If every Kentucky Derby points race draws like Saturday’s Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds does, we are in for a thrilling few months.
The Grade III Lecomte Stakes, a 1 1/16 mile romp around the main track at Fair Grounds, offers a purse of $200,000 as well as Kentucky Derby points (10-4-2-1) for the top four finishers. The race drew a field of eleven. Out of those, one could make an argument for eight.
Selections: Tiznow R J (2), Eagle (11), War Story (4)
Longshot: International Star (1)
Though Eagle seems the class of the field on paper, he is no lock. Eagle was marooned on the outside. Another Lemon Drop and Savoy Stomp have put up Brisnet speed numbers right on par with what Eagle’s top so far, and the likes of Runhappy, Tiznow R J, and International Star are not too far off. To be fair, there is a lot going for Eagle. He has a win at 1 1/16 miles, and his third in the Kentucky Jockey Club was franked to some extent by El Kabeir’s decisive win in the Jerome (GIII). Even though forward placings have been best recently at the Fair Grounds, Eagle showed in his allowance win that he could run a sharp race from close to the lead. He also gets rider Brian Hernandez back, who has ridden Eagle all four times out and never missed the board with him.
The 3/1 morning line on Eagle approaches fair. He seems more likely to go off shorter than that, and with as many talented runners as there are in the field, it is worth considering some price horses.
The front-end brigade looks to be Tiznow R J and Runhappy, whose trainer suggested she wanted him sent. Hero of Humor may try to dog them as long as he can, but seems likely to fade. Among the speed brigade, it is Tiznow R J who looks particularly attractive. He drew near the inside, gate 2, and has a win over the course and distance last out. He also comes in third off the lay for Steve Asmussen, 23% in that circumstance. His maiden win was on an easy lead, but first out he finished third beaten just a neck by a late-flying Keen Ice after an extended duel. As long as he gets near the front early — more than likely, in this field — Tiznow R J will pose a threat. He will not likely dance easily up front the way he did in his maiden win, but as long as he brings back the tenacity he had in his maiden win, he will be hard to pass. Runhappy also intrigues, though may be an underlay due to the viral nature of his maiden win. He destroyed a maiden special weight field at Turfway last out, despite blowing the break and running erratically. The horse who finished eight lengths behind Runhappy that day, Worth the Gamble, returned an emphatic winner against similar company today. Still, this race is a giant leap up from maidens at Turfway, as well as his first start on dirt. The 8/1 morning line seems a bit short; about 12/1 sounds a bit more sane to bet he will run straight, true, and as fast as he did at Turfway.
Stalking off them expect War Story and Savoy Stomp, with International Star, Killingit, and (if he can remember how to break) Dekabrist somewhat forwardly placed as well. Savoy Stomp has shown good speed so far, gets Mike Smith aboard, and adds Lasix for the first time here. Still, one horse in this field has (at least at the Fair Grounds) an even more attractive collection of humans behind him than Savoy Stomp — and that’s the thus far untested War Story. War Story’s trainer Tom Amoss is firing at an unreal 42% on the Fair Grounds meet, and rider James Graham has won 24% of his starts there. Together, they are 21-45 over the last two months, and 40-47 in the money over that period. He has run into trouble in both of his starts, and yet won easily: including an allowance last out in which he crossed the wire 4 1/4 lengths in front of Four Leaf Chief. That race was at a flat mile over fast Fair Grounds dirt, showing he can perform well on the surface. His speeds have been a touch on the slow side so far, but he has won both his starts by daylight. This will be War Story’s litmus test, but he looks well set to pass.
International Star, likely to be a few lengths off the early pace, is an interesting price horse here. He has raced six times to date, though not since November 29. He has been working regularly since, for a trainer (Mike Maker) who is 20% off similarly long lays. Though neither of his career wins have come on dirt, he has a second-place finish, and is well-bred for dirt. His sire is Fusaichi Pegasus, and dam Parlez both won on dirt herself, and has produced a slew of dirt runners. International Star can also get the distance: he is a graded stakes winner at 1 1/16 miles, having annexed the Grey Stakes (GIII) over the Woodbine poly last October. Finally, he drew the rail: a good place to be this meet, and the post from which he won the Grey. He could easily be ignored in the betting with more dirt-proven horses in the field, and should be the value of the field as long as he does not drift below his 8/1 morning line.
Finally, Eagle, Another Lemon Drop, and Four Leaf Chief seem likely to want to be a bit farther back, though no one in this field is hopelessly devoted to coming from the clouds. Four Leaf Chief has shown the most tendency to be far off the pace, though he may show a bit more speed here: he adds blinkers. Still, trainer Steven Flint is winless in his last nine starts with first-time blinkers. The move to rider Florent Geroux might help him along, as Geroux is as hot as anyone on the grounds. Still, he has been one of the less consistent runners here against lesser horses, and his ability to stack up on speed and class with this group is a question. Another Lemon Drop steps up to stakes company for the first time, after winning easily in a washed-off turf allowance at a mile over the Fair Ground slop. His only try on fast dirt so far led to a well-beaten third-place finish, though the winner of that race was one of the better-regarded along the Derby trail so far: Dortmund. Stamina should not be a problem, as he has wins at eight furlongs and nine, and he broke his maiden from an outside post. Still, his last effort was big enough that he may regress. Weighing a bit against him as well are his likely position near the back of the pack, and the track’s recent friendliness toward more forwardly-placed runners.
Only three in the field look like clear tosses. Hero of Humor, Dekabrist, and Killingit just seem like slow horses in comparison to the rest of the field. Hero of Humor and Dekabrist have run enough that it seems clear what they can do, and this field would require a downright freakish effort compared to their recent form. Killingit does stand to improve compared to last out; he faltered badly on the Turfway poly, and his only career win to date came at two turns on dirt. Still, he would require such a significant improvement from that effort to contend here that anything but a minor award seems too much to ask.