Road to Kentucky Derby Revs up at Fair Grounds

February 16, 2024

Angel of Empire (outside) won the 2023 edition of the Risen Star (Hodges Photography)

Championship Series Begins Saturday With Grade 2, $400,000 Risen Star 

Churchill Downs/Kentucky Derby Update

LOUISVILLE, Ky.— The excitement is building for the $5 million Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (Grade I) and a major milestone along the way is Saturday’s start of the Road to the Kentucky Derby Championship Series with the $400,000 Risen Star (GII) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.

Several promising 3-year-olds have already garnered points during the Road to the Kentucky Derby “Prep Season,” a set of 20 foundation-building races that awarded the winning horse between 10 and 30 points. Now, as the distances get longer and the races get closer to the Kentucky Derby, qualifying points will increase.

The Championship Series unfolds across 16 races at 10 different racetracks around the world. Saturday’s Risen Star will award the winner 50 points with 25 points given to the runner-up. The third through fifth-place finishers will be awarded points on a 15-10-5 scale.

In addition to the Risen Star, the weekend action also will feature Sunday’s $400,000 Sunland Derby (GIII), which will award 20-10-6-4-2 points to the top five finishers. And, on the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby, a large field of 14 3-year-olds are scheduled to contest the Hyacinth Stakes at Tokyo Racecourse.

Since the point series was adopted in 2012-13, it has taken an average of 23.6 points to make the field of 20 for the Kentucky Derby. Last year, an additional 577 points were up for grabs by awarding points to the fifth-place finishers. This year, the point structure was altered to increase points for the runner-up in races and create more separation from the third-place finisher. In total, 130 additional points are possible to be awarded.

In 11 short weeks, the Derby will be here. Get ready for an exhilarating journey on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

Track Phantom Leads Impressive Cast of 12 To Kick off Road to Kentucky Derby Championship Series

Track Phantom with Joel Rosario aboard coasts to the win. (Hodges Photography / Lou Hodges, Jr.)
Track Phantom scores in the Lecomte (Hodges Photography/Lou Hodges Jr.)

L and N Racing, Clark Brewster, Jerry Caroom and Breeze Easy’s Lecomte (Grade III) and Gun Runner Stakes winner Track Phantom heads a talented and competitive field of 12 3-year-olds with Kentucky Derby aspirations who entered Saturday’s $400,000 Risen Star (GII) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.

Run at 1 1/8 miles, the Risen Star is the third of four Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying races held at Fair Grounds, culminating with the $1 million TwinSpires Louisiana Derby (GII) on Saturday, March 23. Track Phantom, who swept the first two races, is the only multiple prep-winning horse so far on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

The Risen Star is the final race on the 14-race program with a post time of 7:17 p.m. (all times Eastern). First post on the stakes-laden card is 1 p.m.

Trained by Steve Asmussen, Track Phantom was installed as the 7-2 morning line choice in the Risen Star with three-straight victories on his resumé, highlighted by a 2 ¾-length score in the Lecomte and 1 ¼-length victory in the Gun Runner. A $500,000 purchase at the 2022 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Track Phantom has been based at Fair Grounds since late November and has become the top 3-year-old on the circuit. Jockey Joel Rosario, who was in the saddle in the Lecomte, will have the return-call for the Risen Star and break from post No. 11.

Asmussen has won the Risen Star a record-tying three times including in 2022 with eventual Kentucky Derby favorite and runner-up Epicenter. Along with Track Phantom, Asmussen entered eye-catching 10-length maiden special weight winner Hall of Fame in the Risen Star. Owned by Mrs. John Magnier, Michael B Tabor, Derrick Smith, Westerberg, Dandharvi and Rocket Ship Racing, Hall of Fame is a regally bred son of the 2016 Risen Star winner and Asmussen-trained Gun Runner out of the Giant’s Causeway mare Flag Day. He was purchased for $1.4 million at the 2022 Fasig-Tipton August Sale. Ricardo Santana Jr. will have the call on Hall of Fame from post 7.

Several of Hall of Fame’s owners have a second chance at glory in the Risen Star with their Remsen Stakes (GII) runner-up Sierra Leone. Trained by Chad Brown, Sierra Leone is set to make his 3-year-old debut after his erratic second-place finish to Dornoch in the Dec. 2 Remsen. For his seasonal bow, Brown has opted to add blinkers and change riders to Tyler Gaffalione. The duo will break from post 4 as the 4-1 second choice on the morning line odds.

Another horse making his 3-year-old debut is Ribble Farms, Michael Eiserman, Earl Silver, Kenneth Fishbein and Daniel Fishbein’s Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) hero Honor Marie. Under the care of Whit Beckman, Honor Marie began his career with two victories from just three starts including his professional two-length win in the Kentucky Jockey Club. Honor Marie will break from post 3 under Rafael Bejarano.

The Risen Star Field 

1 Tizzy Indy (James Graham, Keith Desormeaux, 50-1)

2 Awesome Ruta (Mitchell Murrill, Joe Foster, 30-1)

3 Honor Marie (Bejarano, Beckman, 6-1)

4 Sierra Leone (Gaffalione, Brown, 4-1)

5 Moonlight (Florent Geroux, Todd Pletcher, 12-1)

6 Real Men Violin (Brian Hernandez Jr., Kenny McPeek, 8-1)

7 Hall of Fame (Santana, Asmussen, 6-1)

8 Catching Freedom (Luis Saez, Brad Cox, 5-1)

9 Cardinale (Flavien Prat, Pletcher, 12-1)

10 Resilience (John Velazquez, Bill Mott, 12-1)

11 Track Phantom (Rosario, Asmussen, 7-2

12 Bee Dancer (Corey Lanerie, Dallas Stewart, 20-1). 

Awesome Ruta is not currently nominated to the Triple Crown. He can become eligible with a $6,000 late payment due Monday, April 1.

Stronghold Tabbed 5-2 Morning Line Choice in Sunland Derby 

Stronghold (#3 inside) gave a game effort but came up short to Wynstock in the Los Alamitos Futurity (Benoit Photo)

Eric and Sharon Waller’s Los Alamitos Futurity (Grade II) runner-up Stronghold was tabbed as the 5-2 morning line favorite in the field of eight 3-year-olds set to contest Sunday’s 19th running of the $400,000 Sunland Derby (GIII).

Run at 1 1/16 miles, the Sunland Derby will go as Race 9 with a post time of 6:17 p.m. The top five finishers will receive points on a 20-10-6-4-2 scale towards a spot in the starting gate for the $5 million Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (GI).

Trained by Phil D’Amato, Stronghold jumped on the Road to the Kentucky Derby when he finished a close second behind Wynstock in the Los Alamitos Futurity. The son of Ghostzapper began his career based at Churchill Downs but shipped to D’Amato’s Santa Anita Park string in October. The Sunland Derby will be Stronghold’s first start of his 3-year-old campaign, and he will once again unite with jockey Antonio Fresu from post No. 5.

Another top prospect entered in the Sunland Derby is Kirk and Judy Robison’s Smarty Jones Stakes third-place finisher Informed Patriot. Trained by Steve Asmussen, Informed Patriot finished 2 ¾ lengths back of Catching Freedom in the Smarty Jones Stakes on New Year’s Day at Oaklawn. The son of Hard Spun will have the riding services of Joel Rosario and break from the far outside post 8.

The Sunland Derby Field 

1 No Trouble (Ken Tohill, Joel Marr, 10-1)

2 Surroundedbyangels (Alejandro Medellin, Bart Hone, 12-1)

3 Curlin’s Kaos (Diego Herrera, Antonio Garcia, 5-1)

4 Lucky Jeremy (Christian Ramos, Bill Morey, 4-1)

5 Stronghold (Fresu, D’Amato, 5-2)

6 Alotaluck (Oscar Ceballos, Ty Garrett, 6-1)

7 Da Ringo (Alfredo Juarez Jr., Jose Gonzalez Jr., 20-1)

8 Informed Patriot (Rosario, Asmussen, 3-1)

No Trouble, Surroundedbyangels and Da Ringo are not currently nominated to the Triple Crown but can become eligible with a $6,000 late payment due April 1.

Five Triple Crown Nominees Scheduled To Compete in Japan’s Hyacinth 

Five Triple Crown nominees, led by Cattleya third-place finisher Unquenchable (JPN), are scheduled to compete in Sunday’s Hyacinth Stakes, the next stop on the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby.

Run at about one mile at Tokyo Racecourse, the Hyacinth will go as the ninth race on the card with a post time of approximately 12:25 a.m. ET. 

Unquenchable (JPN) is conditioned by Mizuki Takayanagi and top jockey Christophe Lemaire will have the ride in the Hyacinth.

Another expected to attract strong consideration from bettors is two-time winner Ballon d’Or (JPN), who is trained by Ritto-based conditioner Mikio Matsunaga. The son of New Year’s Day will be ridden by Masami Matsuoka. 

Other Triple Crown nominees entered: Ramjet (JPN)Y Y Legend (JPN) and Habire (JPN).

For more information about the Hyacinth, visit:

Risen Star Quotes

Steve Asmussen, trainer, Track Phantom, Hall of Fame – “I think the Lecomte was as easy on (Track Phantom) as you could have wanted it to be, with him still getting something out of it. … Hall of Fame was ridden more aggressively in his maiden win because he’s playing a little catch up on a horse like Track Phantom but the ability is there. You want a clean run into the first turn. The distance gives us a little more room going into it. I want and expect both of them to break cleanly, establish some position and just be allowed to show who they are. … It’s easy to compare what Track Phantom’s done with what Epicenter did two years ago. It is also very easy to compare Hall of Fame to what Disarm was last year but with better timing. We are extremely excited about them.”

Brad Cox, trainer, Catching Freedom – “We’re going to need to improve off the Smarty Jones. Physically he looks great. He’s had a good bit of time between races, and he’s been moving well since he shipped back to Fair Grounds from Oaklawn. We’ll see if he’s up for it.”

Whit Beckman, trainer, Honor Marie – “He’s been training well throughout the winter down here, we’re happy with his overall condition. To me, he’s a very talented horse and we’ll see if he made a jump from his form last year. Early on he was always just kind of aloof, lights weren’t really on. Now we’re really starting to see him wake up and I know he knows what he’s doing out there. He’s put on a lot of weight, a lot of muscle.”

How To Watch the Risen Star 

The Risen Star goes as Race 14 at Fair Grounds on Saturday’s 14-race program with an approximately post time of 7:17 p.m. ET. It will air live on FanDuel TV and can also be watched on the Smart TV app Churchill Downs LIVE and

Watch and wager on the Sunland Derby on

Risen Star Key Race for Producing Derby Contenders

The quality of the Risen Star field was confirmed during the race’s last several runnings, in particular the last three.

In 2021, Mandaloun won the Risen Star en route to his victory via disqualification in the Kentucky Derby and in the last two years, the race has produced the second and third place finishers of the Derby: Epicenter and Zandon in 2022) and Two Phil’s and Angel of Empire in 2023.

Three horses have run in the Risen Star and gone on to win the Kentucky Derby: Mandaloun (2021), Country House (2019) and War Emblem (2002). 

Mandaloun was the only winner of both the Risen Star and Kentucky Derby. Country House finished second to eventual Preakness Stakes (GI) winner War of Will while War Emblem finished sixth to Repent

The overall record of Kentucky Derby contenders from the Risen Star since 1985 is 71-3-4-6.

Key Races To Watch

This weekend there are several races around the world that could have implications on the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks. Here are some of the key races:


  • 4:46 p.m. ET, OP 7, Mdn 115k, 3yo, 6 F
  • 8:25 p.m. ET, TP 6, OC 50000n1x, 3yo f, 1 M (Tapeta)


  • 1:58 p.m. ET, FG 3, OC 100000n1x, 3yo, 1 1/16 M
  • 2:56 p.m. ET, FG 5, Alw 65000n2L, 3yo f, 1 1/16 M
  • 3:22 p.m. ET, Aqu 7, $100,000 Ruthless, 3yo f, 7 F
  • 3:25 p.m. ET, FG 6, Mdn 65k, 3yo f, 6 F
  • 3:37 p.m. ET, GP 8, Mdn 89k, 3yo, 1 M
  • 3:54 p.m. ET, FG 7, Mdn 65k, 3yo, 6 F
  • 4:52 p.m. ET, FG 9, Mdn 65k, 3yo, 1 1/16 M
  • 5:50 p.m. ET, OP 9, $150,000 Dixie Belle, 3yo f, 6 F
  • 6:48 p.m. ET, FG 13, $300,000 Rachel Alexandra (GII), 3yo f, 1 1/16 M
  • 7:17 p.m. ET, FG 14, $400,000 Risen Star (GII), 3yo, 1 1/8 M


  • 12:25 a.m. ET, Tokyo 9, Hyacinth Stakes, 3yo, 1 M
  • 3:07 p.m. ET, GP 7, Mdn 89k, 3yo f, 1 M
  • 5:13 p.m. ET, Sun 7, $250,000 Sunland Park Oaks, 3yo f, 1 M
  • 6:17 p.m. ET, Sun 9, $400,000 Sunland Derby (GIII), 3yo, 1 1/16 M

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