Eleven promising sophomores are set to contest the 71st running of the Grade III $200,000 Lecomte Stakes on Saturday, Jan. 17 – the headliner of five stakes on a blockbuster Road to the Derby Kickoff Day Sponsored by Hotel Monteleone card. The Lecomte functions as the first of three major 3-year-old graded stakes at the Fair Grounds Race Course meet, culminating with the Grade II $750,000 Louisiana Derby on Mar. 28 and ultimately serving as possible preps for the Triple Crown trail. Contested at one mile and 70 yards, the Lecomte has been won by the likes of Bluegrass Hall’s Preakness Stakes winner Oxbow in 2013 and Fox Hill Farm’s Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up Hard Spun in 2007.
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This year’s flock of talented 3-year-olds is led by William S. Farish’s graded stakes-placed Eagle. An attractive emblazoned chestnut, he exits a juvenile season that saw him win half his four races and serve notice of his classic capabilities when third by less than a length after a menacing stretch run in the Grade II $200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs on Nov. 29. Trained by Neil Howard, a two-time winner of the Lecomte, the homebred son of Candy Ride is a maternal grandson of Howard’s best runner to date, 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft. Eagle’s two career victories include an impressive tally in a two-turn Keeneland allowance over subsequently monstrous Tampa Bay allowance winner My Johnny Be Good and a debut win at Ellis Park. Eagle has been working impressively over the local surface – including a spritely five-furlong bullet in :59.80 on Dec. 29. Brian Hernandez, Jr., who has been aboard for his tetrad of tries – returns to ride from the outside post 11.
One of Eagle’s main rivals will be an old friend in the form of Rigney Racing’s Another Lemon Drop, a fellow Classic Mile Training Center in Ocala alum where both colts were broken together as babies. Trained by Philip Bauer and locally based as well, the son of Lemon Drop Kid was nothing short of exceptional when besting a one-mile allowance field by five lengths on Dec. 19 over a sealed, sloppy surface. Like Eagle, Another Lemon Drop has yet to run a poor race in four starts and has shown considerable back-class, including a third to subsequent Grade I $500,000 Los Alamitos Futurity winner Dortmund in a one-mile allowance at Churchill Downs one race (on the card) prior to Eagle’s Kentucky Jockey Club. Three-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Calvin Borel rides from post 10.
Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s Mike Maker-trained International Star completes the triad of competitors to show their class at Churchill Downs on Nov. 29. Fourth, five lengths astern Eagle, in the Kentucky Jockey Club last out, the son of 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus has proven to be intriguingly versatile. A debut winner on the Belmont turf sprint in June, the New York-bred has won or placed in stakes races on dirt, turf and synthetic courses – including a victory in the Grade III $150,000 Grey Stakes at Woodbine in October over its Polytrack. A troubled ninth – beaten only 3¼ lengths – in the Grade I $1,000,000 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf one start later. The earner of $200,979 will look to give his owner and trainer a second consecutive conquering of the Lecomte when the bay colt starts from the rail under Miguel Mena.
The powerhouse barns of Steve Asmussen and Todd Pletcher are represented by one-time winners Tiznow R J and Savoy Stomp, respectively. Mike McCarty’s Tiznow R J was a runaway two-turn maiden winner when the Florida-bred son of Tiznow razed eight unsuspecting sophomores by 13 lengths on Dec. 11 at the Fair Grounds over the Lecomte’s course and distance. Robby Albarado rides from post two. Team Valor International and Southern Equine Stable’s $875,000 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga (colt) sale topper Savoy Stomp won his debut at Belmont Park this fall for his leading national trainer, but has gone winless in two subsequent starts – including a third behind next-out $100,000 Mucho Macho Man Stakes winner Bluegrass Singer last out at Gulfstream Park. The Lecomte will be the son of Medaglia d’Oro’s two-turn debut and could give his three-time Louisiana Derby-winning conditioner his first Lecomte tally. Hall of Famer Mike Smith will be in town to ride from post six.
Meet-leading trainer Tom Amoss will be represented by Loooch Racing Stable & Chris Dunn’s undefeated War Story. Privately acquired after his victorious debut over seven furlongs at Churchill Downs on Nov. 1, the gelded son of Northern Afleet was impressive in his first try for Amoss when winning a local two-turn one-mile allowance on Dec. 28. Meet-leading jockey James Graham rides from post post four.
The Lecomte field is completed by Four Leaf Chief (Florent Geroux, post three), Hero of Humor (Alexander Reznikov, post five), Runhappy (Shaun Bridgmohan, post seven), Killingit (Jamie Theriot, post eight) and Dekabrist (Sal Gonzalez, Jr., post nine).