Risen Star: Relationship Building Brings O Besos, West Point Thoroughbreds Together

Jeff Lifson, the executive vice president of West Point Thoroughbreds, always knew when the young, up and coming horseman Travis Foley made the call for him to buy into a horse, it would be for the right reason. It may have taken a bit longer than both had anticipated, but a partnership long in the making finally came to fruition this winter when West Point bought into Foley’s Tagg Team Racing and Barrett Bernard’s lightly raced O Besos, who has the look of a major contender in Saturday’s $400,000 Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, La.

Lifson met Foley, trainer Greg Foley’s son and assistant, several years ago on the backstretch at Churchill Downs and a friendship was born. Greg Foley has long been a Kentucky mainstay and West Point has long been the same on the national scene. The Foley family routinely sells an interest in their horses, and West Point has never shied from getting a piece of a nice prospect. A mutually beneficial relationship made perfect sense.

“I’ve gotten to know Travis over the years because we’ve had horses with Dale Romans and their barns are right near each other (at Churchill),” Lifson said. “They’ve always wanted to find a horse to get in with West Point because I think they like how we work, so we’ve tried to connect over the years. Travis called me a day or so before Christmas and said, ‘I think I’ve got one for you.’”

The “one” was O Besos, a son of Orb who had run a troubled, but encouraging, sixth on debut November 11 at Churchill, making up several lengths in the stretch after a tardy beginning. He used that experience builder as a prelude to his maiden win December 20 in his Fair Grounds debut, when he settled in fourth early before exploding late for a 5 ½-length win going 5 ½ furlongs.

Foley knew the time was right to reach out to Lifson, who was immediately intrigued.

“I watched the replay and everything kind of came together,” Lifson said. “I told Terry (Finley, West Point president and CEO) to watch the race and he was excited too. Even the Churchill sixth was a good race. Travis and I trust each other and they only want to enhance the relationship, so if they didn’t like the horse, they wouldn’t have called.”

West Point reached the pinnacle of the sport in 2017 when Always Dreaming, a horse they bought into prior to his win in the Florida Derby (G1), won the Kentucky Derby, which added to a trophy case that includes countless other graded stakes wins. Still, Lifson knows things aren’t always as they seem, and buying into a young horse can be filled with pitfalls, too. With O Besos, who showed maturity beyond his years while settling behind horses and kicking clear late in his races, he knew West Point was getting a colt with a future that was squarely in front of him.

“You always worry about being late and not first to the party,” Lifson said. “Sometimes it works out fine, but other times they don’t pan out. You’re always guessing ‘Is this the one?’ But for a young horse, you couldn’t ask for a better education. A lot of times a young horse will gun early, improve their position, and just bury others, but you don’t always know what you have. Our best horses of all-time have not necessarily been the go to the lead types. If you want to dream the dream, you have to have a horse that has no problem with the challenges they will get during a race.”

West Point bought into O Besos after his maiden win and he ran for the new partnership for the first time in a local January 17 allowance. He again broke a step slow, trailed the six-horse field early, then once again powered home late, this time between horses, while winning by 2 ¼ lengths and getting the six furlongs in a sharp 1:10.57. Once again O Besos showed he doesn’t need things his own way to deliver a top performance, which impressed Foley.

“In the 1X, I didn’t really know how he ended up where he did, but in the aftermath, we’re glad he did, we got a really good schooling, had to go in between horses,” Foley said. “That was a nice group too, and he pretty much beat them in a gallop.”

O Besos gets thrown into the deep end of the pool in the 1 1/8-mile Risen Star, as he’ll run past 6 ½ furlongs and try two turns for the first time. As a son of Orb, who won the Derby in 2013, he’s certainly bred for the added ground, and has a running style that figures to appreciate distance as well, though Foley knows you have to run them to find out for sure.

“The big question is whether or not he can stretch (out), especially going from three quarters to a mile and an eighth, but he looks like he’s really getting going right at the end,” Foley said. “Some closing sprinters will fool you, but he deserves the chance. He has to prove it but he leads you to believe he will do it. If he can do it, great, if not, there’s a lot of other options too.”

West Point have been down this path before—literally—as their stretch-running Commanding Curve was sixth in the 2014 Risen Star before building off that to run third in the Louisiana Derby before running second in the Kentucky Derby. Lifson won’t complain if lightning were to strike twice.

“Ideally, we hope he’ll handle two turns, run well, and we’ll take the next step to the (March 20) Louisiana Derby,” Lifson said.” You can’t argue with the Risen Star since we have a nice horse who has won a couple of races over that track. It’s all a progression and we’re hoping he can take it.”

O Besos is part of a robust 13-horse Risen Star field that is by far the deepest and most competitive Kentucky Derby prep to date, and it will award a total of 85 Derby qualifying points (50-20-10-5).

The field, from the rail out, with jockeys and trainers, is as follows:
Trainer Dallas Stewart Racing Stable’s and WinStar Farm’s homebred Starrininmydreams (post 1 with Brian Hernandez Jr.);
Godolphin’s homebred Proxy (post 2 with John Velazquez for Mike Stidham);
Marylou Whitney Stables’ homebred Beep Beep (post 3 with Miguel Mena for Norm Casse);
Greg Tramontin, Joel Politi, Brittlyn Stable, and Asaro Enterprises’ Carillo (post 4 with James Graham for Tom Amoss);
Joe Peacock Jr.’s homebred Senor Buscador (post 5 with Luis Quinonez for Todd Fincher);
Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Midnight Bourbon (post 6 with Joe Talamo for Steve Asmussen);
Barrett Bernard, Tagg Team Racing, and West Point Thoroughbreds’ O Besos (post 7 with Marcelino Pedroza for Greg Foley);
Kevin Porter’s Sermononthemount (post 8 with Declan Carroll for Tim Dixon);
Nice Guys Stables, Manganaro Bloodstock, and Steve Hornstock’s Defeater (post 9 with Dean Saenz for Amoss);
Calumet Farm’s homebred Santa Cruiser (post 10 with Adam Beschizza for Keith Desormeaux);
Juddmonte Farms’ homebred Mandaloun (post 11 with Florent Geroux for Brad Cox);
Cypress Creek Equine, Arnold Bennewith, and Spendthrift Farm‘s Keepmeinmind (post 12 with David Cohen for Robertino Diodoro);
Wayne T. Davis’ Rightandjust (post 13 with Mitchell Murrill for Shane Wilson).

 

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