Kicking things off at the Fair Grounds is the G3 Lecomte Stakes raced
at a distance of 1 Mile, 70 yards. Early
to mid January is where we don’t see a lot of horses that
have already burst onto the derby scene. Generally, it’s the Holy Bull Stakes in
late January when we first see a prominent Juvenile or two begin their 3-yr-old
campaign. From there it’s like dominos as the remaining and familiar contenders also begin to embark on their journey as a 3-yr-old. So, what we have here in NOLA this weekend is a wonderful opportunity for lesser known hopefuls to become a new derby
In the 2013 edition the field that has been entered isn’t only
shooting for a little bit of derby attention but the all important derby
qualifying points as well. For this field of nine there is only one horse that
has scored. But, when you realize that it was only one point you’ll probably agree
that winning on Saturday would be a giant step in the right direction.
Oxbow (KY) - Trained by D. Wayne Lukas and son of Awesome Again, Oxbow
is our only entry that you will find on the Kentucky Derby qualifying points leader
board. He earned his 1 point with a fourth place finish in the Grade 1 CashCall
Futurity at Hollywood Park on December 15. In that race Corey Nakatani overcame
the disadvantage of breaking from the far outside post (11) and settled him
nicely in the middle of the pack. He posed a threat when racing in third at the 3
quarter pole but that’s where he began to tire. He was probably gassed from
pressing out of the gate and swinging four wide around the final turn. But, he
was still able to hang tough and clear the majority of the field.
I rank Oxbow as 1 of 2 Lecomte entries that have faced the toughest competition. The obvious competition for Oxbow was Violence, the rising star who shot up the Kentucky Derby contender rankings after cruising to victory in the CashCall. Behind him was Fury Kapori, 2nd place finisher in the Real Quiet Stakes prior to the CashCall, followed by Den’s Legacy, the Bob Baffert trained colt that recently finished 2nd in the Sham Stakes. One horse that Oxbow did get the best of was He’s Had Enough, the Doug O’Neill trained colt that gave Shanghai Bobby a run for his money down the stretch in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Fear the Kitten (IL) - Coming in he’s a two time winner and graded stakes starter. After breaking his maiden at Keeneland he came back to win in a $50k Allowance at Churchill Downs. The nice start set him up for his first graded stakes, the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club. He wasn’t ready to soar past some of the top Juveniles that he faced but a 5th place finish was still respectable. Those Juveniles that I’m referring to is why Fear the Kitten is the other horse I credit as facing the toughest competition so far. Top four finishers in order: Uncaptured, Frac Daddy, Dewey Square, Tesseron.
Other minor details about this entry that may get your attention
is that he arrived at the Fair Grounds early enough to train and that this
distance will not be a problem for him. Coming in from Gulfstream Fear the
Kitten was able to get settled in at the Fair Grounds and out on the dirt for a
5F work on Sunday – 1:01.80. A lot of horses at this stage of the 3-yr-old
season have yet to race a distance of at least 1 mile but in all three career
races, Fear the Kitten has never raced over anything less.
Circle Unbroken (FL) – The good news is that this colt is ready to
return to racing after an extensive layoff. Saturday will be his first start
since incurring a minor ankle injury last summer. The most notable moment in his early career was an impressive victory in only his second race, the
G3 Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill Downs. Trainer Garry Simms is confident
that he is ready to return but lists him at only 80 – 90 % at best. Circle Unbroken was a highly regarded Juvenile before his injury so expect for him to remain a potential derby contender and a possible post time favorite in the Lecomte.
Heitai (LA) This colt by Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus
has got Louisiana written all over him. Bred in Louisiana and trained by Samuel
Breaux, a resident of Louisiana, Heitai has only raced in Louisiana. In his
career he has raced 6 times at three different Louisiana tracks while notching
2 wins, 2 seconds and 2 thirds. This will be his first graded stakes race and his
second at a distance of at least 1 Mile. He’s got some work to do to prove his
class but this would be the perfect time to make that jump. If so, expect the
winners circle to be crowded for this Louisiana fan favorite.
I’ve Struck a Nerve (KY) - This colt has started in a Grade 1 stakes race but didn't fare too well - 9th Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity. However, he has improved since then and finished second most recently in the 6F Sugar Bowl Stakes also at the Fair Grounds. Trained by Keith Desormeaux, he’ll have his younger brother Kent in the saddle on Saturday.
Avie’s Quality (KY) – Coming in from Woodbine, Avie’s Quality
enters after concluding his Juvenile season with a win in the 1 1/16 Mile Display
Stakes. Prior, it took him 3 attempts to win his maiden but all of those races
were also over a distance of at least 1 Mile as well. This will be his first race on the dirt and Rosie Napravnik will be in
the irons for the very first time.
The remainder of the field can be categorized as recent Maiden
winners that are all entering their very first stakes race. Malibu High (KY) Golden Soul (KY), Hawaakom (KY) All three could be considered live long shots right now but could prove to be derby hopefuls after an unexpected but thrilling performance.
Finally, as we all have learned or experienced, New Orleans can be very good to its visitors. However, the Big Easy has never sent a Lecomte winner on to capture the Kentucky Derby. The closest attempt at becoming the first was in 2007 when Hard Spun fought gamely before finishing 2nd to Street Sense. However, the Lecomte Stakes has still been able to produce a Kentucky Derby winner. In 2002, War Emblem made his 3-yr-old debut here and finished 5th before moving on to bigger and better things. Good luck to our 2013 field and their attempt at becoming the next horse to make this race a stop along their way to Kentucky Derby glory.