Using History to Handicap the 2022 Risen Star Stakes

The Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve heats up in a big way on Saturday when Fair Grounds hosts the $400,000 Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford.

As the first leg of the Kentucky Derby Championship Series, the Risen Star awards Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top four finishers on a 50-20-10-5 basis, making it five times more valuable than the 10-4-2-1 preps held thus far in 2022.

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 2022 edition is no exception. It can be a difficult race to handicap, so why not use history to help sort out 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:

Any running style can succeed

A wide variety of running styles have proven successful in recent renewals of the Risen Star. The race typically draws a large field, which helps deep closers receive the pace setup they need to excel.But as is typical in North American dirt racing, the Risen Star tends to give at least a slight advantage to speed horses. The last five winners were all racing first, second, or third after the opening half-mile, while 10 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)



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)



11th by 5.75 lengths (11 starters)

49.50, 1:14.62 (fast)

Look for longshots

Favorites haven’t had the best of luck in the Risen Star. Only four of the last 15 Risen Star favorites (Pyro, El Padrino, War of Will, and Mandaloun) have visited the winner’s circle, a 27% win rate that ranks below the usual expectations for betting favorites.

In contrast, longshots have routinely run well in the Risen Star. Ive Struck a Nerve stunned handicappers with his 135.20-1 upset in 2013. Bravazo (21-1) and Snapper Sinclair (41.70-1) ran 1-2 in 2018. Modernist (12.80-1) nabbed a double-digit surprise in 2020. Roiland (69.30-1) finished third in 2019, Forevamo (40.60-1) gained the runner-up spot in 2016, Albano (13.60-1) was beaten a nose in 2014, Northern Giant (53.80-1) 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 based at Fair Grounds have done well defending their home turf in the Risen Star, claiming seven of the last 15 editions. Six of the local winners – Friesan Fire, War of Will, International Star, Ive Struck a Nerve, Mr. Monomoy, and Mandaloun – exited the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds.

Bet horses with previous stakes experience

The Risen Star hasn’t been kind to up-and-coming horses jumping 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. No fewer than 13 of the last 15 Risen Star winners prepped with a race in January or February, and all 13 finished on the board in their prep run. The only horses to defy this trend were future Horse of the Year Gun Runner and proven Grade 1 star Pyro, who won the Risen Star in their seasonal debuts.

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.


A field of 10 has been entered in the 2022 Risen Star, including Epicenter and Pappacap, who ran second and third, respectively, in the Lecomte at Fair Grounds last month. Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes winner Smile Happy, Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity hero Slow Down Andy, and Grade 2 Remsen Stakes runner-up Zandon are the other big names in the Risen Star field.

Smile Happy and Slow Down Andy figure to attract the most betting support, and they’re logical contenders for victory. But they’re both returning from layoffs, and neither one has experience at Fair Grounds. Thus, history points toward Epicenter as the horse to beat.What’s not to like? Epicenter displayed pacesetting speed when finishing second by a head in the Lecomte, which means he’s a local runner exiting a strong recent stakes effort. And he’s unlikely to start as the favorite, so a victory by Epicenter would continue the overall trend of favorites falling short in the Risen Star. Surely Epicenter is worth a win bet at a solid price?

Good luck with your handicapping, and enjoy the Risen Star!