Trainer Anthony Dutrow hasn't run Mo Town since Thanksgiving Day at Aqueduct.
Dutrow witnessed everything he needed to see before shutting him down for the early winter. Mo Town won the Grade II, $300,000 Remsen Stakes that day, Nov. 26, going 1 1/8 miles as a 2-year-old.
“He'd had three races and lots of experience,” Dutrow said. “He had been two turns, he'd been a mile and an eighth. In three races as a 2-year-old, he'd accomplished a lot.
“And, after Thanksgiving, it's a great time in a young horse's life to develop, to grow, to mature, to get well-rested in what is facing them as a 3-year-old.”
In his first race as a 3-year-old, Mo Town, very impressive physically, was made the 7/2 favorite for the Grade II, $400,000 Risen Star Stakes, the 1 1/16-mile feature race on the Louisiana Derby Preview Day card Saturday at the Fair Grounds.
Other top races include the $200,000 Rachel Alexandra Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and the Mineshaft Handicap and the Fair Grounds Handicap, both with $125,000 purses for horses 4 years old and up. The $75,000 Daisy Devine for 4-year-old fillies and mares and the $50,000 Colonel Power Overnight Stakes for 4-year-old colts also will be run.
Even with the long layoff, Dutrow said he is not surprised Mo Town is the favorite in a race that includes Steve Asmussen-trained Local Hero (4/1), Joe Sharp-trained Girvin (6/1) and Neil Howard-trained Guest Suite (6/1), winner of the $200,000 Lecomte Stakes on Road to the Derby Day, the first big race for 3-year-olds at the Fair Grounds, on Jan. 21.
Howard said he's not surprised, either, giving a nod to the 1 1/8 miles Mo Town covered impressively. However, Howard said Guest Suite performed well on a sloppy track in the Lecomte against a large field similar to the one that will hit the starting gates Saturday.
In Mo Town and Guest Suite, the race could come down to two colts with similar racing styles. Both usually are placed in stalking position off the lead but not far back such as a big closer.
“(Jockey) Robby (Albarado) was able to ease him outside of the horses (in the Lecomte), so he didn't have to pass too many horses,” Howard said. “He usually gets good position but he's not what you'd call a 'speed merchant,' either.”
Local Hero has run in only three maiden special weight races, winning in his most recent outing on Jan. 26 at the Fair Grounds. He is one of two Asmussen-trained colts in the race, along with Untrapped (10/1).
Girvin has had two career starts, winning a maiden special weight on Dec. 16 at the Fair Grounds, then finishing second in the Keefer Gee Memorial Overnight Stakes on Feb. 4 at the track.
Saturday's second-biggest race, the Rachel Alexandra, features 2/1 favorite Valadorna, trained by Mark Casse, and Farrell, the 5/2 second favorite trained by local Wayne Catalano, as well as Shane's Girlfriend (3/1), trained by Doug O'Neill.
Farrell won the Silverbulletday for 3-year-old fillies on Road to the Derby Day, a victory in which Catalano said “she grew up.”
“She didn't like the sloppy track, but she covered it,” he said. “It was a good race starting out as a 3-year-old. That just put us forward.”
It was the second consecutive impressive performance by Farrell, coming after a big win in the Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill Downs on Thanksgiving. Farrell has won three of her five starts, including a maiden special weight race at Churchill in her second start. She followed that with a third place in the Rags to Riches at Churchill on Oct. 30.
Valadorna has two wins in four starts, including an allowance optional claiming race at the Fair Grounds on Jan. 27. However, she was second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies on Nov. 5 at Santa Anita.
Shane's Girlfriend bears watching. She won her first two starts – a maiden race at Santa Anita on Oct. 26 then the $400,000 Delta Downs Princess Stakes on Nov. 19. In her only start of 2017, she was third in the Santa Ynez Stakes on Jan. 8.