Catesby Clay’s homebred Rogue Romance, third in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) last fall, and Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and Dream Team 1 Racing’s Mucho Macho Man, fourth in Gulfstream’s Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) three weeks ago, are expected to vie for favoritism Feb. 19 in New Orleans when they head a field of 10 sophomores named to Fair Grounds’ Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) in the final local prep for the March 26 Louisiana Derby (gr. II) five weeks later.
The Risen Star carries $300,000 of all-important graded stakes earnings and will be run at 1 1/16 miles.
This year’s Louisiana Derby offers a $1 million purse for the first time in its 98-year history and become the richest race for Thoroughbreds ever offered at the Crescent City oval.
In the Risen Star, Rogue Romance has been given a slight edge at 3-1 in the morning line while Mucho Macho Man has been installed as the 4-1 second choice shortly after the field was finalized Feb. 14.
Rogue Romance’s sire Smarty Jones won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes (both gr. I) in 2004, while Mucho Macho Man’s sire Macho Uno established himself as the early favorite for the 2001 Derby as the Eclipse Award winner after winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Rogue Romance is trained by Ken McPeek, who won the 2002 Risen Star and Louisiana Derby with Select Stable’s Repent, and this colt will be making his first start of 2011 since last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
“We’re just as confident in this horse as we were with Repent,” said McPeek Monday, shortly after the draw.
Out of the Afleetmare Lovington, Rogue Romance has not started since the Breeders’ Cup but has been working steadily at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. His last move was five furlongs in 1:02 Feb. 12.
Prior to his lone 2011 start in the Holy Bull Stakes, Mucho Macho Man had run second to To Honor and Serve in last fall’s Remsen Stakes (gr. II) and Nashua Stakes (gr. II) at Aqueduct as a 2-year-old. His lone victory came Sept. 19 at Monmouth Park. He also worked at Gulfstream Feb. 12, getting five furlongs in 1:02 1/5.
“We’ve got to figure out exactly where we fit in the picture with all the rest of this year’s 3-year-olds,” said Mucho Macho Man’s trainer Kathy Ritvo Feb. 13. “This race Saturday should answer that question.”
Jockey Julien Leparoux will return in the irons on Rogue Romance in the Risen Star, while Eibar Coa will be aboard Mucho Macho Man in the Risen Star.
Just for Fun Stable’s Decisive Moment, 3 1/2-lengths the best in the $250,000 Jean Lafitte Stakes at Delta Downs in his only start as a sophomore Jan. 14, is a close third choice pegged at 9-2 in the Risen Star morning line, and is slated to once again have Kerwin Clark in the irons. He finished his 2-year-old campaign with a second in the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (gr. III).
“It’s amazing how much this horse has improved between his 2-year-old and 3-year-old seasons,” Clark said.
An up-and-comer in the field is Don Adam’s Courtlandt Farm’s homebred Machen, who is unbeaten in a pair of local starts. The son of Distorted Humor —Ready’s Gal, by More Than Ready cruised five furlongs in 1:01 4/5 the morning of Feb. 14 for the Risen Star. He is trained by Fair Grounds-based Neil Howard.
Also in the field is George and Lori Hall's Pants On Fire who lost a hard-fought photo to the Howard-trained Wilkinson Jan. 22 in the Lecomte Stakes (gr. III).
Risen Star Stakes (gr. II), Fair Grounds, $300,000, 3-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles, Saturday, Feb. 19, approximate post 4:46 CST.
PP – Horse – Jockey – Trainer – M/L
1 – Rogue Romance (KY) – J Leparoux – K McPeek – 3-1
2 – Liondrive (LA) – C Sutherland – T Ice – 50-1
3 – Decisive Moment (FL) – K Clark – J Arias – 9-2
4 – Pants On Fire (KY) – J Bravo – K Breen – 6-1
5 - Mucho Macho Man (FL) – E Coa – K Ritvo – 4-1
6 – Machen (KY) – J Theriot – N Howard – 6-1
7 – Santiva (KY) – M Smith – E Kenneally – 6-1
8 – Action Ready (KY) – R Napravnik – W Calhoun – 12-1
9 – Justin Phillip (KY) – S Bridgmohan – S Asmussen – 8-1
10 – Sorgho (KY) – E Martin – W Bennett – 30-1