It’s rare to see January prep races come up as strong as this year’s edition of the Grade 3 Lecomte on Saturday at Fair Grounds. Fifteen runners have been entered for this one-mile and 70-yard affair. The morning-line favorite is the undefeated Principe Guilherme, who looks for his third consecutive victory while making his stakes debut. However, contention runs deep in a race that also drew Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity runner-up Instilled Regard, Grade 2 Demoiselle-winning filly Wonder Gadot, and a trio of capable runners from the barn of Larry Jones.
One major obstacle for Principe Guilherme (#12) is the forecasted race flow. The TimeformUS Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace, which is expected to be set by the favorite. However, his early advantage is a slim one, so he figures to have company in the form of stalkers like Snapper Sinclair (#2), Believe in Royalty (#6), Instilled Regard (#10), and Prince Lucky (#13). An especially swift early pace should favor closers like Lone Sailor (#1), Kowboy Karma (#5), and Zing Zang (#8).
Let’s go through the entire field:
#1, LONE SAILOR (15-1): Since impressively breaking his maiden by 11 lengths at Saratoga last summer, this horse has met stakes company in three straight starts. Despite showing early speed in that win, Lone Sailor has been ridden as a plodding late-runner recently. He got away from the gate slowly in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity, and his connections have stuck with that closing running style since that race. It worked out fairly well two back in the Street Sense, when he professionally squeezed through a tight hole in midstretch and just missed catching the winner. However, employing those same tactics in a much larger field next time out in the Kentucky Jockey Club proved trickier.
I think his connections might be looking to have him placed a bit closer to the early pace this time given the addition of blinkers. Lone Sailor seems like a horse that could really benefit from this equipment change. He’s been somewhat unfocused in a few starts, and that was never more apparent than last time in the Kentucky Jockey Club. He seemed to react badly to kickback around the far turn, losing ground despite being motivated by his rider. It briefly appeared as if he would finish near the back of the pack, but he seemed to get back on track once angled out into a clear path in the stretch. He ran by about half the field in the final quarter-mile, finishing a decent fifth. He’s apparently been working strongly in recent months at the Fair Grounds, and I think we could see major improvement from this son of Majestic Warrior. At anything close to his morning line odds of 15-1, he’s an intriguing contender.
#2, SNAPPER SINCLAIR (20-1): Steve Asmussen has three runners in this race, and this turf horse is clearly the weakest link among that trio. His lone dirt start was a relatively poor effort, and he may have stamina limitations. At best, he’s a potential pace presence.
#3, WONDER GADOT (6-1): It sounds like her connections are leaning toward running her in the Silverbulletday for fillies earlier on this card. However, they’re keeping this door ajar, in case unexpected scratches turn this into a softer spot for her to accumulate some Derby qualifying points. She’s one of the most talented fillies in her age group, and her speed figures stack up well against everyone except the top two choices on the morning line. I would not be totally surprised if she’s able to successfully compete against males at some point, but I’m not enthusiastic about her as a potential wagering opportunity in this spot. She’s probably going to be among the top three choices in this race, while others who require similar improvement figure to offer much better value.
#4, ANALYZE THIS JET (30-1): His dirt races are slow, and he was uncompetitive in a much softer spot at Remington Park last time.
#5, KOWBOY KARMA (6-1): He confirmed his quality last fall when finishing a strong fourth in the Grade 1 Champagne behind eventual Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Good Magic and Kentucky Jockey Club winner Enticed. He actually encountered some trouble at the start that day, which only elevates his effort. However, despite that strong showing, he’s still been a bit of a disappointment. That Champagne run is sandwiched between two losses at very short prices. I can make some minor excuses for those efforts, since he was wide in the Sapling and against a slow pace in the James F. Lewis. Yet now he’s stretching out to the longest distance he’s ever attempted, and I’m not sure that added ground is going to help his cause. The predicted fast pace should help intensify his late run, but I think other closers make just as much sense at more-enticing prices.
#6, BELIEVE IN ROYALTY (15-1): This $900,000 son of Tapit certainly has the pedigree to be a star, as a son of Kentucky Oaks winner Believe You Can. While improvement is still possible, his performances on the racetrack leave something to be desired. He was visually impressive when destroying an optional-claiming field two back at Laurel, but he was allowed to set a very slow early pace (indicated by blue color-coding in the PPs) that day. He was forced to chase a more taxing pace next time out in the Springboard Mile and could not cope with the pressure. Given the projected race flow, it’s hard to envision him working out a successful trip this time, either.
#7, NIGHT STRIKE (30-1): He’s too slow to win this race, but it is worth noting that his effort in the Springboard Mile is far stronger than it appears at first glance. He was actually racing up close in mid-pack heading into the clubhouse turn of that race, but was forced to check sharply in a bumping incident. He appeared to overreact to the trouble, nearly pulling himself up as the field headed into the far turn. Despite losing about 10 lengths of early position, he rejoined the field and rallied well through the lane to get up for fourth. The race was falling apart behind the top two finishers, so I don’t want to give him too much credit for merely picking up the pieces late. On the other hand, this horse is clearly improving and is going to be a huge price. He’s one to consider throwing in underneath in trifectas and superfectas.
#8, ZING ZANG (15-1): While I don’t question the talent or potential that this gray son of Tapit possesses, I am concerned about his readiness to take this next step in just his fourth career start. After all, it took him a few tries to figure out exactly what he’s supposed to be doing out there. He ran a perplexing race in his debut at Keeneland, showing brief speed, then abruptly backing up to last around the far turn, before rallying fastest of all down the lane to get up for fifth. He appeared to be similarly unfocused in his next start, his first around two turns. However, he finally put it all together last time, launching a sustained run from the back of the pack to get up to win going away late. He still showed a bit of greenness, ducking to the inside to pass the final runner in the stretch, as if to suggest that he has more room to grow yet. I am somewhat concerned that this distance is still a bit short of his best, since he really is bred to run all day. His dam is a half-sister to nine-furlong Peter Pan winner Sightseeing, and his second dam is the Phipps-bred Resort, who was second in the 12-furlong Coaching Club American Oaks.
#9, ZEKE (15-1): He’s yet to run fast enough to be considered a real threat in this spot. He beat a weak field in slow time in his only prior dirt start at Laurel, and his most recent start suggests that he may be more comfortable racing on turf.
#10, INSTILLED REGARD (4-1): The well-bred son of Arch showed some ability in his first couple of sprint starts, but has vastly improved since being stretched out in distance. He was a commanding winner of a maiden race back in October, and followed that up with a top-notch effort in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity. Reverting to the closing tactics that he used in his debut, Instilled Regard rated back in last early before making a sweeping move to challenge for the lead around the far turn. He continued on gamely through the lengthy stretch at Los Alamitos despite being the victim of a bumping incident at the sixteenth pole. The two horses that crossed the wire ahead of him would be heavy favorites in this spot. Solomini was coming off a second-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and McKinzie returned out of that race to impressively win the Grade 3 Sham last weekend.
Instilled Regard has always been cut out to be a talented runner. By Arch out of a daughter of champion filly Heavenly Prize, he’s clearly bred to continue improving with added ground. Javier Castellano takes over the reins this time, and it will be interesting to see what sort of tactics he chooses to use. Even though the Pace Projector is predicting that this colt is fast enough to be racing in a stalking position, I would imagine that they reserve him a bit farther off the pace given how well he ran closing last time. Regardless of how he’s ridden, he’s a serious threat to win.
#11, CIARAN (30-1): His Keeneland debut was somewhat of an optical illusion, as he made an eye-catching run down the center of the track but won in a slow final time. His pedigree suggests that he should handle two turns, but he was trounced by Principe Guilherme last time. He’s hard to recommend off that effort.
#12, PRINCIPE GUILHERME (5-2): The sky is the limit for this one. He’s by leading sire Tapit out of a Grade 1-winning dam, and has been nothing short of dazzling in his first two career starts. He easily bested a field of maidens in his debut despite failing to switch off his left lead in the stretch. Bet down to 2-5 in his next start, he put forth a more professional effort, switching leads on cue while again drawing off to an impressive score. The Beyer and TimeformUS Speed Figures that he earned for those performances are the second- and third-fastest numbers recorded by anyone in the race, just behind Instilled Regard’s Los Alamitos Futurity.
Now Principe Guilherme gets tested for class. It’s usually wise to be skeptical of runners like this as they step into deeper waters, but I suspect that he is up to the challenge. Even though the Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace, it’s not as if there are a plethora of other front-runners in the race. Only Believe In Royalty seems likely to challenge the favorite for the early lead, and it’s unclear if he’s even fast enough to do so. Principe Guilherme will go off at a very short price, so I’m not endorsing him as a win wager. However, I do think this horse merits a great deal of respect.
#13, PRINCE LUCKY (8-1): He’s done little wrong through four career starts, but there are some significant hurdles to overcome as he steps up into graded stakes company. He’s never tried two turns before, and he must do so while breaking from post position 13. He’s finished off his sprint efforts with powerful stretch runs, but his pedigree suggests that he may have trouble transferring that form to route distances. There’s mostly sprint pedigree on his dam’s side, and his half-siblings were primarily sprinters.
#14, EBBEN (20-1): His dominant optional-claiming win in late November was encouraging, but he had been soundly defeated by stakes company prior to that. This disadvantageous post position does him no favors.
#15, TRIGGER WARNING (20-1): He’s faced weaker foes at Turf Paradise and has never raced beyond 6 1/2 furlongs. This longshot would be a thorn in the favorite’s side as a likely speed if he were to draw in.
The two shortest prices on the morning line, Principe Guilherme and Instilled Regard, are indeed the two most likely winners of this race. I do not think it’s wise to take a strong stance against either of them. However, I do think there’s one longshot that seems poised to outrun his odds, and that’s Lone Sailor (#1). I’m not quite convinced that he’ll go off as high as his 15-1 morning-line odds, especially if Wonder Gadot scratches, but anything above 10-1 seems fair. I’ll use him with fellow closers Kowboy Karma and Zing Zang, and will even throw in longshot Night Strike on deeper trifecta tickets.
Exacta key box: 1 with 5, 8, 10, 12
Trifecta: 1, 10, 12 with 1, 10, 12 with 3, 5, 7, 8, 13
Trifecta: 1, 10, 12 with 5, 7, 8 with 1, 10, 12