Risen Star Stakes: Bravazo Shocks at 21/1

D Wayne LukasBravazo (21/1) showed he had guts as well as talent by getting his nose in front on the wire after a hard-fought battle in the stretch at Fair Grounds in the Grade 2 $400,000 Risen Star Stakes 2018 on February 17.

Trained by D Wayne Lukas, a photo was needed to confirm that Bravazo had beaten Steve Asmussen’s pacesetting Snapper Sinclair, a 41/1 long shot, by the narrowest of margins in the mile and a sixteenth contest. Horses more popular with bettors were left trailing in their wake.

Todd Pletcher’s Noble Indy (13/5) took third, two lengths adrift of them with Jerry Hollendorfer’s 7/5 favorite Instilled Regard a neck behind him in fourth. Three lengths further back High North (128/10) was fifth for Brad C Cox, unable to benefit from his draw in gate one. Asmussen’s more fancied colt, the second favorite Principe Guilherme (29/10), failed to perform as expected and finished seventh beaten nearly ten lengths under Florent Geroux.

Bravazo, a son of Awesome Again out of a Cee’s Tizzy mare, is a homebred from Calumet Farm. He broke his maiden on the second attempt, in September at Churchill Downs, and went on to take second place at the USA racebooks’ odds of 47/1 to Free Drop Billy at Keeneland in October in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity, a Grade 1 race.

Bettors must have forgotten that promising result. They probably ignored him because he was beaten 12 lengths by Kiaran McLaughlin’s Enticed in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on his return to Churchill Downs in November and finished tenth. But Bravazo won his first and only other start as a three-year-old in a low key one mile allowance contest at Oaklawn on January 13 by a neck.

Perhaps that result made him seem ordinary or was Lukas trying to give him an easy introduction to his classic season? Building the confidence of young colts is never a bad idea and Lukas has a great record of nurturing youngsters.

On the same day that Bravazo won at Oaklawn, Instilled Regard scored in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds by an impressive three lengths. You cannot blame bettors for expecting him to follow up back at the track.

Gary Stevens was expected to ride Bravazo but a few days before the race it was known that he would not be available. Lukas decided to offer Miguel Mena the ride, knowing that he could ride the track at Fair Grounds better than some of the more well-known jockeys. Mena has an awesome record at the track and is the leading rider there.

Lukas was not at Fair Grounds but his assistant Bas Nicholl convinced Mena on the day that Bravazo stood a much better chance than his odds suggested. Lukas’ team really believed in the colt and Mena was persuaded to ride him with confidence.

Noble Indy broke well from gate two under John Velazquez and had the lead going into the first turn but Snapper Sinclair was pushed forward by Adam Beschizza and soon took first place. Bravazo was drawn in stall seven and had to race three wide on the turn but Mena soon had him alongside the pacesetting Snapper Sinclair, keeping close to his flank allowing him to lead by a neck. Mena admitted after the race that he did not intend to be quite so close to the pace but as some of the speed horses did not show Bravazo was happy tracking the pacesetter.

Noble Indy was content to get some cover and hug the rail in third with Instilled Regard on his outside in fourth. Principe Guilherme was slow out of the gates and had to be ridden hard by Geroux to take fifth, three wide in the second line of horses. Supreme Aura (125/10) and Givemeaminit (219/10) were soon slightly detached from the pack, looking a little outpaced rather than deliberately held up.

Before the half mile was completed Corey Lanerie moved High North forward from his third line spot and squeezed up the rail to push Instilled Regard wide of him. The order at the head of the pack was unchanged as they approached the quarter pole.

Javier Castellano angled Instilled Regard wide of the second-placed Bravazo rounding the final turn, ready to make what most people expected to be his race-winning challenge. The race-caller thought he was in the perfect position to pass the two long shots and take the race but Instilled Regard found little response to Castellano’s urgings. The pair at the front were not ready to give up their leading positions.

High North and Noble Indy sat behind the front pair ready to fill the gaps as they fell back. They didn’t. It soon became apparent that it was a two-horse race and, having endured close combat all the way in the stretch Bravazo was the one who put his nose in front on the wire, like an athlete diving at the tape.

To say that the result was an upset is a massive understatement. The majority of the field appeared to have more promising credentials on paper than the first two horses to hit the wire. Why did Asmussen’s pacesetter outrun his supposedly superior barn mate? Why did Instilled Regard fail to show the same ability that he displayed a month earlier?

Who knows but bettors should have known that Lukas has a habit of producing talented colts out of nowhere. Bravazo’s win was not only his biggest payday taking his total earnings to $426,500 but it also took him to the top of the Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard. The Risen Star winner gains 50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, the runner-up receives 20 points and there are ten for third and five for fourth place.

It is too soon to speculate on the likely Kentucky Derby winner but Bravazo now stands a realistic chance of at least gaining a starting berth.