A full 14-horse field of 3-year-olds are set to take their first steps towards the Kentucky Derby in Saturday’s Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes. The $200,000 race will by contested at 1 mile and 70 yards and goes off as the ninth contest on a 13-race card filled with stakes action.
The headliner is the California shipper Instilled Regard, who comes into the race off of a second-place effort in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity. The official winner of the Los Al Futurity, McKinzie, came back to win the Grade 3 Sham Stakes with ease last weekend, which further suggests that Instilled Regard could be a horse on the rise. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer has lured in Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano to ride.
However, there’s no doubt that trainer Steve Asmussen is the king of the Fair Grounds, and he’ll send out three hopefuls on Saturday. The first of which, Principe Guilherme, cruised to victory over this track in his last start. The son of Tapit draws the 12 post here.
“I think the Lecomte will be a very good test for him with him drawing (post) 12,” Asmussen said. “I think that will put a lot of questions of how effective he can be at a two-turn race that obviously has plenty of pace in it.”
Zing Zang is another son of Tapit who will start in the Lecomte for Asmussen, and the Hall of Fame trainer is excited about his ability.
“With Zing Zang, I must admit, the Tapit in him I see as hopefully Creator,” Asmussen said. “He has a lot of disposition, as well as his style and how he trains, and he’s never tired, and the more you ask him to do, the happier he seems. I think to put him in the Lecomte is to get him in a rhythm. Just like Creator, it’s going to take races for him to step up his game and kind of get his attention. He’s young-minded and very playful, but he’s got a ton of ability.”
Finally, Asmussen gives turf star Snapper Sinclair a shot at the dirt.
“(Snapper Sinclair) is obviously a very talented horse,” Asmussen said. “We’re just trying to get him to transfer his obvious ability on turf to the dirt. This is an opportunity early in the year to see if his form will transfer over or if we need to isolate him to turf races.”
Local trainer Larry Jones will start his own trio of horses in the race. Here are his thoughts on his three runners, starting with Kowboy Karma.
“He’s training well,” Jones said. “We had to do a little throat surgery on him after the (James F. Lewis III Stakes), he kept trying to displace on us, but hopefully we got that fixed. He’s training well, though; he blew out nicely the other day (5 furlongs in 1:00.20 on January 3), so it looks like he’s coming along. We’re looking forward to running him. I don’t think that this distance will be any problem for him.”
The regally-bred Believe in Royalty comes off of a disappointing effort in the Springboard Mile at Remington Park, but Jones thinks that he’s improving at the right time.
“I’ve had several Tapits, not as many as Asmussen, but I’ve had several of them,” Jones said. “I can see a little of both (Tapit and Believe You Can) in him. (Believe You Can) wasn’t a super-early precocious kind of horse, she got good here (at the Fair Grounds). The way he worked the other day (5 furlongs in :59.60 on December 31) after the Springboard Mile, it looks like the light finally came on with him. His races got a little better up until the Springboard Mile, but he had a little rough trip. He got a wide trip and (Greyvitos) kind of gave him a little squeeze because that horse had to get out from the 12 hole. The horse is doing well, though; he’s coming along.”
He will also start Pennsylvania Nursery winner Prince Lucky, who has now won two races in a row.
“I know the Pennsylvania Nursery is not a major prep, but it did produce a horse called Smarty Jones and I won (in 2006) with a horse called Hard Spun. We’re hoping that we have the same similarities coming out of that, and actually, this horse comes out of an Elusive Quality mare that was the sire of Smarty Jones. This horse has come a long ways, too.”
Post time for the race is 5:03 PM Central Time.
#10 Instilled Regard – This looks like a two-horse race for the top spot between Instilled Regard and Principe Guilherme, with a host of other talented horses possible underneath. I debated for a while between the two for top honors, but in the end, Instilled Regard’s experience pushed me in his direction. He should be able to sit a good trip behind most of the speed and pounce at the right time as the leaders start to tire. The stretch run at Fair Grounds is very similar to the stretch run at Los Alamitos, which should play to Instilled Regard’s favor. This is a colt with a very bright future, and it’s important to note that McKinzie won next out. Instilled Regard will have a big chance to do the same.
Horses to Use in Multi-Race Wagers
#12 Principe Guilherme – It was painful not putting this horse on top because the talent level that he possesses is extremely high. However, there are a couple of factors that have me worried about him. The 12 hole doesn’t do him any favors, especially with all of the early speed that’s signed on for this race. Also, his lack of experience could play a big factor. All in all, he’s going to get a ton out of this start, which will be beneficial moving forward. If he wins, he might be a freak, but all he needs here is a solid foundation-building effort.
#8 Zing Zang – It took him a little while to wake up, but he showed some life in his last race, rallying from the back of the pack to win a maiden special weight over this track while also going the same distance as the Lecomte. Asmussen compared this horse to Creator, a colt that won both the Arkansas Derby and the Belmont Stakes. He has a long ways to go to get to Creator’s level, but he has great talent and turn of foot.
#5 Kowboy Karma – This gelding started off his 2-year-old year looking like a monster, but he’s leveled off just a bit since. He ran a close fourth in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes behind three solid horses, including Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Good Magic. That sort of thing really catches your eye, and he should have a decent amount of pace to run into, as there are several speed horses entered in this one. He has been working very fast leading up to the race and could be ready to fire a big one.
#1 Lone Sailor – He reminds me of a Lookin At Lee-type of horse that drops way back and waits to make one run in the end. With a hot pace likely, this horse has a chance. The long Fair Grounds stretch will also suit his running style well. He might not be talented enough to win, but he seems like a logical horse to use underneath at a price.
#6 Believe in Royalty – After entering the Springboard Mile on a two-race win streak, he ran very green and was not a factor late. On the turn, he made a major early move towards the leaders but couldn’t sustain it. Jones has said on several occasions that this colt is still trying to figure things out mentally, but when he gets it, he’ll be dangerous. He’s said to be training well leading up to the race, and the talent is there. A son of Tapit ouf of a multiple graded stakes-winning mare, he’s bred to be a champion.
#3 Wonder Gadot – I expect her to scratch and run in the all-female $125,000 Silverbulletday Stakes earlier in the card. She’d likely be a strong favorite in that race, while here, she’d probably be the fourth choice. Her numbers say that she can at least compete with this group, but facing a full field of males is a big challenge for a young filly. If she does run here, it’s hard to say what might happen.
#13 Prince Lucky – I debated for a good while on where this horse fit into the race and never could quite put my finger on it. He stretches out for the first time here, and I also question the type of competition that he’s been facing at Laurel Park and Parx. However, he has been visually impressive, and Jones believes that he’s training forwardly. I could see him being a sneaky horse here, but an outer post in his first race around two turns is going to be tough.
#14 Ebben – He might have woken up a bit in his last start at Churchill Downs, dominating allowance rivals by 4 1/4 lengths. Jockey Corey Lanerie retains the mount here, but with this far outside post, it’s going to be very tough for him to make an impact.
#9 Zeke – He enters the race a perfect two-for-two, which always makes a horse hard to throw out. However, his pedigree suggests that turf will be where he excels, and he hasn’t been overly impressive in either of his wins. He could be a little sneaky in here, but you have to take a stand against a few you like in a field this size.
#2 Snapper Sinclair – Asmussen basically admitted that this is merely an experiment to see if he’ll like running on the dirt. He seemed to lack confidence, which has me looking elsewhere in this tough field.
#7 Night Strike – After dropping way out of it in the Springboard Mile, he came running late to finish a well-beaten fourth. The long stretch at Fair Grounds will play to his favor, but he may not be fast enough in a race of this magnitude.
#4 Analyze This Jet – He got hot at Remington Park in the month of October, but other than that, we haven’t really seen enough to think that he can make much noise in a spot like this. He’ll have to step up in a big way.
#15 Trigger Warning – He draws in with the scratch of Ciaran, but he sseem to be outclassed. He might enjoy the long stretch, but this outside post does him no favors.