<
>

Girvin beat suspect group in Risen Star

If your inclination is to take Girvin's upset of Saturday's Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds lightly because it's still early on the road to the Kentucky Derby, you might want to reassess.

Yes, it may still feel like we're early on the Derby trail, but it's actually later than you think. We are now in penultimate Derby prep territory. The Risen Star is the local springboard to the Louisiana Derby on April 1, which comes five weeks before the Kentucky Derby. And, notably, the Risen Star was the first U.S. race this year to offer 50 Derby points to the winner.

This Saturday's Fountain of Youth and Gotham Stakes are the last stepping-stones to final Kentucky Derby preps such as the Florida Derby and Wood Memorial. And a week from Saturday, in addition to the Tampa Bay Derby, is the San Felipe, the final prelude to the Santa Anita Derby.

So even if you're inclined to think that the Risen Star didn't mean much, you shouldn't, if only for the simple reason that the Derby points Girvin earned guarantees him a start in the Kentucky Derby if he wants it. I repeat. Girvin's win in the Risen Star made him a Kentucky Derby horse. Period.

Now, whether you think the Risen Star will prove to be an impactful stop on the road to the Kentucky Derby is an entirely different matter. And I would agree if you're taking the skeptical view. Although Girvin was making only his third career start Saturday, meaning he still has considerable room for improvement, and even though he scored decisively, he also had the kind of dream inside-out trip that horses should never depend on, into a solid enough pace, yet managed an unremarkable winning Beyer Figure of 93.

But more than his trip and time, you have to question the field Girvin defeated.

Untrapped was clearly second-best, improving on his second in the slowly run Lecomte, and he's okay. But Local Hero finished a tired third after setting a pace that was similar to the one Farrell took all the way in her blowout win in the Rachel Alexandra two races earlier, suggesting he is unable to stay at this level right now. Guest Suite didn't run much faster than he did winning the Lecomte, so he finished fourth. And Mo Town finished a soundly beaten and tired fifth as the favorite, and whether he liked the track or not, he did nothing to counter the growing evidence that the Remsen he won last fall was a profoundly weak race.

Farrell didn't beat much in Rachel Alexandra

As noted, Farrell aired in the Rachel Alexandra, and for those keeping score, she also took command in the Kentucky Oaks points standings with 70 points (Unique Bella currently has 20, which seems as good a reason as any why keeping score on this is silly). But as strong as she looked visually, there were a couple of aspects to this Rachel Alexandra, Farrell's third straight stakes victory, that are cause for pause.

As noted, Farrell's pace was similar to the one set in the Risen Star, but she slowed late and her winning Beyer was only 84.

But the biggest issue here concerns the relative strength of this Rachel Alexandra, stemming from the fact that Majestic Quality finished second. Majestic Quality had tried sprinting and routing, fast tracks, a wet fast track, and turf, and was still a maiden after seven starts. Yet Majestic Quality got the place late from Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies runner up Valadorna, who gave out in the stretch after moving like a winner late on the far turn. And a weary fifth in her second straight disappointing outing was Shane's Girlfriend, performing nothing like the filly who was so sensational winning the Delta Downs Princess last fall.

Good performances by Unified, Mind Your Biscuits

Saturday's Gulfstream Park Sprint was a sensational race, and though Unified got the victory over favored Mind Your Biscuits by a diminishing neck, both horses were winners in my eyes.

Unified, who showed so much promise winning his first three starts last year, including the Bay Shore and Peter Pan, was making his first start since his first loss in the Pegasus at Monmouth Park last June. I thought Unified drawing the rail in the Gulfstream Sprint was a tricky spot for him what with the speed burner Delta Bluesman breaking immediately to his right. But Unified broke on the button and went right to the front, and that shocked the heck out of me.

This surprise attack was a direct collaboration between a willing partner in Unified, his criminally underrated trainer Jimmy Jerkens, and jockey Jose Ortiz. In old-school fashion, Jerkens blew Unified out a quarter-mile on Friday, the day before the race, which obviously put Unified on his tippy tippy toes. And then Ortiz employed his exceptional gate skills, and had Unified out like a shot, and in complete command of a pace he otherwise would have been bottled up behind.

But as well as Unified ran off a long layoff -- geez, the Met Mile seems like a great spot for him -- Mind Your Biscuits ran every bit as well. In what was essentially a prep for the Dubai Golden Shaheen on the Dubai World Cup undercard, and on a track that in general does not favor closers of his ilk, Mind Your Biscuits still almost got up over a quality opponents who enjoyed what was essentially an uncontested lead.