Much like Monday’s Smarty Jones at Oaklawn, the Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds is not typically considered to be a crucial checkpoint on the road to the Kentucky Derby. It’s rare to see the elite 2-year-olds of the prior year start their season in one of these early-season prep races. However, we have occasionally seen winners of these races go on to achieve some notable successes in the Triple Crown series. In recent years, the most high-profile Lecomte winners have been Hard Spun, who won this race 10 years ago before finishing second in the Kentucky Derby, and 2013 winner Oxbow, who went on to win that year’s Preakness Stakes.
This Grade 3, $200,000 event is contested over one mile and 70 yards – lengthened from a mile a few years ago – and utilizes the entirety of Fair Grounds’s long stretch, making it a useful test of stamina for much of the field. The race has drawn a sizable group of 12 runners, many of which are untested against stakes company.
Given the presence of a few speedy colts stretching out around two turns for the first time, it should come as no surprise that the TimeformUS Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace. Two such stretch-outs, Untrapped (#5) and Running Mate (#9), are predicted to be leading the pack through the opening furlongs.
Let’s go through the entire field:
#1, PHAT MAN (12-1): It seems likely that this son of Munnings is a turf horse that just happened to handle a sloppy, sealed track against a field of overmatched rivals last time. His dam was an accomplished turf sprinter, and he ran on grass in both of his starts. His last speed figure was decent, but he faces a completely different scenario today. I’ll pass.
#2, ARKLOW (10-1): While he is the lone maiden in the field, you can hardly blame the connections for taking a shot given the wide-open nature of this race. After all, Takeoff, the colt that beat him by a diminishing length last time, is 6-1 on the morning line and many would consider him a top contender here – so doesn’t Arklow belong as well? He was one-paced when making a mild late rally in his sprint debut and then encountered some minor trouble in his next start. He finally seemed to put it all together last time, sitting a nearly perfect trip in behind Takeoff while rating kindly along the rail. He was tipped out at the top of the stretch and finished with interest, gradually getting to that rival, who had gotten the jump on him. His 97 TimeformUS Speed Figure certainly puts him in the mix, and Brad Cox has been sending out nothing but live runners at this meet. I still think this gangly son of Arch has some maturing to do, but I won’t be surprised if he’s able to find his way into the trifecta here.
#3, TOTALITY (12-1): The sky was the limit for this son of Tapit after his encouraging debut at Churchill in October. He rated kindly for a first time starter and finished with power, wearing down the leaders just before the wire. His connections quickly stretched him out in distance off that win, and while he lost both of those two-turn races he had to overcome fairly significant hurdles in each of them.
Nothing went right for Totality in the November 10 allowance race, which was actually a much better effort than his fifth-place finish would suggest. He hopped at the start and stumbled a few strides out of the gate, leaving him well back in the pack early. Coming around the far turn, his rider unwisely steered him toward the rail just as the pace was starting to collapse, and he ended up getting caught in behind a wall of tiring runners, losing all of his momentum. He was then bumped around when angling out in the stretch but still finished decently enough to nearly gain fourth place. Steve Asmussen kept the faith and moved him up into stakes company in the Springboard Mile for his next start. He was hindered in that race by an extremely slow pace (indicated by the blue color-coding in TimeformUS PPs). Despite the fact that he still had a ton of ground to make up coming around the far turn, he put in a strong stretch rally while racing along the rail and was moving fastest of all across the finish line. That event’s fourth-place finisher, Rowdy the Warrior, who was similarly pace-compromised, returned to improve both his Beyer and TimeformUS Speed Figures by 9 points when finishing third in last weekend’s Smarty Jones. This time, Totality figures to get an honest pace to close into, which makes him an enticing value play at anything around his 12-1 morning line.
#4, SHAREHOLDER VALUE (6-1): The Kentucky Jockey Club proved to be a key race in last Monday’s Smarty Jones at Oaklawn, as that race’s fourth-place finisher Uncontested returned to register a decisive victory. Shareholder Value finished only about four lengths behind Uncontested that day despite having trouble at the start. The headstrong colt was a little difficult to rate through the early stages of that race, so Tom Amoss elected to remove the blinkers for his optional-claiming win last time. He was still somewhat rank heading into the first turn, but he settled better thereafter. Coming into the stretch, Shaun Bridgmohan again found him a little difficult to maneuver and Shareholder Value appeared to overreact to his rider’s cue to angle out around horses, abruptly swerving into the center of the racetrack before straightening out for the drive. This Uncle Mo colt has talent, but I wonder how his antics will go over in this larger field. I certainly have to use him strongly in exotics, but I prefer to key on others.
#5, UNTRAPPED (9-2): The tepid morning-line favorite also happens to be one of the least-experienced members of this field. However, what he lacks in seasoning he makes up for in promise and potential. Untrapped was well meant in his debut, but had the misfortune of encountering rising star Uncontested, the runaway winner of last weekend’s Smarty Jones. Rather than stretch him out immediately, Steve Asmussen gave this colt another shot at a sprint in his second start, and he responded with an authoritative victory.
The Pace Projector is predicting that he will be contesting a fast pace, so he could face a real test of stamina as he attempts to negotiate an additional two furlongs. While the dam’s side of his pedigree does not give many clues as to his ability to go two turns, his supporters should be encouraged that he is sired by Trappe Shot. Even though Trappe Shot finished second in the nine-furlong Haskell as a 3-year-old, he was best known as a sprinter. However, as a sire he’s been a prolific stamina influence. He gets a TimeformUS Breeding Rating of 100 with dirt routers, and DRF Formulator stats indicate that his progeny win at a remarkable 24% clip in dirt routes. Untrapped is a major contender in this Lecomte; the only concern is a potentially short price.
#6, MARCO MISCHIEF (20-1): This colt displayed an eye-catching turn of foot in the final two furlongs last time, rallying from last at the quarter pole to get up to win in a desperate finish. The only issue with that victory is that it came on turf, and there is little evidence that Marco Mischief will be able to unleash that same kick on the dirt. He’s an intriguing horse, but this probably is not the right spot for him.
#7, TIP TAP TAPIZAR (12-1): Despite the fact that he ran well at a mile on a couple of occasions, I’m still not convinced that this horse is a true router. Both of those performances – in the Sapling and Jean Lafitte – came against much weaker fields than the one he faces today. He was contesting a stronger pace in the Delta Jackpot last time, but I felt that he was finally exposed as a horse that doesn’t really want to go that far. He would need to produce the race of his life to win this and I just don’t foresee things setting up for him. I prefer Steve Asmussen’s other two entrants.
#8, GUEST SUITE (5-1): If there’s one runner in this field with whom I can’t find a single fault, it’s this gelding. Ever since being stretched out in his second start, he’s looked like the kind of horse that is tailor-made for this early-season Derby prep. His connections wisely decided against rushing him to make the major graded stakes for 2-year-olds at the end of last season. Instead, they were able to take advantage of Churchill Downs’s expansive menu of 2-year-old races to get him some much-needed experience.
He followed up his solid maiden win with a decent third-place finish to McCraken in the Street Sense, a performance that was flattered by the winner’s next-out victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club. Guest Suite then capped off his juvenile campaign with a facile win over allowance foes. He’s gotten progressively faster in each start, and his versatile running style should allow him to adapt to any kind of pace scenario. So the question is: what’s not to like? Well, in a race as confusing as this one, horseplayers tend to gravitate toward the obvious choices, and he certainly is one of those. He’d be a great bet at 5-1 or greater, but I’m not sure we’ll get that.
#9, RUNNING MATE (10-1): In terms of raw speed figures, this is the fastest horse in the race. His Beyers in the low 80s and TimeformUS Speed figures in the low 100s are simply higher than what his competitors have recorded. However, picking winners is more complicated than merely comparing speed figures, and this son of Creative Cause has some obstacles to overcome. He has never raced beyond six furlongs, and he’s coming off arguably the worst race of his life – a loss as the 2-5 favorite. He was awkward changing leads last time and shifted ground in the stretch, which resulted in his disqualification. His dam was best as a sprinter, and we don’t yet know enough about Creative Cause as a sire of dirt routers. The Pace Projector predicts that he will be on the lead early, but I have little confidence that he will be able to survive a quick pace and fend off the closers. I do acknowledge his overall talent and know that Larry Jones can be dangerous in these races, but I still have to let this one beat me.
#10, TAKEOFF (6-1): Arklow’s vanquisher will not be taking this field from gate to wire, as he was able to do last time – not with the speedy Running Mate drawn just to his inside. He is instead more likely to pull a stalking trip, so Florent Geroux has to make sure he doesn’t lose too much ground around the turns from this outside post position. This expensive son of Arch certainly has a right to continue progressing, but he’s unlikely to receive as favorable a setup as he did in that victory. It’s difficult to make the leap from maiden special weight company to a graded stakes, and I’d hope to get a square price on horses in that situation. Given the likely difference in value between the two, I feel that Arklow is probably the better bet today, but I could use both on backup exotic tickets.
#11, PAT ON THE BACK (12-1): This New York-bred relished wet tracks in a couple of stakes at Belmont, winning the one-mile Sleepy Hollow over a sloppy, sealed surface. Unfortunately, he couldn’t keep that momentum going in the Delta Jackpot last time, as he came unraveled in the stretch after launching a premature move down the backstretch. His TimeformUS Speed Figures suggest that he’s just about fast enough to compete with these runners, but he’s also one of the more seasoned participants and thus conceivably has less room for improvement. Like Takeoff, he has to avoid losing too much ground around the turns.
#12, SAINT’S FAN (5-1): Has been scratched.
GUEST SUITE (#8) may be the most likely winner, but TOTALITY (#3) is the one that figures to offer the best value at anything around his 12-1 morning line. I will key on these two, while also using logical contenders Shareholder Value and Untrapped, as well as, to a lesser extent, Arklow and Takeoff.
Exacta key box: 3 with 4, 5, 8
Trifecta: 3, 8 with 3, 8 with 2, 4, 5, 10
Trifecta: 3, 8 with 2, 4, 5, 10 with 3, 8