Horse Racing: Kentucky Derby Hopeful Mandaloun Takes Risen Star

Florent GerouxMandaloun had something to prove after being beaten last time out in the Lecomte but turned the tables on his rivals to take the $400,000 Risen Star convincingly at Fair Grounds on February 13. Mandaloun started 2/1 favorite under Florent Geroux but was treated more cautiously by bettors as he finished a disappointing third when sent off at 4/5 over course and distance a month earlier.

Trained by Brad Cox for Juddmonte, Mandaloun was unbeaten going into the Lecomte, bettors had reason to believe in him. He is clearly talented but his defeat was attributed to a lack of focus as shallow cup blinkers were tried for the first time. Geroux was convinced that they helped a lot as Mandaloun was less distracted in the preliminaries and promptly provided the response required when asked for a race-winning effort. He believed that Mandaloun had won without giving his all in the past.

This son of the star sire Into Mischief, out of a talented Empire Maker mare, finished more than a length ahead of Godolphin’s Proxy, the 4/1 second favorite, with the Steve Asmussen-trained Midnight Bourbon (6/1) half a length behind him in third. They are the two colts who beat Mandaloun in the Lecomte. Greg Foley’s 21/1 shot O Besos was five lengths further back in fourth ahead of Todd Fincher’s more popular Senor Buscador (3/1).

What happened in the race?

It was the 31/1 long shot of the field, Rightandjust who was pushed forward from his outside draw to take the lead by Mitchell Murrill. Midnight Bourbon was ridden to shadow him by Joseph Talamo on his outside. John Velazquez hugged the rail on Proxy in third place whilst Geroux took a slightly wider route on Mandaloun in fourth followed by O Besos.

The positions of the leading quartet were unchanged until Rightandjust’s bid for glory ended as he emptied in the stretch having set fractions of 23.65 and 48.45. Midnight Bourbon briefly took the lead but Geroux was able to urge Mandaloun to pass him and set a time of 1 minute 50.39. Both Cox and Geroux were delighted by his performance.

Kentucky Derby Debut Hopes for Cox

The 40-year-old Brad Cox has spent half his life conditioning horses and has prestigious awards and numerous top-level scores to his name including four Breeders’ Cup wins last year but he has not saddled a single Kentucky Derby starter. That is a remarkable situation which could soon be rectified as the 50 qualifying points gained from the Risen Star mean that Mandaloun currently tops the points leaderboard with a total of 52 points. Cox has significant other ammunition in the Run for the Roses.

For Cox and Juddmonte it is a great position to be in. Unlike other Kentucky Derby hopefuls they will be able to campaign Mandaloun in a conventional style dictated by his wellbeing. Many of his potential rivals may have to be pointed at races in search of the necessary qualifying points in the hope of gaining a starting berth.

We can probably expect to see Mandaloun’s closest pursuers in the Risen Star in the $1 million Louisiana Derby on March 20 at Fair Grounds if they come out of the race without any physical issues. Mandaloun may face them again too.

The Run for the Roses is currently scheduled in its usual slot, on Saturday May 1, and is expected to be run over the standard distance of a mile and a quarter at Churchill Downs, Covid restrictions permitting. The Kentucky Derby betting market is currently headed by Bob Baffert’s Life Is Good who is closely followed by another Cox trainee, Essential Quality.

Essential Quality also holds the second spot on the Kentucky Derby points leaderboard at the moment with 30 of them thanks to his exploits last year. This stunning son of Tapit won the grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland in October in impressive style by more than three lengths. He was sent off as the 2/1 favorite and his jockey Luis Saez did not have to break a sweat to reward his supporters.

Essential Quality followed up with another victory at the highest level in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at the same track in November and has not been seen on the racetrack since. Owned and bred by the mighty Godolphin, he is out of an Elusive Quality mare. That mare, Delightful Quality, earned minor money running against her own gender in six-furlong contests and was saddled by Thomas Albertrani. Cox is planning to saddle Essential Quality on his debut as a three-year-old at Oaklawn Park in the grade 3 Southwest Stakes on February 21.

Unlike Essential Quality, Life Is Good did not feature as a juvenile and has yet to score at the top level but he has been seen this year. He won the grade 3 Sham Stakes run over the distance of a mile at Santa Anita in early January. Another son of Into Mischief, Life Is Good was bred by Gary and Mary West out of a Distorted Humor mare and was purchased by China Horse Club and Maverick Racing for $525,000 as a yearling at Keeneland.

Life Is Good must have shone in his work at home as he was sent off as the 1/5 favorite and prevailed by three quarters of a length under Mike Smith, beating his less popular barnmate Medina Spirit under Abel Cedillo in an eye-catching time of 1 minute 36.63. If all goes to plan we can reportedly expect to see him in the grade 2 San Felipe Stakes on March 6.

Shug McGaughey’s Greatest Honour is also popular with bettors at 9/1. He stormed to victory by nearly six lengths under Jose Ortiz in the grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes at the end of January at Gulfstream Park. Owned and bred by Courtlandt Farms, this son of Tapit out of a Street Cry mare has definitely upped his game as a three-year-old and looks likely to progress further.

Yet another Cox trainee, Shortleaf Stable’s Caddo River is available at 15/1. This son of Hard Spun attracted the attention of many when he finished more than 10 lengths ahead of the pack in the Smarty Jones Stakes. Mandaloun is currently a 16/1 chance.

Bob Baffert is seeking his seventh Kentucky Derby win but Cox could have three chances of spoiling his party with his first ever contenders.