By Joe Bianca
The same week that Juddmonte Farms' owner and founder Khalid Abdullah passed away, the legendary outfit has a chance to take a step toward its long-sought first GI Kentucky Derby win when undefeated 'TDN Rising Star' Mandaloun (Into Mischief) goes postward as a likely favorite in the GIII Lecomte S. Saturday at Fair Grounds. The race kicks off the Louisiana oval's three-race Derby prep schedule, to be followed by the GII Risen Star S. and GII Louisiana Derby.
Hammered down to 11-10 favoritism debuting Oct. 24 at Keeneland, the homebred was ninth with a quarter-mile to go and encountered sustained traffic before finding daylight inside the eighth pole and charging to get up, earning his diploma and a 'Rising Star' badge to boot. The bay backed that call up with a much less eventful allowance/optional claiming score Nov. 28 at Churchill. He shows five local works for this stakes and two-turn bow, capped by a half-mile move in :48 3/5 (16/100) Jan. 9.
“He's trained very well at Fair Grounds since we got here,” trainer Brad Cox told the Fair Grounds notes team. “We've always felt he was cut out to be a two-turn horse based on his physical make-up and how he trains. It shows how much talent he's got to be able to win his first two races at sprint distances and now we're going to do what we've thought he's wanted to do all along, and that's go long.”
Mandaloun's task was made harder by drawing the 10-hole in the 11-horse group. Two horses who do have route experience as well as graded stakes placings as juveniles fared better when pulling the inside two posts and figure as major contenders.
Winchell Thoroughbreds' rail-drawn Midnight Bourbon (Tiznow) followed up a 5 1/2-length maiden victory Aug. 22 at Ellis with a strong effort to be second after making a wide, early move into a fast pace in the GIII Iroquois S. Sept. 5 at Churchill. Unable to make a dent when finishing a well-beaten third in the GI Champagne S. Oct. 10 at Belmont, the $525,000 Keeneland September buy has been freshened since then and displays a trio of sharp five-furlong local breezes.
One stall to his right will be West Point Thoroughbreds and William Sandbrook's Arabian Prince (Cairo Prince). Pulling a 12-1 upset on debut in a Churchill off-the-turfer Sept. 2, the $235,000 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga purchase was fourth when trying to close into a slow pace in the Street Sense S. Oct. 25 in Louisville and completed the trifecta at 13-1 in the GII Kentucky Jockey Club S. there Nov. 28.
“He's a beautiful horse and this is the next step, so we'll see how he fits,” trainer Dallas Stewart said. “He's improved every time out, and we're hoping for another progression Saturday. We'd like to save some ground and use the long stretch to our advantage. He'll come running late.”
A pair of promising runners from the Mike Stidham barn figure to have a say as well. Godolphin's well-regarded Proxy (Tapit), a neck second when unveiled in a rained-off Monmouth heat Oct. 24, the homebred triumphed in frontrunning fashion here Nov. 26 and repeated in an allowance Dec. 19.
“He's like a big, immature kid who is still learning with racing,” Stidham said. “Last time when he won, he was a little green about switching leads coming down the lane, but once he leveled off, he drew away at the end, so we were pleased with that. We were deciding whether to run him back in this race or wait for a race like the Risen Star. We felt like he's a big, healthy, strong colt and we thought the experience of running would do him more good than working three of four more times waiting for the Risen Star.”
Newtown Anner Stud's Manor House (Upstart) gets a class test after pummeling Laurel maidens by 12 1/4 lengths Dec. 12.
“This is just the beginning for him,” Stidham said. “We really didn't know what we were running against [at Laurel], but he showed a tremendous amount of talent that day and he's done nothing but train exactly the same since the win, so, he's definitely moving forward. We are anxious to see him run against winners and see what he can do.”