Joe Sharp-trained Girvin had only two races when he won the Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 25 in a bit of an upset.
However, when the gates open for the $1 million Louisiana Derby on Saturday at the Fair Grounds, Girvin will be a strong 8-5 favorite. And Sharp said he's not surprised.
“On paper, it's an unknown race,” Sharp said. “It's not a bad race. There's a lot of horses with a lot of chomp. I don't think it's a field with a lack of talent. It's a field with a lack of definition, a lack of maturity and experience. That's all. But there are a lot of quality horses in there.”
The field of nine in the Fair Grounds' biggest race of the year — the final prep before next month's Kentucky Derby — is headed by horses trained locally. Local Hero, trained by Steven Asmussen is at 7-2 in the morning-line odds, and Guest Suite, trained by Neil Howard, is at 4-1.
They were first, third and fourth in the Risen Star,” Howard said. “The local horses are very good horses, and the favorite in the race, Girvin — he is a really, really nice colt.”
Sharp was sold on Girvin as a 2-year-old, he said, after he won his first outing, a maiden special weight race at the Fair Grounds on Dec. 16. At that point, he already was more developed than other horses his age and than many young 3-year-olds.
Sharp already had an eye on what was coming up.
“He's a big horse,” Sharp said. “We knew was going to be a two-turn horse. So there was no sense pushing him through those sprint races. We actually have a fresh horse through the toughest part of his 3-year-old campaign. I wouldn't trade places or change anything if I had the opportunity to.”
Local Hero has a similar race history, having won a maiden special weight race Jan. 26, five days after he and Girvin passed on the Lecomte Stakes because the Fair Grounds' equine virus scare earlier this season.
Local Hero then came back with his performance at the Risen Star in which he had a couple of lengths lead only to come back to the pack.
Local Hero could make things interesting in this race, the trainers say. He has a different style than Girvin and Guest Suite.
“I think Girvin and my horse have similar styles in that they like to come charging off the pace,” Howard said. “I think Local Hero is a horse that lays a little closer to the pace.”
Another horse, Patch, has that style. A Florida invader trained by Todd Pletcher, Patch also is lightly raced, having had two outings. In his most recent race Feb. 18 at Gulfstream Park, he won by running down Meantime in the stretch.
“He is definitely a horse to keep an eye on,” Howard said. “He come from off the pace a little bit, but he lays a little closer. He's kind of a stalker.”
Guest Suite is the most experience of the favorites, having had six races. Going into the Risen Star, Guest Suite had won three of his previous four races, including the Lecomte on Jan. 21 in the Fair Grounds' coming-out run for top 3-year-old hopefuls. Howard said his performance in the Risen Star wasn't disappointing, and that he may be primed for a better one Saturday.
“This race is a sixteenth of a mile farther, and that will benefit him,” Howard said. “He's a closer, and his pedegree suggests that. A little more distance should help him.”
Girvin's success and potential are in his versatility, Sharp said. And, he has the right jockey, Brian Hernandez, for such a colt.
“(Girvin) has run three different races at three different distances and situations,” Sharp said. “One was on the pace, sprinting. The next was on the turf, stalking, and the third was coming from off the back on the dirt. So, we don't really have a running style for Girvin at this point. He's pretty much done everything we've asked him.
“We're confident in the horse, we're confident in Brian. Good jockeys don't need instructions, and bad ones can't follow them.”