The unfancied 8/1 shot Girvin galloped two lengths clear of Untrapped in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds on Saturday and straight to the top of the Kentucky Derby points leaderboard.
His trainer Joe Sharp (pictured), husband of former top jockey Rosie Napravnik, was so delighted and surprised by the win that he could barely speak. It was not only an unexpected victory but it could be the beginning of a Triple Crown bid.
Owner Brad Grady was happy with the $400,000 winner’s prize but Girvin picked a great time to show what he could do as a plethora of points were up for grabs. Run over 1 1/16 mile, the Risen Star is the first US race of the year with 50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points awarded to the winner.
This previously unnoticed son of Tale of Ekati immediately propelled himself to the top of the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, well ahead of the celebrated champion juvenile Classic Empire, who has 32 points to his name.
Topping the leaderboard was quite an achievement for a colt having only his second start on dirt and his first encounter of graded company. The Risen Star field included proven performers such as the favorite Mo Town, winner of the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes, who ran out of gas and could only finish fifth. Another colt with graded form was Guest Suite who beat Untrapped when taking the slowly run Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes.
His rivals had impressive-looking form but Girvin did not, he hit the racetrack for the first time in mid December at Fair Grounds and won his maiden by a head over the shorter distance of six furlongs. His first try as a three-year-old was on turf in the Keith Gee Memorial Overnight Stakes where he finished as runner-up on February 4 over a mile.
Sharp commented afterwards that he had high hopes for Girvin but the win was a bit of a shock because he did not know how his colt would cope against apparently superior opposition. He diplomatically added that he had every confidence in his jockey, Brian Hernandez Jr, who is the regular partner of McCraken, current favorite in the Kentucky Derby betting with the offshore sportsbooks.
Hernandez certainly made good use of his perfect draw from stall one on Girvin, keeping close to the rail as if magnetically attracted to it. He let Girvin gallop at his own rate, allowing Local Hero partnered by Florent Geroux to make their way to the front of the pack as usual and set solid fractions.
Mo Town soon took second place behind the pacesetter with Untrapped maintaining third position. Hernandez simply sat a few places back, tight to the rail in fifth and was not even noticed by the race commentator until he pulled out to make his challenge and had galloped his way into second place. Hernandez was able to give Girvin the perfect ride. He did not waste a yard in running and produced him at the ideal time and enjoyed a clear run to the wire.
Unfortunately Girvin is not going to have a significant lead on the Kentucky Derby qualifying points leaderboard for long. 50 points will also go to the winners of both the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park and the Gotham at Aqueduct on March 4.
Classic Empire will not be lining up in either as he is still recovering from the foot abscess that was discovered after his disappointing performance in the Holy Bull. His astute trainer Mark Casse is being patient and does not even want to breeze his juvenile champion until he is 100% certain that he is free of pain. Classic Empire needs to recover soon as he is getting short of time and it would be a disappointment to all racing fans if he failed to secure a starting gate in the Kentucky Derby.
It is a very different story for Irish War Cry, the winner of the Holy Bull, who looks likely to add to his current total of 10 points for that victory. His trainer Graham Motion is hoping that this talented, unbeaten son of Curlin will run in the Fountain of Youth and was pleased with his breeze at Palm Meadows on Saturday.
Motion is very positive about the condition of his colt, physically and mentally, but acknowledges that the Fountain of Youth is going to be a tough challenge. Irish War Cry will be going into the race as the colt everyone has to beat rather than the one who is left alone to lead unchallenged and surprises the field by galloping all the way to the wire as he did last time out.
The Holy Bull runner-up, Gunnevera, is hoping to reverse the placings with Irish War Cry after a workout that impressed his trainer Antonio Sano, although he could not see much in the thick fog at Gulfstream Park West at the weekend. Irish War Cry is also likely to face Todd Pletcher’s Made You Look, known for his success in graded turf races, after the latter posted an impressive time at Palm Beach Downs. The Fountain of Youth points will be hotly contested.
What next for Girvin?
If all goes well Sharp will probably be looking at the Louisiana Derby next for Girvin on April 1 which, like the Florida Derby on the same date, provides 100 points to the winner, 40 to the runner-up, 20 for third place and 10 for fourth. Some people think that the 50 points Girvin has already gained are almost certainly enough to guarantee a starting gate for the Kentucky Derby on May 6 but Sharp will want to get another run into his extremely inexperienced colt to see if he can continue his upward curve.
Girvin gained an unremarkable 93 Beyer Speed Figure for his win and the quality of the Risen Star has already been the subject of considerable scrutiny. The truth is that the unexposed Girvin may be a rising star but he needs to back up the win and prove that he can perform in graded company again when the race is not run to suit him. It can be much more difficult to triumph when a colt has to expend energy to gain a good position from a less than perfect draw.
The other obvious factor is that Girvin needs to stay sound and healthy. He does not have the most perfect action and there may have been physical issues that delayed his appearance on the racetrack. He is currently a 25/1 outsider in the Kentucky Derby betting but that may change if he can reinforce his claims next time out.