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Fair Grounds Preview & FREE Picks | Lecomte Stakes 2024 [Kentucky Derby]
Nash (Coady Photography)

Fair Grounds Preview & FREE Picks | Lecomte Stakes 2024 [Kentucky Derby]

Aaron previews the 2024 Lecomte Stakes (G3) from Fair Grounds, then gives his top picks from this Kentucky Derby (G1) prep race.

Can the Steve Asmussen-trained Track Phantom repeat his last-out Gun Runner Stakes victory over returning rival Nash? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!

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The press release:

After stepping up from his maiden victory to score in December’s Gun Runner, L and N Racing, Clark Brewster, Jerry Caroom, and Breeze Easy’s Track Phantom looks to hold form in Saturday’s $200,000 Lecomte Stakes (G3) and reassert his dominance over Godolphin’s Nash.

Run over 1 1/16 miles at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, the Lecomte signals the next stage of prep races on the road to the $5 million Kentucky Derby (G1) presented by Woodford Reserve to be run at Churchill Downs on Saturday, May 4. 

The finale of 13 races carded on Saturday’s “Road to the Derby Day,” the Lecomte attracted a field of eight 3-year-olds. Post time is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. (all times Central). Forty-two points will be awarded to the top five finishers (20-10-6-4-2). The 9-5 morning line favorite Track Phantom enters with 10 points. Nash has earned 3 points and his stablemate, Awesome Road, has 1.

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Recent Lecomte history will be well-represented on Saturday. In 2023 Brad Cox won the Kentucky Derby prep with Instant Coffee. The year before, Keith Desormeaux saddled longshot winner Call Me Midnight. Steve Asmussen did it with Midnight Bourbon in 2021, one of three such titles for North America’s all-time winningest trainer. Winning the Lecomte two years in a row, Mark Casse saddled War of Will in 2019 and Enforceable in 2020. Combined, those four are the conditioners behind seven of the eight 3-year-olds in 2024’s 80th running.

Though the public made Nash the overwhelming Gun Runner favorite at 1-2, Track Phantom proved best by 3 lengths and earned the title of 9-5 morning line favorite in their rematch. After pressuring Next Level into submission through opening fractions of :23.61 and :46.93, the Quality Road colt trained by Steve Asmussen took command of the Gun Runner field and held  sway over both Nash and Snead through the stretch.

“It was great to see him win the race against a talented field, but especially with going as fast as they did early and showing enough quality to still respond,” Asmussen said.

Stabled at Fair Grounds, Track Phantom has breezed twice ahead of the Lecomte, going five furlongs in 1:02.00 on Jan. 7 and a half-mile in :50.60 on Jan. 14. The same distances and almost exact times as he posted leading up to the Gun Runner. The Quality Road colt purchased for $500,000 at the 2022 Keeneland September Yearling Sale has not lost going two turns.

“I love how he’s doing, very happy with him and how he’s trained since the Gun Runner,” Asmussen said. “I feel good about the draw and excited to run him again. Past success from there so we’ll see what we can do.”

Drawing outside of Nash in the Gun Runner and now the Lecomte, Track Phantom could employ the same tactical advantage from post 7 on Saturday. Aboard for his maiden win, Joel Rosario returns to the irons, replacing Christian Torres. 

On Nov. 12 at Churchill Downs, Godolphin’s Nash utilized his commanding speed and powerful homestretch stride to break his maiden by over 10-lengths going two turns. The son of Medaglia d’Oro trained by Brad Cox earned a 97 Brisnet Speed figure for his second-asking win and because of that was made the third-choice in Kentucky Derby Future Pool #2. 

Stepping up to stakes company for the first time in the Gun Runner, Nash bobbled slightly out of the gates and maneuvered into a tracking position far behind the speedy top pair. Though he measured up Track Phantom at the top the stretch, he was never able to menace and finished third. Drawing post 2 as the 5-2 second choice in the morning line, Nash retains the services of Florent Geroux.  

Last year Cox won three of the four Derby prep races held at Fair Grounds. In pursuit of his second straight Lecomte title, Cox entered two stablemates to face Nash in the Lecomte, as Albaugh Family Stables and Donegal Racing’s Awesome Road and Stonestreet’s homebred Ethan Energy both look to validate their impressive maiden wins. 

The post-time favorite in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2), Awesome Road could only manage a fifth-place finish. Underperforming his odds in Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (G1) as well, the Quality Road colt broke his maiden on debut as the even-money favorite at Ellis Park over the summer. Jockey Axel Concepcion gets the call to break Awesome Road from the outside gate.

On the Gun Runner undercard, Ethan Energy beat two fellow Louisiana Derby nominees in El Magnifico and Phantom Speed by over five lengths in his first effort going two turns. The Uncle Mo colt will be piloted by Luis Saez, who guided Instant Coffee for Cox in the 2023 Lecomte.

Ken McPeek enters Walking L Thoroughbreds’ Lat Long, who also has unfinished business with Track Phantom. After three show finishes to start his career, the son of Liam’s Map finished second to the Gun Runner winner on Churchill’s “Stars of Tomorrow II” card. 

“(Lat Long) has been a horse who is still trying to figure it out a bit,” McPeek said. “He’s not all there yet. But we’re going to try him at a higher level and see how he handles tougher company.”

Going 1 1/16 miles last out at Oaklawn Park, Lat Long broke his maiden as the odds-on favorite. Pressing and taking over by the third call, the dark bay colt seemed to have the race in hand but proved a touch green and was almost caught in the stretch.

“He just got a little gawky and green in the last part,” McPeek said. “He found himself out front and started to lose some focus. I think he is a horse that is still learning. Like anything it’s a process, but he’s a nice horse and it’s exciting to have a chance in a race like this.” 

Having never finished out of the money in five races, Lat Long will be reunited with Brian Hernandez Jr.

D.J. Stable and Cash is King have decided to see if Can Group’s turf prowess translates to the dirt track. Touting a fourth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) and a last-to-first win in the Bourbon (G2), the Good Samaritan colt trained by Mark Casse has put in two local drills, attracting the services of Jareth Loveberry. 

Though he finished a disappointing seventh in the Gun Runner, Don’t Tell My Wife Stables’ Next Level will take another shot at Derby points for trainer Keith Desormeaux. Blinkers will go off for the Vino Rosso colt, as he returns to the rail under his Gun Runner rider David Cohen.

Desormeaux also enters Calumet’s Tizzy Indy, who has three morning drills since trying the turf and finishing third last out. With a maiden claiming victory to his name, the son of Take Charge Indy would need to move forward to be competitive in the Lecomte. James Graham is named to ride.

Here’s the complete field for the Lecomte from the rail out (with jockey, trainer, and morning line):

  1. Next Level (David Cohen, Keith Desormeaux, 30-1)
  2. Nash (Florent Geroux, Brad Cox, 5-2)
  3. Tizzy Indy (James Graham, Keith Desormeaux, 30-1)
  4. Can Group (Jareth Loveberry, Mark Casse, 6-1)
  5. Ethan Energy (Luis Saez, Brad Cox, 4-1)
  6. Lat Long (Brian Hernandez Jr., Ken McPeek, 8-1)
  7. Track Phantom (Joel Rosario, Steve Asmussen, 9-5)
  8. Awesome Road (Axel Concepcion, Brad Cox, 8-1)