Kentucky Derby

Lecomte Stakes Preview: Fair Grounds Hopefuls take First Steps Toward Kentucky

Amanda Hodges Weir / Hodges Photography

A promising field of 12 will go to post in New Orleans’ first Kentucky Derby prep of the year in the Grade III $200,000 Lecomte Stakes on Jan. 21. Topping a six-stakes Road to the Derby Kickoff Day Presented by Hotel Monteleone card, the mile and 70-yard event renews for the 72nd time with a wide-open field.

Three horses with graded stakes form enter the sophomore challenge with experience edges, including Klaravich Stables and William H. Lawrence’s Shareholder Value, a course and distance allowance winner on Dec. 26 for 11-time leading trainer Tom Amoss. Like last year’s Amoss-trained winner Mo Tom, Shareholder Value is a son of Uncle Mo with a serious turn of foot who looks to improve upon a loss in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club two back. Shaun Bridgmohan has the return call from post four.

New York-bred Pat On the Back enters for trainer Ken McPeek’s local string. Drawing in post 11, he exits a sixth in the Grade III Delta Jackpot on Nov. 19 and was a two-time state-bred stakes winner in the fall. Dylan Davis, who was aboard for those two added-money victories and all three of his career tallies, flies in for the mount.

Whispering Oaks Farm’s Tip Tap Tapizar (James Graham, post seven) looks to improve upon an eighth in said Delta Downs meet centerpiece and return to the form that saw him win the $103,000 Sapling Stakes at Monmouth Park in September and place in the a pair of graded sprint events last summer for trainer Steve Asmussen. The 13-time leading trainer also entered Winchell Thoroughbreds’ $300,000 Springboard Mile runner-up Totality (David Flores, post three) and Michael Langford’s sharp Churchill Downs maiden sprint winner Untrapped (Ricardo Santana, Jr., post five).

Two swift local sprint winners with stamina-laden pedigrees stretch out for well-respected connections in Bret Jones’ Larry Jones-trained Running Mate (Gabriel Saez, post nine) and breeder-owner-trainer Dallas Stewart’s Saint’s Fan (Brian Hernandez, Jr., post 12). The former, a son of Creative Cause, was a disappointment when second by three last out in the $50,000 Sugar Bowl Stakes as the 2-5 favorite, an effort that followed two six-furlong romps. The latter, by Tale of Ekati, enters off a victory over fellow Louisiana-breds in the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Juvenile on Dec. 10.

William S. Farish and Lora Jean Kilroy’s Guest Suite (Robby Albarado, post eight) romped in a Churchill Downs one-turn mile allowance in late November last out for trainer Neil Howard. With zero stamina question, the son of Quality Road broke his maiden three back going 1 1/16 miles at Keeneland and was third in the $83,000 Street Sense Stakes at a one-turn mile two back.

A pair of promising and expensive sons of Arch enter off a swift maiden heat over the Lecomte course and distance in John C. Oxley’s Mark Casse-trained Takeoff (Florent Geroux, post 10), a $550,000 OBS March 2016 purchase, wired said field in a final time nearly a second faster than Shareholder Value clocked two races prior. He finished a length ahead of Donegal Racing’s Brad Cox-trained runner-up Arklow (Jon Court, post two), a well-regarded $160,000 Keeneland September 2015 yearling who enters as a maiden.

Brad Grady’s Joe Sharp-trained impressive local maiden claiming romper Phat Man (C. J. McMahon, rail), a son of Munnings and top turf sprinter Nicole’s Dream, and Jay and Joan Janssen’s Leo Gabriel, Jr.-trained local turf maiden victor Marco Mischief (Marcelino Pedroza, post six) complete the field.

Top Choice

#9 Running Mate – Many people may write off this horse after losing last time out at 2/5 and being DQ’d from even finishing second, but I actually saw a lot of positives.  Before that race he had won his first two starts by a combined fourteen lengths, but for whatever reason when running in the 50k Sugar Bowl Stakes he just looked uncomfortable the whole time.  At the wire he was no match for the winner, but after the wire he took off and galloped out well past everyone.  I think the stretch out to a mile and 7o yards is going to help, and if he’s not as wild this time I think we’ll see an improved effort.  He may have just been starting to hit his stride at the end of that last race, and I’m willing to give him another shot especially if he’s close to that 10-1 morning line.

Horses to Use in Multi Race Wagers

#5 Untrapped – This horse was all the rage for his debut at Keeneland, but finished second that day to Uncontested who came back to win the Smarty Jones this past weekend.  After Untrapped debuted he wheeled back in a maiden special weight at Fair Grounds and absolutely dominated the field by over five lengths.  Since the beginning this has been a horse that Asmussen has been high on, and now we get to see if he’s ready to jump on the Kentucky Derby trail.  I’m expecting that he will be ready for this kind of race, and believe he could end up being a starter in the Kentucky Derby if he keeps progressing.

#3 Totality – Yet another Steve Asmussen colt that could be a horse on the rise.  Last time out at Remington Park he ran well to finish second in the Springboard Mile as there was no pace in the race and he fell behind early on.  A little extra pace would help him today, and that long Fair Grounds stretch should really be to this horses liking.  Several people believe this is an under the radar type of horse as the Kentucky Derby trail really heats up, and for now I have to agree with them.  We’ll see if he can take the next step just like we are expecting his stablemate Untrapped to do as well.

#8 Guest Suite – Comes into this race off a big win at Churchill Downs in an allowance race by over six lengths, and two races back was “only” beaten five lengths by the highly thought of McCracken when he finished third in a small stakes.  He’s had three races at a mile or more as well so this distance should be right in his wheelhouse.  For whatever reason his speed figures have not been all that great, but he passes the eye ball test pretty well so he’d be hard for me to leave off.

#4 Shareholder Value – Rebounded nicely last time out off of a so-so effort against the big boys in Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs.  However, there is plenty of good news coming out of that race including the fact the fourth place finisher was an impressive winner of the Smarty Jones Stakes last weekend.  Fair Grounds can be a track that plays strangely so its a real bonus that he has a win over the track and a win at this distance.  Trainer Tom Amoss has success here all the time, and this could be his horse to make an impact in this series this year.

Exotic Plays

#10 Takeoff – Wire to wire maiden winner for Mark Casse last time out at this track and at this distance so those are the positives that jump out at you right away.  That maiden race came back with a fairly comparable number to some of the top ones in this race as well so he might be fast enough to jump up to this level.  However, he did get a perfect trip last time out which is most likely not going to happen today.  I’ll play him underneath until he proves he’s ready for this kind of race.

#12 Saints Fan – Louisiana bred trying to take home the Lecomte and jump on the Kentucky Derby trail!  He’s a perfect two for two to start his career, and last time out was an easy winner in a 100k state bred stakes.  Definitely worth it for his connections to take a shot at this kind of race, and is not without a chance.  I still view him as a small step below the top ones in this race however he’s a likely underneath candidate.

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Party Crashers

#11 Pat On the Back – If you take out his effort last time out in the Delta Jackpot this horse is yet to do much wrong.  However, that was his first race against open company so maybe he’s just better off facing New York breds.  In five races against state bred company he has three wins and a second place effort, but at Delta he was sixth beaten eleven lengths.  His morning line price of 6-1 is a bit too low, but if he floats up he might be worth a small shot in his second effort against open company.  If he stays at 6-1 I’d pass.

#1 Phat Man – This is the total odd ball of the race as he’s only had two starts, and last time out he won by an eye popping 12 lengths.  However, that was over a sloppy track that was taken off the turf track so perhaps he wasn’t facing too much in that race, and it’s also highly questionable how he’ll handle a fast track.  If he takes to that kind of track he could make some noise in here though at a price, and his connections are solid.  Worth a shot as long as he stays around that 12-1 morning line price.

Throw Outs

#7 Tip Tap Tapizar – This is the last of the three Asmussen entries, and the only one I’m not very high on.  Early on in his career he looked like he might be a nice horse, but when up against top notch competition he hasn’t been able to hang around.

#2 Arklow – He’s still a maiden, but has shown some talent in all three of his starts.  Last time was beaten by a nice Mark Casse horse in Takeoff who is running back in this one today.  Can’t support him here though in this competitive spot.

#6 Marco Mischief – Decent enough maiden winner last time out, but that race was on the turf so how he’ll preform on the dirt in this type of race is a question mark.  His debut race was a 2nd place effort over a sloppy track.

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