A full field of 14 three-year-olds will travel 1 1/8 miles on the Fair Grounds dirt in Saturday’s $400,000 Risen Star S. (G2). The 2023 Road to the Kentucky Derby challenge series contest will reward the top five finishers with qualifying points on a 50-20-15-10-5 basis.

Conditioner Brad Cox has a trio of lively contenders in the field, and I will give the edge to one of his entrants. Spendthrift Farms and Frank Fletcher’s Victory Formation is unbeaten from a trio of lifetime starts to date and I expect him to remain unblemished after this. He is the Expert Pick of the Week.

Victory Formation was unveiled at Keeneland on October 21 and led at every call en route to a powerful, 4 3/4-length score in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight dash. The $340,000 two-year-old purchase returned at Churchill Downs on November 26 and posted a game allowance triumph when overcoming a stubborn foe in the latter stages. In his latest assignment, the son of Tapwrit led in gate-to-wire fashion to pick up his first black-type victory in the Smarty Jones S. at Oaklawn Park on January 1.

The Kentucky-bred has posted a quartet of solid morning drills on the local surface in advance of his graded bow with each of his works coming in swift fashion. He is bred to run long and I fully expect the talented colt to thrive while traveling nine furlongs on Saturday. Flavien Prat, who came in to guide the top pick home in the Southwest last time out, retains the mount atop the Triple Crown-nominated bay.

Tapit’s Conquest, also from the Cox shedrow, looked the part when graduating at 1 1/16 miles at Churchill Downs in his second assignment, and he also gave a nice account of himself when a game second in a Fair Grounds allowance while prepping for this one. The $350,000 colt owns some tactical speed as well as a fine turn of foot, and is expected to sit a very good trip from the second or third flight early on. Regular pilot Florent Geroux takes the reins once again.

And I will also include the third Cox pupil, Angel of Empire, in my exotics wagers. The Southwest S. runner-up has been first or second in each of his dirt races to date and gives the impression of a colt who has further improvement in him.

Expert Pick

An exacta with #13 Victory Formation on top of #8 Tapit’s Conquest and #6 Angel of Empire in the Risen Star Stakes is the Best Bet of the Week.

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