Louisiana’s Derby Trail Starts With Saturday’s LeComte (newsletter exclusive)

Fair-GroundsA field of 12 of the best Louisiana-based 3-year-olds is expected to head to the gate for Saturday’s $200,000 LeComte Stakes (GIII) at Fair Grounds, a one-mile-and-70-yard early Kentucky Derby (GI) prep worth 10 points to the winner toward making the Run for the Roses starting gate. The race is also the traditional early prep for the Risen Star Stakes (GII) in late February and, ultimately, the Louisiana Derby (GI) on April 1.

The weather in New Orleans on Saturday is expected to be warm with temperatures reaching the upper 70s. There is a strong chance for afternoon thunderstorms, so preparing for an off track in the main event, which has been carded as the day’s 11th and fifth stakes of the day, is a smart handicapping idea. Post time has been set for 5:00 p.m. CT.

Last year, Mo Tom won this race before finishing third in the Risen Star and, subsequently, eighth in the Kentucky Derby. He was also first in the Ohio Derby late last summer. In 2013, Oxbow won the LeComte before winning the Preakness Stakes (GI) and finishing second in the Belmont Stakes (GI). Other standouts to have won the LeComte include classic-placed No Le Hace and Linkage, as well as graded winners Z Fortune and Friesan Fire.

Locally based trainer Dallas Stewart is well known as a former assistant to Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, who has established an impressive record as a trainer on his own managing the likes of Unbridled Elaine, Lemons Forever, Macho Again, Tale of Verve, Dollar Bill and many others, will tighten the girth on his very own runner in Saint’s Fan, a horse he also bred.

The son of Tale of Ekati won the Louisiana Juvenile over the Fair Grounds main track in his stakes debut last out after breaking his maiden at first asking at Churchill Downs back in early November. So far, he’s only sprinted six furlongs, but he’s bred to like a stretchout and his morning works have been strong and consistent since his last race. He’s also shown an affinity for closing in a race that seems loaded with early speed and that, coupled with his top speed figures, makes him dangerous from the far outside post under jockey Brian Hernandez Jr.

A handful of the runners who will face the starter will also be facing winners for the first time, including the Mark Casse-trained Takeoff, who broke his maiden at this distance in wire-to-wire fashion last out. His speed figures are good and where they need to be to win and he’s been training expertly over the surface, including two bullet half-miles in :47 4/5 in his last two works. He’ll most certainly be part of the pace scenario after breaking from post 10 and being hustled to the front by jockey Florent Geroux. If he can withstand early splits a little faster than his last he will be tough to run down in the lane.

The well-traveled Shareholder Value enters off an impressive off-the-pace win by 3 ½ lengths in an allowance/optional claiming event over this track at this distance the day after Christmas. Trained by Tom Amoss, the son of Uncle Mo’s only venture into stakes company produced a sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (GII) at Churchill in late November after a tangled break and troubled trip. All the colt may need today is a clean start under jockey Shaun Bridgmohan to be a factor from what appears to be his preferred spot mid-pack in the early going. If the track comes up wet, it’s also important to mention he has a five-length score at a mile over a sloppy Keeneland track back in October.

Untrapped was a 5 ¼-length maiden winner at 6 ½ furlongs at Churchill Downs in his second start back in November and while a winner, the effort was anything but easy as the dark brown son of Trappe Shot and the unraced Giant’s Causeway mare Exit Three ducked out sharply at the break and raced wide into the stretch before drawing away to the win. He will be trying two turns for the first time, but his pedigree indicates he’ll be fine with the added distance and jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. has been Asmussen’s go-to rider in Louisiana for a while, indicating they both think highly of Untrapped’s chances. He’s another who likes to sit off the pace, so all he may need is clear running room to get to the wire in front.

Tip Tap Tapizar is another well-traveled colt, making his seventh career start at his fifth track. He won the Sapling Stakes at Monmouth back in August after a pair of thirds in the Bashford Manor Stakes (GIII) and Saratoga Special (GII) earlier in the summer. He was no factor whatsoever in the Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (GIII) last out in November, finishing eighth of 10, but has been training well at Fair Grounds since. James Graham will ride and the son of Tapizar could either be found on the lead or off the pace, judging by what seems to be some tactical ability in his arsenal, so any improvement makes him dangerous and one to consider for all exotic wagers.

Fair-Grounds-RacetrackFarish and Kilroy’s homebred Guest Suite, who is by Quality Road, hails from one of the finer female families in racing history. His is a son of the Ghostzapper mare Guest House, who is herself a daughter of Seeking the Gold mare Welcome Surprise, and therefore a half-sister to A.P Indy and Summer Squall as they are all out of Broodmare of the Year Weekend Surprise. So it’s safe to say this colt has a pedigree suited to two turns. He’s stakes-placed and a two-time winner who may be maturing at the right time for trainer Neil Howard. He’ll probably be part of the pace scenario under Robby Albarado.

Pat on the Back, who is trained by Ken McPeek, is a two-time New York-bred stakes winner looking to improve on his sixth-place showing in the Delta Jackpot last out. He’s also making his seventh start at his fifth track and is one of two with the most experience, and he also has a handy win over a sloppy track. He has a nice pedigree for these two-turn prep races and his best puts him right in the thick of things.

Running Mate broke his maiden by six lengths at Delaware Park back in October and followed it up with a 7 ¾-length romp in a Fair Grounds allowance in November before a very troubled second in the Sugar Bowl Stakes (he was disqualified and placed third) late last month. The Larry Jones-trained son of Creative Cause is stretching out for the first time around two turns, but he’s bred to handle it (he’s out of a Street Cry mare) and all he may need is a clean trip to return to his winning ways. He’ll likely be part of the pace scenario, so if he can withstand the pressure, he’s a good play in any exotics.

Phat Man broke his maiden at second asking last out by a whopping 12 lengths at a mile over a sloppy Fair Grounds main track. Joe Sharp trains the son of Munnings, who appeared headed for a turf career until his last showed a fondness for the main track. Expect him to set sail for the lead right from the gate under jockey C.J. McMahon and all out to hold off the late charge from the top contenders in the stretch.

Arklow was right behind Takeoff by a length in his last and is a maiden facing winners for the first time. He’s a longshot for the win, but if he repeats his last race he’s a good bet for the exotics for trainer Brad Cox and jockey Jon Court.

Louisiana-bred Marco Mischief is in against winners after breaking his maiden in his second start over the Fair Grounds turf last out. He’s a closer who will like a fast pace, but his numbers indicate he may be a cut below the top runners in here.

Margaret Ransom
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com, where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters: Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.

After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager.

She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several racehorse retirement organizations, including CARMA.

In 2016, Margaret was the recipient of the prestigious Stanley Bergstein Writing Award, sponsored by Team Valor, and was an Eclipse Award honorable mention for her story, “The Shocking Untold Story of Maria Borell,” which appeared on USRacing.com. The article and subsequent stories helped save 43 abandoned and neglected Thoroughbreds in Kentucky and also helped create a new animal welfare law known as the “Borell Law.”

Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull and Arrogate as her favorite horses of all time. She lives in Pasadena with her longtime beau, Tony, two Australian Shepherds and one Golden Retriever.

Posted on