Scipion, a half-brother to juvenile champion Vindication who was a bit disappointing last year, rallied impressively to win the $150,000 Risen Star Stakes (gr. III) for 3-year-olds Saturday at Fair Grounds.
Ridden by Gary Stevens for trainer Patrick Biancone, the 10-1 Scipion had just two horses beaten at the head of the stretch. But the dark bay son of A.P. Indy
circled his foes six wide and barreled down the center of the long stretch for a 1 1/4-length victory over 44-1 outsider, Real Dandy.
"Coming into the stretch, I said, 'No way, maybe I'll hit the board,'" said Stevens. "I reached back and hit him a couple of times and I said, 'Geez, he's going to win by daylight."
Lecomte Stakes (gr. III) winner Storm Surge finished third after battling pacesetting Electric Light for the lead for much of the home stretch. The final time was 1:44 2/5 for the 1 1/16-mile Risen Star, the local prep race for the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) March 12.
Harlington, the 6-5 favorite in the field of 11, was stuck with a wide trip throughout and failed to rally for jockey John Velazquez, finishing sixth.
Owned by breeder Virginia Kraft Payson LLC, Scipion was branded a horse to watch after he won his maiden debut impressively at seven furlongs at Saratoga Aug. 14. He ran third as the even-money favorite, however, in the Cradle Stakes (gr. III) at River Downs less than a month later. The bandwagon emptied after Scipion ran eighth, 12 lengths behind the winning Consolidator, in the Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) at Keeneland Oct. 9.
Scipion returned to action with a closing third against an entry-level allowance field at 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita a month ago.
His connections were pleased with how the colt handled himself.
"He is a late-comer horse and he did his job," Biancone said. "He is a very good horse. Normally, he's excited (before the race) but today, he was like a professional. It's a horse that we (think can) go a mile-and-a-half, or a mile-and-a-quarter, but you cannot rush him."
Said Stevens, "I've raced him three times and I've been very impressed with what I've seen from him in the mornings. He lost a lot of ground around the turn, had to make up a lot of ground and won with something in reserve. He's a colt with a lot of potential and he handles himself very professionally."
Scipion was reserved off the pace by Stevens as Electric Light established solid fractions – :23 2/5, :46 3/5, 1:11 3/5 – with Silent Bid and Storm Surge prompting the leader. In the stretch run, Silent Bid got the lead after a mile in 1:37 4/5 as Storm Surge and Electric Light came back on to dispute matters.
They were overwhelmed, however, by the big move from Scipion. Real Dandy, ridden by Don Meche, also came from far back to finish up smartly, edging Storm Surge for second by a neck. It was another neck back to Electric Light, who finished a half-length better than Iced Out.
Then came Harlington, Silent Bid, Rush Bay, Smooth Bid, Buzzards Bay, and Bold Lion.
Scipion paid $22.20, $11.20 and $7.40. Real Dandy returned $34.40 and $15.20, completing a $725.20 exacta. Storm Surge's show was $5.40.
Scipion was produced by the Strawberry Road broodmare Strawberry Reason.
All-source wagering on Saturday's program was $8.45 million, the second highest total in Fair Grounds history and largest ever for a 10-race card. The record of $9.08 million was set on an 11-race program that included the 2000 Louisiana Derby.