Pyro is the 3-1 morning line favorite for the Risen Star (gr.  III).

Pyro is the 3-1 morning line favorite for the Risen Star (gr. III).

Barbara Livingston

Pyro, Z Fortune Head Risen Star

Asmussen trainees first, second on morning line in 3-year-old stake at Fair Grounds.

Winchell Thoroughbreds’ homebred Pyro will make his 3-year-old debut in the $300,000 Risen Star Stakes (gr. III) at Fair Grounds Feb. 9, but don’t think the Steve Asmussen trainee lacks experience. Prior to a Feb. 5 move over the Louisiana oval, his last two works were impressive bullets fired in company with 2007 Horse of the Year Curlin.

Currently listed at odds of 12-1 on the first 2008 Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool, Pyro breezed a sparkling six furlongs in 1:13 Jan. 30 and previously recorded a five-furlong work in 1:00.60 Jan. 24 with Curlin. Feb. 5, he covered five furlongs in 1:00.80. Assigned a surprisingly light 116 pounds, he seeks the chance to score his first victory since breaking his maiden at Churchill last July and tangling with champion 2-year-old War Pass in his past three starts – including the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) and the Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I). Both races resulted in a second-place finish for the Pulpitcolt.

Pyro is listed as the 3-1 morning line favorite for the Risen Star, one of six stakes events on Louisiana Derby Preview Day at Fair Grounds. A popular prep for runners on the road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), the 1/16-mile event this year also features LeComte Stakes (gr. III) winner Z Fortune and Lecomte runner-up Blackberry Road.

Z Fortune, also conditioned by Asmussen, is unbeaten in three starts for Zayat Stables and was a handy 2 ¼-length winner of the one-mile LeComte in his first stakes attempt Jan. 12. By Siphon and bred in New York by Delehanty Stock Farm, Z Fortune was an $80,000 Fasig Kentucky yearling sale purchase. He is the 7-2 second choice on the Risen Star's morning line.

Blackberry Road, a game second-place finisher for Dogwood Stable and trainer David Carroll in his past two starts, will take another shot at Z Fortune while stretching back out to the 1 1/16-mile distance. Far back in the LeComte, Blackberry Road was sixth at the head of the stretch and made a dynamic move to get up for second on the outside. Jockey Calvin Borel employed similar come-from-behind tactics in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs, when the Gone Westcolt raced seventh until the stretch and missed the win by just a half-length Nov. 24. Bred in Kentucky by Payson Stud, Blackberry Road seeks his first victory since breaking his maiden at Churchill in June.

"He's not a horse that has to be as far back as he's been," Carroll said. "He has a really good turn of foot, and I think the further they go the better he's gonna get. I think Calvin will take a good look at the form and hopefully he gets a good break and doesn't get shuffled back too bad. He loves the game and he loves to compete - he's just a wonderful athlete and he deserves to win a big one as hard as he runs. He's at least one win away from stamping his ticket earnings-wise, so hopefully we'll get that one and he'll be able to continue on the Derby trail."

Aside from the three most recognizable names, several other runners add intrigue to the Risen Star field. Trainer Michael Matz will saddle Team Valor and Vision Racing’s Visionaire, a Grand Slam colt bred in Kentucky by Reiley McDonald. A $220,000 purchase at the 2007 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. sale of 2-year-olds and older horses of racing age, Visionaire was a five-length winner of his last start, a one-mile allowance event at Gulfstream Park Park Jan. 4. The colt broke his maiden at Laurel Park in the start before that effort and was second in his racing debut at Delaware Park in October of last year.

Trainer Ronny Werner will send out Ben Berger and Connie Scanlon’s The Darp, fifth in the LeComte by 4 ½-lengths. The son of  Proud Citizen, bred in Kentucky by Spooky Hollow Racing, was an impressive maiden winner Dec. 14 at Fair Grounds when he took a one-mile maiden special weight by 9 ¼-lengths.

The most expensive horse in the field is Southern Equine Stable’s California-based Signature Move, a son of Vindicationbred in Kentucky by Don Amos. Third in his racing debut at Hollywood Park Nov. 10, the $625,000 Keeneland September yearling sale purchase is unbeaten in two additional starts since then. But both efforts (a 1 1/16-mile maiden event and a 1 1/16-mile allowance race) came over the synthetic
surfaces at Hollywood and Santa Anita Parks. Trainer Eric Guillot will saddle.

James Tafel’s homebred Unbridled Vicar, a Vicar colt racing for trainer Greg Geier, makes his first attempt at stakes company after finishing second by a head in a Jan. 19 allowance event at Fair Grounds. Check it Twice, Bonanza, Rich Young Ruler, Peteadoris, and Prince Cortez complete the field.

$300,000 Risen Star Stakes (gr. III, race 9, approximate post 4:28 CST), 1 1/16 miles for 3-year-olds, dirt
PP., Horse, Weight, Jockey, (morning line odds)

1. Check It Twice, 122, John Velazquez (12-1)
2. Blackberry Road, 116, Calvin Borel (5-1)
3. Visionaire, 118, Jose Lezcano (6-1)
4. Bonanza, 122, Patrick Husbands (15-1)
5. Unbridled Vicar, 116, Corey Lanerie (15-1)
6. Rich Young Ruler, 116, Fabio Arguello Jr. (30-1)
7. The Darp, 116, Robby Albarado (15-1)
8. Pyro, 116, Shaun Bridgmohan (3-1)
9. Signature Move, 120, Michael Baze (6-1)
10. Peteadoris, 118, James Graham (20-1)
11. Z Fortune, 122, Garrett Gomez (7-2)
12. Prince Cortez, 120, Julien Leparoux (12-1)