Dirt tracks have been kind to Imperia. So have long stretches.
Now, the handlers of the son of Medaglia d’Oro and Chilean Horse of the Year Cocoa Beach hope he mimics that success Saturday afternoon at the Fair Grounds.
Imperia enters the Grade II $400,000 Risen Star Stakes as a favorite in a field of 10, which includes Lecomte Stakes winner International Star and runner-up War Story, who like the rest of the field hopes to show he belongs in the 2015 Kentucky Derby.
The Risen Star (5:24 p.m. post time), run over 1 1/16 miles, is the 11th of 12 races on Louisiana Derby Preview Day. First post is 12:30 p.m. The winner receives 50 points, all but guaranteeing a Derby berth. Second place receives 20 points, followed by third (10) and fourth (five).
The top 20 3-year-olds in points receive berths to the May 2 Derby.
It’s one of three Fair Grounds races included in the 35-race Road to the Kentucky Derby. The winners of the Louisiana Derby on March 28 will receive a combined 170 points. It’s this, as well as the Fair Grounds’ long stretch, which made the Gentilly — not Florida’s Gulfstream Park nor New York’s Aqueduct Racetrack — track a target for Imperia, said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
“We just hope we handle the distance the same as we did at Churchill,” McLaughlin said. “Because sometimes Churchill favors turf horses and they don’t always like all (other) dirt tracks.”
Imperia will break from Post 5 with rider Mike Smith, who flew in from California.
Imperia is coming off a head-loss in the Grade II $200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club on Nov. 29 where a fast finish at Churchill Downs nearly clipped winner El Kabeir.
The strong finish marked the second of Imperia’s short career and marked a resounding recovery from a 10th-place finish one month earlier in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.
“He ran into traffic,” McLaughlin said of the race.
Imperia’s one win in four starts occurred during a Grade 3 Pilgrim for 2-year-olds on turf at Belmont Park. In the race, he closed from sixth.
In the Lecomte, International Star bettered War Story by 2½ lengths. Miguel Mena returns with the two-time graded stakes winner and the son of Fusaichi Pegasus. They will break from outside Post 10.
Meanwhile, War Story, managed by Loooch Racing Stables/ Chris Dunn and trained by Tom Amoss, a New Orleans native, will be ridden by Kent Desormeaux (Post 6), instead of meet-leading rider James Graham.
Another favorite could be Bluff, who has stakes-winning blood. Trained by Larry Jones, Bluff won his last race by 53/4 lengths.
And last month, Todd Pletcher’ trained J S Bach won his second start by 8½ lengths, covering 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.61 at Gulfstream Park.
“It’s a competitive field,” McLaughlin said. “You have to respect the guys that are there (based at the Fair Grounds) and training.”