Brereton C. Jones’s Albano, the latest Larry Jones-trained sophomore with designs on a Triple Crown campaign later this spring, and Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Gold Hawk, expected to fulfill a similar role for trainer Steve Asmussen, may vie for favoritism when they match strides in Saturday’s Grade III Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.
The Lecomte, centerpiece event of Saturday’s Road to the Derby Kickoff Day at the New Orleans oval, is the first of Fair Grounds’ three-race series for sophomores that will continue with the Grade II Risen Star Stakes Feb. 22 on Louisiana Derby Preview Day and conclude withthe 2014 $1 million Louisiana Derby as the highlight of the local season on March 29.
Albano, who won Fair Grounds $60,000 Sugar Bowl Stakes Dec. 21 to
conclude his juvenile campaign, has never run beyond six furlongs in his
three-race career, but he is a half-brother to Jones’s Mark Valeski, runner-up
in both the 2012 Louisiana Derby and Risen Star, and both owner-breeder
Jones and trainer Jones have indicated that they believe this sophomore
son of Istan should have no problem with the mile and 70 yards of
Saturday’s Lecomte. Albano breezed five furlongs in the slop in 1:00.60
Monday in final serious preparation for this weekend’s challenge.
Gold Hawk, who races in the same silks as 2008 Louisiana Derby and Risen Star winner Pyro
and is trained by those same connections, has yet to appear in stakes
competition but is undefeated in two starts and was visually very
impressive in his local bow going a mile and 70 yards Dec. 27 when he
drew off with ease on his way to a 3 ½-length tally. The son of
Juddmonte’s 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker breezed four furlongs in Monday’s sloppy track here in 49.80.
Louisiana native jockey Kerwin Clark, aboard for Albano’s Sugar Bowl romp, has been engaged to handle the reins once again for Saturday’s Lecomte, while Jamaica-born Shaun Bridgmohan has been given the riding assignment astride Gold Hawk for the first time.
Windy Hill Farm’s Smarty’s Echo, runner-up in Keeneland’s Grade I Breeders’ Futurity last October but unimpressive in Santa Anita’s Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Nov. 2, is capable of providing strong competition for the top two. The son of 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones has been training forwardly for conditioner Anne Smith and
impressed her with a half-mile move in 48.80 when accompanied by a
stable mate last Sunday at Fair Grounds. Irish-born jockey James Graham will be in the irons for the first time Saturday.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Vicar’s in Trouble, a
Louisiana-bred who broke his maiden in state-bred company by 13 lengths
at Fair Grounds Dec. 14, breezed five furlongs in 1:00.80 for trainer Mike Maker and will try open company again in the Lecomte with three-time Fair Grounds defending rider champion Rosie Napravnik up.
Dennis Foster’s Got Shades, campaigned only on the grass in five lifetime starts but fifth in Santa Anita’s Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in his last start Nov. 1, worked four furlongs over the main track in 47.80 Tuesday for trainer Danny Pish and will be ridden by seven-time Fair Grounds riding champion Robby Albarado in the Lecomte.
Big Chief Thoroughbreds’ Silent Ruler, still
technically a maiden despite being first under the wire here Dec. 13
before being disqualified, merits consideration if only because he is
trained by Keith Desormeaux, who upset last year’s Risen Star Stakes here with Big Chief’s Ive Struck a Nerve, who paid an eye-opening $272.40 for that victory. Silent Ruler breezed five furlongs in 1:02.20 Tuesday at Fair Grounds. Mark Guidry will be aboard Saturday.
Rounding out the Lecomte field: Cesar Parra’s Rainbow Trip, also trained by Pish and a winner of his most recent start Dec. 28 over the grass at Retama, to be ridden by Chris Landeros; Brad Grady’s Plug Catcher, third beaten 3 ½-lengths by Gold Hawk Dec. 27, trained by Bret Calhoun and ridden by Miguel Mena; and Michelle Brown’s Roman Unbridled, a winner of Delta’s Big Drama Stakes Jan. 4, trained by Chad Cook and to be ridden by Kevin Smith.