The Road to the Kentucky Derby gets a bit faster as the prep races now will award 50 points to the winner.
It typically takes about 30 points to make the Derby field. Thus, a win in one of these prep races guarantees a start in the Derby.
The $400,000 Risen Star on Saturday at the Fair Grounds drew a full field of 14. This is a prep for the Louisiana Derby on April 1.
Mo Town (7-2) is favored off a big win in the Remsen on Nov. 26 at Aqueduct. The Uncle Mo colt has been working lights out at Payson Park in Florida for trainer Anthony Dutrow.
Mo Town will be ridden by John Velazquez, who rode One Liner to a sharp win in the Southwest at Oaklawn Park last weekend. Top riders such as Velazquez will have multiple potential Derby mounts. Their hope is that the horses either sort themselves out or they wait as long as possible before making a final Derby commitment.
Local Hero (4-1) is the second choice in the morning line for trainer Steve Asmussen, who won this race last year with Gun Runner. Local Hero has a tough task in moving up from a maiden special weight win to a Grade 2 stakes.
I like Guest Suite (6-1) to spring the upset for trainer Neil Howard. Guest Suite won the LeComte at the Fair Grounds in his last race. He isn’t a sexy pick, but he’s a blue-collar grinder.
There is a horse in the field, Arklow (15-1), that I would bet if someone was offering a Belmont Stakes future book. He is owned by Donegal Racing, which owns a comparative horse in Keen Ice. Arklow has a rich pedigree for racing 9 furlongs or more.
EPICHARIS WINS HYACINTH
Epicharis won the Hyacinth at Tokyo Racecourse last weekend, the first 50-point Kentucky Derby prep. He is unbeaten in four career starts.
The ownership group is the U Carrot Farm. It told BloodHorse that it remains noncommittal to the Derby. It did say that the UAE Derby on March 25 at Meydan is a possible next start.
Horseplayers are familiar with trainer Jamie Ness. He has had enormous success, including nine straight trainer titles at Tampa Bay Downs.
Ness has begun serving a 100-day suspension handed down by Florida racing officials for multiple positive tests for clenbuterol. It’s a human drug used to treat chronic breathing problems that also has been used on racehorses. Racehorses are allowed to train but not race on it.
Ness is allowed to turn his stable over to his wife, Mandy. He is barred from entering any sanctioned racetrack for the 100-day term. The question is if this is a stern enough penalty considering there is no loss of income.
Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. You can buy his Santa Anita Park picks at racedaylasvegas.com. You can email him at email@example.com and follow @richeng4propick on Twitter.