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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, February 20, 2013 at 12:00 AM

Fair Grounds: Risen Star has solid local contenders

NEW ORLEANS – The last three Risen Star Stakes winners shipped from Florida, and the pipeline is still open. Normandy Invasion, from trainer Chad Brown, and Palace Malice, from Todd Pletcher, could wind up the top two betting choices in this year’s Risen Star on Saturday.

Bob Baffert’s entrant, Code West, got a form boost Monday when the horse who beat him Jan. 31 in a Santa Anita allowance race, Super Ninety Nine, romped in the Southwest Stakes. Oxbow, the Lecomte Stakes hero here Jan. 19, is coming back from Arkansas.

But it still could be the Risen Star winner has spent the winter in New Orleans.

Eight locally based 3-year-olds have been deemed Risen Star-worthy by their human connections. Bethel and Ive Struck a Nerve are outsiders, while Circle Unbroken showed little in the Lecomte, albeit in his first start since last summer. Trainer Al Stall’s Risen Star pair, Departing and Sunbean, got battered by the post position draw: In a field that could number 14, the Stall pair start from the two outside gates – if they start at all. Sunbean was cross-entered in the Gentilly Stakes on Saturday, while Departing’s camp is leaving all options open because of the post.

That leaves Golden Soul, Proud Strike, and Mylute as leading Fair Grounds representatives.

Some might think Golden Soul got exposed in the Jan. 19 Lecomte, but trainer Dallas Stewart isn’t among them. A blowout maiden winner on Dec. 30, Golden Soul finished second in the Lecomte but was beaten more than 11 lengths by Oxbow.

“I didn’t think he ran badly at all,” Stewart said. “The winner just cruised along going 24 [-second quarter-miles]. My horse needs more distance, and he’s going to get a little more Saturday. If not this time, we’ll get them next time. The mile-and-an-eighth races are going to sort them out. He wants to run long.”

Proud Strike is one step behind Golden Soul, his most recent race a blowout maiden win Jan. 12. Beyer Speed Figures rate Proud Strike’s maiden (91) decidedly superior to Golden Soul’s (79), and Proud Strike has gotten ample recovery time, as well as five timed workouts, since the win. The race he won, originally scheduled for turf, already has produced a pair of subsequent winners. But Proud Strike remains relatively untested.

“All he did was win an off-the-turf maiden race,” trainer Steve Asmussen said. “He’s still got a lot to prove.”

In seasoning and accomplishment, Mylute stands atop the local Risen Star contingent, having debuted in June and won 2 of 7 starts at 2. The irony is Mylute isn’t advanced in terms of mental development.

“He was a slow learner when he first started,” trainer Tom Amoss said. “He was bad in the gate, and that cost him a couple times. He’s still late developing mentally. He’s the only horse in the barn I gallop regularly in blinkers.”

There also are questions about how far Mylute will run: His sire, Midnight Lute, and dam’s sire, Valid Expectations, were sprinters. What’s clear is that Mylute has talent. His third in the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot last November was decent, but a win five weeks later in a first-level, two-turn allowance at Fair Grounds turned heads. Mylute beat only four foes and was aided by a perfect trip pressing a slow pace, but he won by almost 11 lengths, posting a solid time on a slow-playing racing surface.

Leading Fair Grounds rider Rosie Napravnik gave up the Mylute mount to ride Palace Malice for Pletcher, which is understandable, considering that she rides Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Shanghai Bobby for Pletcher. But who knows: Maybe the Risen Star winner was in her backyard all along.

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