The Fair Grounds kicks off their 2013 graded stakes program for three-year-old colts with this Saturday's G3 Lecomte Stakes at a mile and seventy yards on the main track. First run in 1970, the race is the first of two local graded stakes that continues with the 1 1/16 G2 Risen Star Stakes on February 23rd, on the path to the $1 million G2 Louisiana Derby contested at 1 1/8-miles on March 30th. Horses performing well and accumulating points in these races are eligible to go on to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May. This year's Lecomte with a field of nine horses and a purse of $200,000 is included in the new "Kentucky Derby Prep Season", therefore, points on a scale of 10-4-2-1 will be awarded to the top four finishers.
Traditionally, the LeComte gives fans a good glimpse into the talent and types of horses from Louisiana and the surrounding area trying to get to the Kentucky Derby. The style of the race is compared to that of the first leg of the Triple Crown, with the layout and long stretch of Fair Grounds being similar to the extensive stretch at Churchill Downs, which also helps to give fans a better assessment early on if a horse has the proper running style to be successful in the Run For The Roses.
It's only January, but the journey has to start somewhere. This is an opportune time for trainers to test their young colts. Of course, unless somebody decides to freak on Saturday, there are no established top-level runners among the prospective field, but that’s almost always the case in these early-season preliminaries which are designed to weed out the imposters. This is a diverse bunch, in both geography and achievements. The contestants have competed at several major racing circuits with varying levels of accomplishment: Maiden winners (4), Allowance winners (3), Listed Stakes winner (1), and Graded Stakes winner (1). Like many of years past, this field is sure to include quite a few that will flame out on the road to the Derby, but will it also include even fewer that make a solid run at qualifying?
Last year's race, won by the Larry Jones trained Mr. Bowling (everybody remember him?), featured a baker's dozen of thirteen three-year-old colts. And while the race didn't produce a horse to figure in the Triple Crown races later on in the spring, it was still a solid Grade 3 race that produced some decent payoffs.
Needless to say, this first stop on the trail will be highly contested and has all the fixin’s for a new Derby contender to emerge from the field of 9, as well as setting the stage for what is a long and extensive stakes season at the Fair Grounds.
Let's look at the field from the rail out:
1-MALIBU HIGH/Mena/Borel--Is 2 for 2 after winning an allowance/optional claiming sprint December 28th over a sloppy Fair Grounds surface. Steps up to graded stakes company and now attempts his first try at a route. While Calvin is on the mend, big brother Cecil calls on Mena to substitute. The inside draw should allow the new rider to give a Borel-like ground saving journey.
2-HEITAI/Eramia/Breaux--Although he has competed strictly in state-bred races, this colt has never been off the board in six 2-year old runs, so his perfect in-the-money record gets tested here. His latest outing saw him duel down the length of the Fair Grounds stretch and just miss winning the Louisiana Futurity by a half-length.
3-FEAR THE KITTEN/Bridgmohan/Maker--Connections decide to ship this colt in from Gulfstream Park and give him another try on the dirt following a lackluster stakes debut effort in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club back on November 24th at Churchill. He was extremely wide on the far turn in that race, finishing a distant fifth, but behind some big names. Began his career in a $40,000 maiden claimer where he was haltered of a winning effort at Keeneland.
4-OXBOWCourt/Lukas--Ships down from Oaklawn Park. A maiden winner at the Churchill fall meet, before finishing fourth in the G1 CashCall Futurity last time out over on the Pro-Ride at Hollywood Park. Deals with a slightly shorter distance here and switches back to dirt, a surface that has produced stronger results for him as opposed to his two synthetic efforts. His Hall-of-Fame trainer has only a 2% win rate in Graded Stakes in recent times (that number has certainly declined over the years), but the horseracing world witnessed the "Coach" saddle the winner of the G1 B.C. Juvenile Sprint last fall.
5-HAWAAKOM/Goncalves/Pietz--Was seventh in his six-furlong debut at Churchill, then upset a maiden field at 36-1 going two-turns at Fair Grounds mid-December at this very distance. Is being called upon to continue his progress here in deeper company. Trainer has sent out eight runners in the money from nine starts, including four wins.
6-AVIE’S QUALITY/Napravnik/Carroll--Spent his juvenile campaign up at Woodbine. Came close in his first two tries, then broke his maiden in definitive fashion, drawing off for a five-length score. In his final juvenile race on December 1st, he won the 1 1/16-mile Display Stakes in very good time (1:43). He has progressively gotten better in each start. Been in training for the last month at the Palm Meadows facility in South Florida. Now, if he can just transfer his synthetic form to the Fair Grounds dirt, this course and its long stretch, will suit this big-finishing colt, and that would definitely make him a top threat for the win spot.
7-GOLDEN SOUL/Hernandez/Stewart--Following a near-miss in his Churchill Downs debut, this colt was a good looking winner, finishing strongly to draw away and win a December 30th two-turn maiden special weight by 7 ¼ lengths. Put in a speedy four-furlong breeze over this track in preparation for his stakes debut.
8-CIRCLE UNBROKEN/Guidry/Simms--Recorded some solid races as a juvenile, including winning his first two starts at Churchill Downs, one of which was the G3 Bashford Manor at Churchill. He then followed up with a runner-up placing in the Mountaineer Juvenile before hitting the sidelines in August. He's making his first start in over five months and he'll be going two turns for the first time. He should be fit enough as he has worked steadily for his return. His latest morning move was a best of the morning five-furlong bullet in :59 2/5.
9-IVE STRUCK A NERVE/Desormeaux/Desormeaux--Took a half-dozen starts, but this colt finally broke his maiden late November. Following up that victory was a second-place effort here in the Sugar Bowl in his last start as a juvenile. His racing resume also boasts a start in the Del Mar Futurity last summer, but his ninth-place finish there proved he was totally outclassed that G1 affair.
Since the meet got underway on November 22nd, there have been 77 races contested at this mile-seventy yards distance with no discernible track bias.
Oxbow, whose preferred style is to race on the front-end may find himself an early challenger in Heitai, whose high pace figures from his previous two sprints should allow him to overtake the Lukas horse by the second call mark as the others sort themselves out behind the front-end action. When the real running begins on the far turn, Heitai should still be in front, but a strong late cavalry charge will be in progress.
The best of the late runners are Avie's Quality and Malibu High, who by far possess the best late figures. Of the pair, I prefer the Borel runner to the Canadian invader for a few reasons. Malibu High has a bit of a conditioning edge having just raced 3 weeks ago. He has also proven himself on a dirt surface and sports a prep race over this very track. In addition, Malibu High has paired up speed figures (BRIS) in his two races, often an impending sign of substantial improvement. Although Avie's Quality is the class with the top speed figure and proven around two turns, the travel, layoff and surface switch are big question marks that must be answered. He may answer them with positive results here, but as the likely betting favorite, and a vulnerable one at that for reasons mentioned, I'll pass.
Golden Soul is another that will be prominent in the latter stages. The colt can be categorized as "could be any kind" off the maiden romp. He too has a start over the track and the last speed figure slightly better than the previous, so continued improvement is highly possible. However, his overall numbers don't quite measure up to the top two.
Play: Malibu High to win. Malibu High-Avie's Quality exacta box. Put both horses over Golden Soul in straight exactas. I'll toss in Fear The Kitten for my superfecta.
Good luck and as always, enjoy the race!!