February proved to be a month for new faces, with Irish War Cry, One Liner and Royal Mo winning their first start in a Kentucky Derby qualifier, and Girvin added his name to the list with a two-length victory in the February 25 Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds.
Unlike his counterparts, who picked up 10 points apiece, Girvin jumped to the top of the Leaderboard with a 50-point prize. The Risen Star serves as the first of 16 races in the Championship segment of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series.
Brian Hernandez Jr. has been up for all three career starts and Girvin represents an insurance policy for the 31-year-old journeyman, who is also the regular rider for top-ranked McCraken, who closed as the favorite among individual interests in Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager last weekend. McCraken is currently dealing with an ankle strain, which will force him to miss a scheduled start in the March 11 Tampa Bay Derby (G2).
There’s still enough time for McCraken and 2-year-old champion Classic Empire, who is recovering from a foot abscess and didn’t record a timed workout in February, but connections have been forced to alter plans for both contenders. And it appears they will likely meet in the April 8 Blue Grass (G2) at Keeneland if healthy.
Girvin has made all three starts at Fair Grounds and trainer Joe Sharp plans to remain at the New Orleans oval for the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) on April 1.
Breaking from the rail post in the 1 1/16-mile Risen Star, Girvin utilized a ground-saving trip, racing in fifth nearly 10 lengths back as the field made its way down the backstretch. The dark bay colt launched his move nearing the conclusion of the far turn, advancing to second, a couple lengths behind pacesetter Local Hero as he straightened for home.
He carried his momentum to the wire, overhauling Local Hero by midstretch as he edged away in the final sixteenth of a mile. Girvin received a respectable 98 BRIS Speed rating and a whopping 112 Late Pace figure.
Untrapped, who raced close to Girvin during the early stages, lacked the turn of foot necessary to stick with the winner leaving the far turn but the Steve Asmsussen-trained colt rallied belatedly to be a clear second on the far outside. After registering a 91 BRIS Speed rating for a runner-up in the January 21 Lecomte (G3), the son of Trappe Shot improved with a 96 figure.
The late-running Guest Suite did not move forward off his Lecomte victory, passing tiring rivals in the final furlong to wind up a neck behind Local Hero in fourth. It was another 5 ¾ lengths to fifth-placer Mo Town, who flopped as the 3-2 favorite in his 2017 return.
Last seen rolling to a 2 ½-length triumph in the Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct, Mo Town appeared rank in the post parade and jockey John Velazquez blamed the track. Regardless, it was a terrible way for the Uncle Mo colt to open his sophomore season.
A debut winner going 6-furlongs at Fair Grounds in mid-December, Girvin prepped for the Risen Star on turf, finishing a close second in the one-mile Keith Gee Memorial on February 4. We’ve seen Kentucky Derby winners Animal Kingdom and Sea Hero use a turf race early in their 3-year-old campaign, but for different reasons.
Animal Kingdom was in his comfort zone opening 2012 in a turf allowance at Gulfstream Park, racing exclusively on turf and synthetics before making his first start on a dirt track in the Kentucky Derby. Trainer Mack Miller was trying to turn things around for Sea Hero after the Grade 1-winning juvenile opened 1993 with a dreadful ninth as the favorite in a Grade 3 dirt stakes at Gulfstream. Sea Hero finished third to the filly Icy Warning in the late February turf allowance and eventually snapped a four-race losing skein at Churchill Downs.
Girvin had a gap in his works in early January and Sharp appeared to run out of time for the Lecomte. He wanted to race his charge at two turns, opting for the turf stakes two weeks later, and the lightly-raced colt certainly moved forward off the runner-up finish.
It will be no surprise to see him come back with a strong performance in the Louisiana Derby but there are concerns surrounding his Kentucky Derby prospects.
The Louisiana circuit this year is not held in high regard at this point and Girvin is by Tale of Ekati, who is known primarily for siring sprinter/miler types. There are stamina influences in his female family, with Girvin being out of an unraced mare by Malibu Moon, sire of 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb but it’s difficult for me to get past half-brother Cocked and Loaded, who was by Travers (G1) winner Colonel John but recorded four of his five wins at 6-furlongs or less. And Girvin’s second maternal damsire, Yes It’s True, was a Grade 1-winning sprinter.
Other runners of interest
Conquest Mo Money, a New York-bred son of Uncle Mo, continued to reign supreme among the New Mexico 3-year-old colony, capturing the February 26 Mine That Bird in front-running fashion. A debut winner on January 6, the Miguel Hernandez-trained colt followed with an 11-length victory in the January 29 Riley Allison and is now 3-for-3 at Sunland Park.
He won the 1 1/16-mile Mine That Bird by two lengths, turning back a challenge from even-money favorite Irap, runner-up in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) and Robert B. Lewis (G3) but still winless from six starts for Doug O’Neill. Conquest Mo Money, who registered a dismal 88 BRIS Speed rating, is not Triple Crown eligible but connections can still pay a $6,000 late fee by the March 20 deadline. And he could try to secure a Kentucky Derby berth in the March 26 Sunland Derby (G3), which offers 50 points to the winner.
Top contenders will be in action March 4 in the Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream and Gotham (G3) at Aqueduct.
Irish War Cry, who vaulted up Kentucky Derby lists when posting a 3 ¾-length victory in the February 4 Holy Bull (G3), will look to back up a sterling performance in the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth against the likes of Practical Joke, a multiple Grade 1 victor making his first start since a third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1); and Holy Bull runner-up and two-time graded winner Gunnevera.
El Areeb will look to keep rolling as an odds-on favorite in the 1 1/16-mile Gotham after recording convincing tallies in the Jerome (G3) and Withers (G3) on the inner track. Since he won’t face any proven rivals until the Wood Memorial (G2) on April 8, anything less than a comfortable win will probably be considered disappointing.
We will also be keeping an eye on Unique Bella, who heads the Santa Ynez (G2) for fillies at Santa Anita and is nominated to the Triple Crown. The well-bred Tapit filly may be faster than any 3-year-old males this spring, registering a 106 BRIS Speed rating winning the February 8 Las Virgenes (G2) in a gallop by 8 ¾ lengths, and another stylish performance will ratchet up the pressure for the Santa Anita Derby (G1) on April 8.
Kentucky Derby Top 20
- MCCRAKEN: Minor ankle injury will force him to bypass Tampa Bay Derby, how long it takes him to return to worktab is key
- IRISH WAR CRY: Holy Bull winner puts perfect record on line in Saturday’s Fountain of Youth
- EL AREEB: Towers over nine rivals in Saturday’s Gotham
- AMERICAN ANTHEM: Baffert has tabbed Sham (G3) runner-up for March 18 Rebel
- ILIAD: Convincing San Vicente winner to stretch out in March 11 San Felipe
- MASTERY: Unbeaten 2yo G1 winner readying for San Felipe return
- CLASSIC EMPIRE: May have him too low but will feel better about his chances when he posts first workout since January
- GORMLEY: 2yo G1 winner rebounded from disappointing BC Juvenile effort with game Sham score
- PRACTICAL JOKE: Returns in Fountain of Youth and Chad Brown is looking to play a serious role in Triple Crown
- TAPWRIT: Exits runner-up in Sam F. Davis and Tapit colt appears to be coming on for Pletcher
- GUNNEVERA: Holy Bull runner-up will try to make late impact in Fountain of Youth
- ONE LINER: Impressive Southwest winner has a suspect pedigree for 1 ¼ miles
- GIRVIN: Risen Star winner easily passed first attempt in a qualifying race
- ROYAL MO: Robert B. Lewis winner still has questions to answer
- MO TOWN: All hope isn’t lost but Risen Star flop puts pressure on next time
- BATTALION RUNNER: Unbeaten colt returned to worktab last week, gets one chance to qualify in Florida Derby
- ALWAYS DREAMING: Figures to draw support in Tampa Bay Derby off runaway maiden win over track
- REACH THE WORLD: Unranked juvenile is playing catch-up but remains an interesting prospect for Baffert
- LOOKIN AT LEE: Not very fast but gets part often; gained fitness opening year with third in SOuthwest
- EPICHARIS: Japanese colt stamped his ticket winning Hyacinth Stakes at Tokyo Racecourse; U.A.E. Derby is next