Smile Happy is the 7-2 morning-line favorite

Have points? Will travel.

That seems to be the theme this time of year as the road to the Kentucky Derby heats up with the Grade 2, $400,000 Risen Star at Fair Grounds on Saturday.

Six stakes have been carded by racing secretary Scott Jones and his crew for Saturday’s “Louisiana Derby Preview Day,” including the Risen Star’s sister race, the $300,000 Rachel Alexandra (G2). The top four in that 3-year-old filly event will earn Kentucky Oaks qualifying points (50-20-10-5). The “All Stakes Late Pick Five” covers the final five races on the card (9-13) and there will be a $500,000 guaranteed pool. First post is scheduled for 1 pm EST.

The Risen Star, the first 50-point contest on the calendar, was extended from 1 1/16 miles to 1 1/8 miles in 2020. This year’s field drew 10 talented runners from coast to coast to take on a local contingent that has spent the winter pointing for this race. While the winner will seal a starting spot in the gate for the Kentucky Derby, the 20 points offered for second is often enough for a spot as well. Third place collects 10 points, and the fourth-place finisher will receive five points.

“One reason we chose this spot is because there’s more points in this race,” said trainer Kenny McPeek, who will ship in 7-2 morning-line favorite Smile Happy from his Gulfstream Park winter base.

Owned by Lucky Seven Stable, the talented son of Runhappy won the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) in the second and final start of his juvenile season. That race has come back to produce three next-out stakes winners in Lecomte (G3) victor Call Me Midnight, Holy Bull (G3) winner White Abarrio and Sam F. Davis (G3) winner Classic Causeway.

McPeek admitted he would like to keep Smile Happy and Breeders Futurity (G1) winner Rattle N Roll separated for the time being, meaning one of them would have to ship away from Gulfstream Park.

“I think this is a good first step for Smile Happy,” said McPeek, who hopes to get two quality preps into him before the first Saturday in May. “He’s doing super. He’s done everything right. He’s a very low maintenance horse who makes our job easy. He eats good. He loves to train. We’re trying to keep him and Rattle N Roll separated, with Rattle N Roll pointing for the Fountain of Youth,” a Grade 3 Derby prep at Gulfstream

This is McPeek’s first Risen Star starter since Rogue Romance finished third as the favorite in the 2011 edition. According to McPeek, recently retired jockey Robby Albarado will accompany Smile Happy to Fair Grounds.

Zandon also will make the long van ride to Fair Grounds from his south Florida base at Payson Park. Owned by Jeff Drown and trained by Chad Brown, Zandon had two eventful trips to begin his career in New York. In his debut maiden win he collided with the gate at the start but overcame his competition with a determined stretch run to win the six-furlong sprint at Belmont.

That impressive maiden breaker prompted favoritism at Aqueduct in the Remsen Stakes (G2) with Zandon battling inside of eventual winner Mo Donegal. Mo Donegal made things very tight just before the wire but after an extended look by the stewards the result went the way of Mo Donegal.

“We just felt like that surface and the longer stretch would suit his style better than the short stretch at Gulfstream that is usually speed favoring,” Brown said. “He’s got to get over the shipping, but the horse couldn’t be trained any better. This guy has only run twice, so a little different situation than some of the others I had on the (Kentucky Derby) trail that had more races under their belt. He’s a very exciting prospect, and I don’t see any reason why he won’t get up to a mile and quarter.”

Trainer Doug O’Neill is back in the Crescent City with a prime contender in Slow Down Andy.

The Nyquist homebred is bred up and down by Paul and Zillah Reddam being out of Square Eddie mare Edwina E. O’Neill trained both the sire and dam’s sire, which makes this horse extra special to the connections.

“It’s so cool to have a Square Eddie mare by Nyquist entering a race like the Risen Star,” O’Neill said. This is just a true Paul and Zillah Reddam homebred and that makes it even more special. We’re all pinching ourselves at this point.”

After a pair of sprints at Santa Anita and Del Mar, Slow Down Andy captured the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) over the well-regarded Messier. He has been kept in training at Santa Anita and his connections feel with a good trip he will be with them at the wire.

“He really hasn’t missed a beat out of his last race,” O’Neill said. “We’re coming into this race really optimism he is going to run a big race. With a clean break, he’ll show good tactical speed and he’s got tremendous stamina. For $400,000 at Fair Grounds, you expect it to be a tough spot. We knew entering that we were jumping into some deep water, but we think Slow Down Andy can swim with them.”

O’Neill shipped in to capture the Louisiana Derby (G2) last year with Hot Rod Charlie.

The local delegation of Epicenter, Pappacap and Trafalgar all exited the Lecomte Stakes with secondary points. A board finish by any of these three in the Risen Star would heavily bolster their chance at running for the roses at Churchill Downs.

Epicenter and Pappacap share 4-1 morning-line odds after finishing in a tight photo for the place spot in the Lecomte, with Epicenter gaining the slight advantage.

Pappacap figures to be a little tighter this time around in his second start of the season and will get a jockey change to Tyler Gaffalione breaking from the rail. Owned by Rustlewood Farm Inc. and trained by Hall of Famer Mark Cass, Pappacap is bidding to give his trainer a second Risen Star trophy following War of Will’s victory in 2019.

Winchell Throughbreds’ Epicenter found himself on a contested lead through fast fractions in the Lecomte and will likely be part of the pace again for trainer Steve Asmussen. Asmussen knows the son of Not This Time should improve off that effort and hope he can relax going the extra furlong in the 1-1/8-mile contest.

“We like his chances and he’s doing well,” Asmussen said. “Disappointing he didn’t win last time but he has a chance to prove himself against a nice group on Saturday.”

Trainer Brad Cox, who won last year’s Risen Star with Mandaloun, has a pair of perceived outsiders entered in this year’s race in Bodock and Tawny Port.

“Both will have to step up,” Cox said on the Fair Grounds Racing Podcast. “Bodock, he’s a Street Boss, a full to hence which was a successful horse for Calumet. We’re hoping and thinking this horse will stretch. He came here and was doing well but had a little setback. We got him back to the races planning on stretching him out but a 6-furlong race came up and we thought let’s just run him, it’s been a while since he’s run, and we need to get a run in him. We’re hopeful he’ll get the 1 1/8 miles. It’s a big ask but hopefully he’ll step up.”

“The other colt, Tawny Port, 2-for-2 on synthetics, both around two turns, Cox continued. “I think he’ll get the 1 1/8 miles. His figures are definitely going to have to improve, but I think it is possible. He’s a good-looking colt, expensive yearling that was bred to go two turns and hopefully he can put it all together and step forward.”

“They are both happy, healthy and well, so I expect them to run good races, and we’re going to see if they can swim at this end of the pool,” Cox said. “This is obviously deep water for both, and they’re obviously going to have to step up.”

All runners will carry 122 pounds.

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