout and Hernandez Jr. Gave him a perfect trip and outpaced Untrapped off the far turn to get the lead and never looked back. Had he waited too long, we could be talking about Untrapped as the Risen Star champ, but he got the clear jump on Ricardo Santana Jr. and Steve Asmussen nearly had an amazing day had Joe Sharp not spoiled the party. His entrants ran second and third earning important points for the Derby, but ultimately considering the perfect trip Geroux had with Local Hero and the uneventful yet impressive runner-up placing for Untrapped, Asmussen all in all shouldn’t be too disappointed in Saturday’s results. He came out of it with a total of 30 points.
Girvin’s owner Brad Grady and trainer Joe Sharp have a serious decision to make moving forward now. The rider of Girvin, Brian Hernandez Jr. also rides the current favorite for the Kentucky Derby McCraken. He will likely opt towards that mount even with the impressive score by Girvin in the Risen Star. Hernandez Jr. commented on the mental make up of his horse, “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.” If both horses stay in good health and make it to the starting gate, somebody will earn a mount between now and then. And it could force Grady and Sharp to take an alternative approach if they plan on starting Girvin in the Louisiana Derby.
Girvin finished the 11/16mile in 1:43.08 on a fast surface earning a Beyer of 93 according to Marcus Hersh of the Daily Racing Form.
Given the circumstances, Joe Sharp was happy with how everything has worked out for Girvin. As a result of the equine herpesvirus outbreak at The Fair Grounds Racecourse, Sharp had to alter his plans. Instead of going: MSW, the Le Comte Stakes, and then the Risen Star. They went MSW, Keith Gee Memorial, and Risen Star. Sharp said, “I had to get two turns in him before I did this,” according to DRF.com. All in all it worked out for everybody in the end. Girvin got his 50 points putting him first on The Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard. Based on year’s past and where we are at in this year’s prep season. Girvin essentially punched his ticket to the starting gate on May 5th. Let’s see how he develops in the meantime. I am very intrigued and as of right now, he has jumped far up my list when it comes to quality contenders ready for Louisville.
As far as the rest of the field is concerned coming out of the Risen Star. Untrapped earned 20 points and now has 24 total qualification points putting him third for the time being, but remember The Risen Star was the first race with a 50-20-10-5 structure, so that is bound to change. I wouldn’t take anything away from his performance though. I thought all considered that he ran a solid race as the second Asmussen entrant, and he with back to back runner-up efforts in New Orleans, he is improving. It will be interesting to see what Asmussen decides for both Local Hero and Untrapped, but one of them if not both likely will stay in Louisiana for the Louisiana Derby.
Local Hero earned his first ten points and now has hopped on to the Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard. He had no excuses on the fast surface Saturday, so take note of how he comes out of the Risen Star. It was only his second start of the season so he does have somewhat of an excuse to not be in top condition. Even though he was collared at the top of the lane, he fought on well to get third which could become very important if it comes down to making the Derby or not. Those points will matter to somebody. I would keep a close eye on his workouts. Watch his warm-up prior to his next start, check for kidney sweat, and so forth.
Fourth place finisher Guest Suite was very disappointing. I am not sure if it was intended or not, but Robby Albarado took Guest Suite far off the pace, settling ninth of 11 on the backstretch and with the rather comfortable pace, he was forced to ask his horse to make up ground near the half mile pole. He was roughly three wide on the first turn, forced out from 3w to 4w at the quarter pole and just ran evenly paced late. The most disappointing effort was not passing the tiring Local Hero for third. I hate to see that from horses in losing efforts, and in this case it cost Guest Suite five points again that could matter later. Guest Suite now sits seventh with 15 qualifying points and will likely stay in New Orleans for the Louisiana Derby.
The favorite at post time was no surprise, Mo Town. What I couldn’t believe was that the horse opened as a 3/5 favorite and the money continued coming on this favorite. He did drift up from that point, but he had to because that price was absolutely ridiculous, no matter how much you loved him. Considering what has happened to the group that ran in the Remsen Stakes, at this point, I think the whole group are just a bunch of duds until proven different. When you look at Beyer numbers, Mo Town ran 86-84-76 in his three starts. Girvin ran 87 on the first and 87 on the turf. How can the public let there be such a gap in what the horses go off at. It’s just ridiculous in my eyes. Mo Town ended up going off at 3/2. He stalked the pace sitting second throughout but well back of the pace-setter Local Hero. He was wide on both turns, but had no excuses. He tired off the far turn, finished fifth, and scored no points for the Derby. He will move forward into his next Derby prep with the 10 points he earned by winning the Remsen Stakes as a two year old.
Every other entrant in the race went off at odds of 20-1 or higher and made no impact in the early portion or final half of the race. If you liked Cool Arrow, the second of Joe Sharp’s two entrants, he didn’t run well at all, faltered, and finished roughly 30 lengths out of it.
Moving forward in New Orleans, the Grade 1 – Louisiana Derby from The Fair Grounds Racecourse will be held on April 1, 2017. The point structure for the Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard is 100 for first, 40 for second, 20 for third, and 10 for fourth. In other words, there is plenty of time to make up points over the next two months. Trainers have a multitude of options in the Southeastern United States.
The next group of Derby preps that I will be covering come up next weekend.
Saturday, March 4th, 2017
– Fountain of Youth Stakes from Gulfstream Park (50-20-10-5)
– Gotham Stakes from Aqueduct (50-20-10-5)
Saturday, March 11th, 2017
– Tampa Bay Derby from Tampa Bay Downs (50-20-10-5)
– San Felipe Stakes from Santa Anita Park (50-20-10-5)
Saturday, March 18th, 2017
– Rebel Stakes from Oaklawn Park (50-20-10-5)