Derby Road ... Lecomte S. Preview: Asmussen brings a pair Saturday January 22
1 1/16th (Dirt), Lecomte Stakes (G3), Purse $200k, 3
There are Kentucky Derby preps, and then there are … more serious Kentucky Derby preps … The Lecomte Stakes at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans really makes it feel that we are on the Trail to No. 148. Over the years, some celebrated runners have visited the winner’s circle, and they included names you are probably familiar with. The fabulous Hard Spun in 2007 … Preakness champ Oxbow in 2013, another Old Hilltop champ from 2019 in War of Will … and of course, last year’s hard-knocking “Trail-rider,” Midnight Bourbon. This is one of those tests, as the Road to the Kentucky Derby really gets moving. A Grade 3 race is on the line, and Points in the form of 10-4-2-1 are up for grabs!
Now, let’s find out about this field…
#1 Surfer Dude (Jky: R. Gutierrez/Trn: D. Stewart):
Part of an uncoupled entry for the wily Dallas Stewart, this son of Curlin sold for $190k during the 2020 Keeneland September Sale. The colt has yet to deliver a stakes “win,” but in his defense, he has only had one attempt. In the prep for this race, the Gun Runner 100k on the day after Christmas, this router ended up 3rd, after seizing the lead at the outset. The hot riding Reylu Gutierrez gets the call again … he is finding his wings during this Meet. Respect earned …
#2 Unified Report (Jky: C. Lanerie/Trn: D. Stewart):
The “other” Stewart entry was not as high a price, but does possess a strong record—3/3 in his short career. A couple of those wins came in “Non-G” races at Delta Downs and in New Orleans, respectively. This will be a jump to say the least, but it is comforting to know that the horse behind him in that last score already came back to win the LA Futurity on New Year’s Eve Day. Of course, Casse’s Bron and Brow, then failed in ALLW Co. A step back to be sure … this one for Stewart is going to have to run big, and I am sure Corey Lanerie knows it.
#3 Pappacap (Jky: J. Bravo/Trn: M. Casse):
Speaking of HOF Casse, here is probably the top 3-yr-old colt in his midst. The son of Gun Runner is like a number of his offspring that have already turned heads. Probably one of the hottest sires in the bloodstock world right now. The year 2022 is looking up too … Casse has given this colt some major experience, especially in SoCal at Del Mar (3x), and once at Santa Anita. He won a G2, and was 2nd in the BC Juvenile (G1) to Baffert’s ace, Corniche. I would like to think he has a good shot, and it would be excellent to see “Jersey Joe” Bravo get him in the proper position to score, late in the game.
#4 Trafalgar (Jky: C. Hernandez/Trn: A. Stall):
If you are not familiar with Spendthrift’s Lord Nelson, then you should know he was one of the most gentle and gutsy sires around. We lost him this past year after a long bout with medical issues. He did leave a legacy, and here is a colt that is just that. Veteran trainer Al Stall Jr. has a “gutsy” one (chip off-the-old-block) on his hands, and if Colby Hernandez is up to scratch (and he should be), then we could see this one climb up the class ladder. He won an OC50k by a nose last time, and that means he is battle-tested (as the name Trafalgar denotes one of the greatest battles in all of naval history). Will it be 3 wins in-a-row? Off tacks and sheets … hoist the main sail … sorry, was re-reading some Patrick O’Brien!
#5 Epicenter (Jky: J. Rosario/Trn: S. Asmussen):
There is no question that this Winchell-owned colt by Not This Time was superb in the Gun Runner 100k when he was last out on the track at the Fair Grounds. Steve Asmussen’s team always has them ready to roll, and now the HOF trainer makes the switch from Brian Hernandez to Joel Rosario. That is what we call a rider upgrade, and we know that Rosario is doing well at his new home at Oaklawn Park. He rode this 3-yr-old to victory back at Churchill the week after he won on Knicks Go at the Breeders’ Cup. Rosario is excellent at hustling a runner up towards the front, as he did with Hot Rod Charlie last year in New Orleans. This one is my top pick … I think he wins hands down, making the trek along that long, lonely stretch.
#6 Cyberknife (Jky: F. Geroux/Trn: B. Cox):
Trainer Brad Cox has an expansive stable, and his base at New Orleans is strong. He does not quite have the arsenal when it comes to 3-yr-old colts that he had last year. Still, Cox is an Eclipse Award-winning trainer (could be back-to-back in ’21 …), and he commands respect. This one was bred by the beleaguered Ramseys by Gun Runner (another one?), and he has the makings to be able to get the Classic distance. Florent Geroux dogs Rosario’s path, and is in-town to ride against his regular foe after some sparing in Hot Springs. Cox makes some adjustments … he is a real pro … adding “Blinks,” and putting him through a pair of solid works. One to watch … be wary … it’s Cox!
#7 Blue Kentucky (Jky: J. Loveberry/Trn: W. Catalano):
Mr. Wayne Catalano proved at the BC @DMR that he is still relevant, and can train just as well as back in the good ole days. Aron Wellman and Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners trusted the veteran conditioner with Aloha West in the BC Sprint (G1), and he was victorious. Now, they turn over a nice-looking colt by Include that has some experience. Mainly running at Churchill since he came over from Larry Jones, the highlight from his past was an ALLW Co. victory in mid-November. With a powerful kick, he is going to need all of it in this spot … hopefully Jareth Loveberry can work something out. The BC was a tall order … The Catman won the day, but this might be an even bigger ask.
#8 Call Me Midnight (Jky: J. Graham/Trn: K. Desormeaux):
Trainer Keith Desormeaux regularly enters in his home state of Louisiana. This time around he brings a colt to town that is by Midnight Lute. Owned by Peter Cantrell, we last saw this one in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) back at Churchill Downs in late November. The Meet was about to close, and Desormeaux was hoping that his 48/1 shot would get home, springing the upset. It was not be—7th. Now, he is going try and have him fit to take on this crowd. If James Graham is back to ride, he is going to need all the help he can muster. What a chore!
#9 Presidential (Jky: B. Hernandez/Trn: S. Asmussen):
We had an uncoupled entry from Stewart’s barn, and here is Asmussen’s play. Bred by Three Chimneys, this son of Pioneerof the Nile looks to come back from a significant layoff. He won nicely back at Indiana Grand, but that was in late August. There is no question that Brian Hernandez is the right jockey for this job. Courtlandt Farms paid big bucks … $625k to be precise … and they expect a modicum of success, don’t you think? It is going to take more than sharp works to get the job done, but maybe Asmussen is just wanting to see how he will react. It is showtime … we will see if the price tag proves just.
Join us Saturday for all of our Fair Grounds selections! The Derby Trail will continue to heat up! Be sure to follow us on Twitter … @Horseracing_USA !!!
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