The fields have already been drawn for the two important Kentucky Derby prep races to be held on Saturday. A total of 26 3-year-olds were entered for the Fountain of Youth and Risen Star Stakes as the trail get serious for Derby contenders.
Using Jeff Frank's "Dirty Dozen" of top Kentucky Derby hopefuls as a guide, we see that each race has a pair horses entered from the list. Not only is purse money up for grabs but also valuable points toward entry into the Run for the Roses.
The winner of each of the stakes will garner 50 points as the quality of Derby preps increases.
At Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans, Normandy Invasion tops the field of 14 that will leave the starting gate in the Risen Star. The 1 1/16-mile race attracted 15, leaving one as an also-eligible to fill in for an early scratch.
Normandy Invasion, trained by Chad Brown for Fox Hill Farms, gets the favorite's designation at 5-2 in the morning line. He's joined by fellow "Dirty Dozen" resident Palace Malice, who is 8-1 in the program.
Normandy Invasion will get the riding services of his regular jockey, Jose Lezcano. The pair have teamed up for the colt's last two starts, resulting in a maiden win and a second by a nose in Aqueduct's Remsen Stakes on Nov. 24.
His $92,240 in earnings puts him fourth among the 14 3-year-olds expected to start on Saturday.
Palace Malice also will be making his 2013 debut in the Risen Star, which will be his first stakes. Normally ridden by Javier Castellano, the colt will have Rosie Napravnik in the saddle at Fair Grounds.
While based in South Florida, owner Cot Campbell and trainer Todd Pletcher decided to send Palace Malice to the Risen Star.
"It's close to a tossup between the G-2 Fountain of Youth that day at Gulfstream, but we can get Rosie Napravnik in New Orleans, our horse is an easy shipper and he's been training sharply for Todd Pletcher since his good 2013 debut," Campbell noted in a press release from his Dogwood Stable. "We are looking for ground and both races are at a mile and a sixteenth. Like everyone else, we are hunting points, and New Orleans looks like the better place to get some.
"We think we've got a good one, but we'll find that out pretty quick now."
The two "Dirty Dozen" members in the Fountain of Youth are 9-5 favorite Violence and Orb at 12-1.
Violence is undefeated as he begins his 3-year-old campaign. Also trained by Todd Pletcher, the colt has given owner Black Rock Thoroughbreds victories in the Nashua Stakes at Aqueduct on Nov. 4 and CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park on Dec. 15. Javier Castellano remains at Gulfstream to ride the colt, giving Napravnik her ride in the Risen Star.
"We got him back here to Palm Meadows right after the CashCall," Pletcher said recently. "He's done really well so far and everything has gone according to plan while we've focused on getting him ready for the Fountain of Youth. The main thing in choosing to run him in the CashCall was the timing and the fact that Hollywood, although it is a synthetic track, plays more like dirt than any of the other synthetics."
Orb, from the stable of Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, found the winner's circle in his fourth start at Aqueduct last November and followed with another win last month at Gulfstream.
Owned by Phipps Stable, Orb likes to come from off the pace, so the 1 1/16 miles should be long enough for him. However, starting from the inside post could pose problems for jockey John Velazquez.
I might just box these horses in exactas for each race.