Using History as a Guide to Betting the 2023 Risen Star Stakes

The Road to the Kentucky Derby takes a major turn on Saturday with the running of the $400,000, Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford at Fair Grounds.

As the first leg of the Kentucky Derby Championship Series, the Risen Star awards Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve qualifying points to its top five finishers on a 50-20-15-10-5 basis. A Risen Star victory should pretty much guarantee the winner a spot in the 2023 Kentucky Derby starting gate.

With so much on the line, the Risen Star typically draws a competitive field of local runners squaring off against out-of-state raiders, and the 2023 edition is no exception. It can be a difficult race to handicap, so why not use history to help sort the contenders?

After reviewing the past 15 editions of the Risen Star (including two divisions held in 2020), we’ve identified six tips and trends to guide your handicapping:

Speed horses have an advantage

It’s not impossible for stretch runners to win the Risen Star — horses like Ive Struck a Nerve (2013) and International Star (2015) have rallied from the back half of the pack to prevail — but as is typical in U.S. dirt racing, the Risen Star tends to give an advantage to horses with early speed. The last six winners were all racing first, second, or third after the opening half-mile, while 11 of the last 15 winners were positioned in the top four after half a mile.



Position after first 1/2-mile

1/2-mile & 3/4-mile times

(track condition)



1st by 1 length (10 starters)

:47.97, 1:12.25 (fast)



3rd by 2 lengths (11 starters)

:48.45, 1:12.74 (fast)

2020 (Division #2)


2nd by 0.5 lengths (11 starters)

:48.57, 1:12.62 (fast)

2020 (Division #1)

Mr. Monomoy

1st by 0.5 lengths (11 starters)

:48.57, 1:12.85 (fast)


War of Will

2nd by 2.5 lengths (14 starters)

:47.36, 1:12.20 (fast)



2nd by a head (9 starters)

:47.96, 1:12.85 (fast)



5th by 9.5 lengths (11 starters)

:47.02, 1:11.98 (fast)


Gun Runner

4th by 4.5 lengths (11 starters)

:46.38, 1:11.33 (fast)


International Star

6th by 6.5 lengths (9 starters)

:47.08, 1:12.16 (fast)


Intense Holiday

7th by 6 lengths (14 starters)

:48.14, 1:13.00 (fast)


Ive Struck a Nerve

11th by 7 lengths (12 starters)

:48.34, 1:12.74 (fast)


El Padrino

3rd by 3 lengths (11 starters)

:48.72, 1:13.15 (fast)


Mucho Macho Man

2nd by 1.5 lengths (10 starters)

:49.24, 1:13.65 (fast)


Discreetly Mine

1st by 1 length (12 starters)

:48.75, 1:13.44 (fast)


Friesan Fire

4th by 1.5 lengths (13 starters)

:47.61, 1:13.64 (fast)

Look for longshots

Favorites haven’t had the best of luck in the Risen Star. Only three of the last 15 Risen Star favorites (El Padrino, War of Will, and Mandaloun) have visited the winner’s circle, a 20% win rate that ranks below the usual expectations for favorites.

In contrast, longshots have routinely run well in the Risen Star. Ive Struck a Nerve stunned handicappers with his 135-1 upset in 2013. Bravazo (21-1) and Snapper Sinclair (41-1) ran 1-2 in 2018. Modernist (12-1) nabbed a double-digit surprise in 2020. Roiland (69-1) finished third in 2019, Forevamo (40-1) gained the runner-up spot in 2016, Albano (13-1) was beaten a nose in 2014, Northern Giant (53-1) cracked the trifecta in 2010 … you get the picture. Don’t be afraid to play longshots in the Risen Star.

Local runners are dangerous

Horses exiting races at Fair Grounds have done well defending their home turf in the Risen Star, claiming eight of the last 15 editions. Seven of the locally based winners—Friesan Fire, War of Will, International Star, Ive Struck a Nerve, Mr. Monomoy, Mandaloun, and Epicenter—exited the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds.

Bet horses with previous stakes experience

The Risen Star hasn’t been kind to untested horses stepping up in class. No fewer than 14 of the last 15 Risen Star winners had previously contested a stakes race, and 13 of them had previously contested a graded stakes. The lone exception to the stakes rule was Modernist, a maiden winner who won the slower of two Risen Star divisions in 2020.

A strong recent race is encouraging

If you’re going to challenge for victory in the Risen Star, it helps if you’re entering with a strong recent race under your belt. Fourteen of the last 15 Risen Star winners prepped with a race in January or February, and all 14 finished in the top four in their prep run. The only horse to defy this trend was future Horse of the Year Gun Runner, who won the Risen Star in his season debut.

Bet jockey Florent Geroux

Florent Geroux has been one of the most successful jockeys at Fair Grounds in recent years, and his impressive record in the Risen Star reflects this success. Since 2016, Geroux has won the Risen Star three times aboard Gun Runner, Mr. Monomoy, and Mandaloun, suggesting bettors should sit up and take notice whenever Geroux has a mount.


Taking all of these trends together, the perfect candidate for Risen Star victory would be a locally based, non-favored speed horse with stakes experience, preferably exiting the Lecomte Stakes and with Florent Geroux named to ride. None of the 14 horses entered in the 2023 Risen Star perfectly match this profile, though a couple come close.

The first we’ll highlight is #10 Two Phil’s, winner of the Grade 3 Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs last fall. Two Phil’s kicked off his 3-year-old season with a game runner-up finish in the Lecomte, in which he rallied from fifth position in a field of six to finish second behind the accomplished Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes winner Instant Coffee.

Two Phil’s closed from off the pace in the Lecomte, but he’s shown speed in the past and enters off a fast five-furlong workout at Fair Grounds, so don’t be surprised if he shows improved early speed in the Risen Star. The fact that he ran well in the local prep (and has plenty of graded stakes experience) adds to the appeal. Throw in the fact Two Phil’s probably won’t be favored, and he’s arguably the most likely Risen Star winner from a historical perspective.

#4 Determinedly also looks dangerous after wiring an $80,000 allowance-optional claiming race at 1 1/16 miles at Fair Grounds last month. That followed a third-place finish in the Gun Runner Stakes at Fair Grounds, a Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifier in which Determinedly pressed the pace before weakening down the homestretch. Determinedly brings speed and stakes experience to the table, is proven at Fair Grounds, and figures to offer enticing odds in the betting, so there are many reasons to like his chances.

#8 Tapit’s Conquest warrants watching as well. He showed speed when breaking his maiden at Churchill Downs and rallied to finish second by just a neck against Determinedly in the above-mentioned $80,000 allowance-optional claimer. Tapit’s Conquest is slated to be ridden by Florent Geroux, and while his lack of stakes experience is concerning, he figures to offer enticing odds to offset some of the risk.

We’ll wrap up with a mention of #13 Victory Formation, an undefeated colt exiting a three-length victory in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Victory Formation has never run at Fair Grounds and may start as the favorite, but he has abundant early speed and can’t be dismissed for hot trainer Brad Cox, who has won two of the last four runnings of the Risen Star.

Good luck with your handicapping, and enjoy the race!