Our TimeformUS Derby Prep series kicks off this year with the Grade 3, $200,000 Lecomte Stakes on Saturday at Fair Grounds, offering the winner 10 qualifying points toward a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. A full field of 14 has been entered, led by 7-2 morning-line favorite Scabbard (#4).
Scabbard owns a clear class edge over this field, having competed against some of the best 2-year-olds of his generation in 2019, but he’s coming into this sophomore debut on the heels of a subpar performance in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. That race was dominated by longshots, and Scabbard never produced his customary finishing kick while trudging home a one-paced fourth. A return to the form that saw him finish a strong second behind the gifted colt Dennis’ Moment in the Iroquois would make him tough to beat in this spot. Yet that effort stands alone as the only performance that makes him truly formidable against this group, and I’m just not inclined to accept a short price on any horse in a race as competitive as this one.
The Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace, which should be set by the recent debut winner Sycamore Run (#13). This colt did everything that was asked of him in that initial start, but his victory came over a sloppy, sealed track and he showed some greenness while failing to change leads in the stretch. He is bred to stretch out in distance, but it could be difficult for this inexperienced colt to handle the two turns while attempting to make the early lead from this outside post position.
Among the lightly raced alternatives to the favorite, I prefer SILVER STATE (#9). This son of Hard Spun is fairly light on experience, but has already been battle-tested in both career starts. He had every excuse to lose his debut in September as he was off slowly and had to gradually advance through traffic on the backstretch. Relentless Dancer seemingly had the race won after working out a good trip, yet Silver State was unwavering in his determination to run down that foe, ultimately sharing the victory. Relentless Dancer flattered Silver State’s performance when he returned to easily win his subsequent start by more than 10 lengths.
Silver State was then stepped up to face N1X allowance company in late November and nearly pulled off another close decision, this time falling just a nose short of victory. Losing to a rival like Necker Island was no disgrace as that runner had shown plenty of promise in his first couple of starts. Furthermore, Silver State had the slightly tougher trip, having to bull his way into the clear at the head of the stretch after rating kindly in the early stages.
This colt appears to have all the tools necessary to adapt to any kind of pace scenario, and he doesn’t figure to have any major issue with the 1 1/16-mile distance. While his dam, Supreme, was a sprinter during her racing career, she is by Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker and is out of a full sister to Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos, so there is a solid foundation of stamina influences in Silver State’s female family. It’s a good sign that trainer Steve Asmussen’s main rider, Ricardo Santana Jr., lands here, and I think this runner would offer fair value at anything at or above 4-1 odds.
Another runner that I want to use prominently is Lynn’s Map (#14), though he is uncertain to start in this race due to his disadvantageous outside post position. If Mark Casse changes his mind and decides to start this colt, he’d be a legitimate contender after running down fellow Lecomte rival Mr. Monomoy in a local prep for this race last month. Lynn’s Map overcame an unfavorable pace scenario to get the job done that day and has an appealing, versatile running style that should allow him to work out a decent trip. This colt has shown high athleticism in both career starts and looks ready to make a splash on the Derby trail.
I also would use a closer like Finnick the Fierce (#1), since he should benefit from a favorable pace scenario. His TimeformUS Late Pace Rating of 92 is among the highest in this field, and his last-out TimeformUS Speed Figure of 102, earned in the Kentucky Jockey Club, suggests that he’s capable of competing at this level.
Exacta Box: 4,9,14
Exacta Key Box: 9 with 1,2,10
Trifecta: 9 with 1,4,14 with 1,2,4,10,13,14