By Alan Carasso
'TDN Rising Star' Smile Happy (Runhappy) and Zandon (Upstart), one a graded winner in their second trip to the races and the other unlucky not to achieve the same, meet for their respective sophomore debuts in Saturday's GII Risen Star S. at the Fair Grounds. The Risen Star is the first of 16 races that comprise the 'Kentucky Derby Championship Series' and offers Kentucky Derby points on a 50-20-10-5 scale.
A $185,000 purchase out of the 2020 Fasig-Tipton Selected Yearlings Showcase, Smile Happy was the recipient of an inside-out ride from Brian Hernandez, Jr. going two turns at Keeneland Oct. 29 and powered away to graduate by 5 1/2 lengths. No better than the third favorite in the GII Kentucky Jockey Club S. a month later, the bay was once again consigned to a wide run around the bend, but he surged past recent GIII Sam F. Davis S. hero Classic Causeway (Giant's Causeway) and finished with good energy to take it by 3 1/4 lengths. The form of the Jockey Club has also been further franked by the third-placed White Abarrio (Race Day), who won the GIII Holy Bull S. with a 97 Beyer; and Call Me Midnight (Midnight Lute), a wide seventh in the Jockey Club who upset this year's GIII Lecomte S.
“I think this is a good first step for Smile Happy,” said trainer Ken McPeek. “He's doing super. He's done everything right. He's a very low-maintenance horse who makes our job easy. We're trying to keep him and [GI Claiborne Breeders' Futurity winner] Rattle N Roll (Connect) separated, with Rattle N Roll pointing for the [Mar. 5 GII Fasig-Tipton] Fountain of Youth[S.]”
Zandon brushed the inside of the stall, but overcame that bit of trouble to break his maiden by 1 1/2 lengths Oct. 9 at Belmont and was the 1.35-1 favorite for the GII Remsen S. Dec. 4. Three wide the trip, he was confronted by Mo Donegal (Uncle Mo) in upper stretch and had every reason to call it a day, but battled bravely inside and missed by just a nose after arguably being impeded by the eventual winner. He covered 46 more feet (about five lengths) in the process. The $170,000 Keeneland September acquisition ships in from South Florida, where he fired a bullet half-mile in :48 2/5 (1/41) Feb. 12 at Payson Park.
“He's got to get over the shipping, but the horse couldn't be training any better,” trainer Chad Brown said. “He's a very exciting prospect and I don't see any reason why he won't get up to a mile and quarter.”
Epicenter (Not This Time) set reasonable fractions in the Lecomte, but could not resist the center-track rally of Call Me Midnight and dropped a head decision. He was three-parts of a length clear of GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile runner-up Pappacap (Gun Runner), who was unable to take advantage of another ideal trip and settled for third.
Bodock (Street Boss) was a debut winner at Indiana Grand Nov. 10 and will try two turns off a 1 1/4-length defeat of $825,000 KEENOV purchase Strava (Into Mischief) in a sloppy six-furlong allowance Jan. 15.
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