There may not be a trainer who embodies California racing more than Jerry Hollendorfer.
If all things were equal, he probably wouldn't mind running in the Golden State entirely. In 2017 just more than 1% of his starters—11 of 971, came outside of California.
But he also listens to his owners. When Rick Porter wanted to take Songbird on a tour of the East Coast's top races, the Hall of Fame trainer put the champion filly on a plane and got fantastic results.
So when Lawrence Best of OXO Equine brought up sending promising 3-year-old Instilled Regard to Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots for his first step on the Triple Crown trail in 2018, Hollendorfer put the Arch colt on the plane for a start in the Lecomte Stakes (G3).
"The owner wanted to send him there and thought it was a way to start out on the (Kentucky) Derby trail," Hollendorfer said. "We'd take that path for the first race and go from there."
If there was any question of where Instilled Regard would run after the Lecomte, the dark bay took care of the answer Jan. 13. With a stalking trip and a powerful kick in the stretch to win the Lecomte by 3 3/4 lengths, he punched his ticket to the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes presented by Lamarque Ford (G2) coming up at Fair Grounds Feb. 17.
"He handled the track so well, then we definitely took at look at the next race," Hollendorfer said.
The Lecomte may have been Instilled Regard's first graded win, but it wasn't his first good performance. Just more than a month earlier, he took on a pair of top-class colts in the Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity (G1) and fought on until the wire—even while being interfered with—to finish third.
After being bumped from both sides between Bob Baffert-trained stablemates Solomini and McKinzie, Instilled Regard was elevated to second via disqualification and Hollendorfer had a pretty good sense of the quality he had.
"California racing—and I'm probably a bit biased—indicates the class of horses," Hollendorfer said of the Futurity, multiple grade 1-placed Solomini, and the still-undefeated McKinzie. "There may not be as many horses (than on other circuits), but if you run well in those races, you probably have a good horse."
Three are back from the Lecomte—Principe Guilherme (second), Snapper Sinclair (third), and Ebben (sixth)—but some new faces might present the greatest threat, specifically a pair of lightly raced but undefeated colts.
WinStar Farm and Repole Stable's Noble Indy will ship in from Florida for trainer Todd Pletcher following two wins at Gulfstream Park. The son of Take Charge Indy broke his maiden by 8 3/4 lengths in a seven-furlong maiden special weight race Dec. 3 and then stretched out to win a first-level allowance at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 11 by three-quarters of a length.
Stallionaire Enterprises' Supreme Aura has won both of his starts by open lengths. The Michael Stidham-trained Candy Ride colt won his debut sprinting at Delaware Park in August and returned Jan. 5 to win a six-furlong allowance at Fair Grounds by 3 1/2 lengths.
Also in the field is a group that showed juvenile promise and will look to take a positive step forward in a key 3-year-old race. Givemeaminit, High North, and Bravazo all competed in important 2-year-old stakes last year and will look to make a splash in the Risen Star.