Of all the roads to the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May, the one that begins in the great state of Louisiana this weekend may be (but definitely wasn’t) what inspired poet Robert Frost to pen “The Road Not Taken.”
The fact is: in the history of the Run for the Roses — and, remember, the Derby has been around since 1875, when the first recorded hockey game took place in Montreal… followed by the first recorded hockey fight — no horse has ever worn the roses after last competing in The Pelican State.
Now, a few — well, four, to be exact — Derby winners did run in Louisiana preps, including Saturday’s LeComte Stakes, but none of them made their final start in Cajun Country.
KENTUCKY DERBY WINNERS THAT PREPPED IN LOUISIANA
2003-Funny Cide (third in Louisiana Derby)
2002-War Emblem (fifth in LeComte, sixth in Risen Star)
1996-Grindstone (won Louisiana Derby)
1924-Black Gold (won Louisiana Derby)
With this in mind, some might get the idea that the LeComte is of no consequence, but that would be a mistake, as some very nice horses have raced in the LeComte. In addition to the aforementioned Kentucky Derby (GI) and Preakness (GI) winner War Emblem, Ron the Greek, Hard Spun and Oxbow all captured Grade I events subsequent to their participation in the LeComte.
Here’s a look at this year’s field:
COMMENTS: This guy could be the pacesetter and his most recent late speed ration (LSR) was not bad. Still, those figures were earned against $30,000 maiden claimers. This is a huge step up the class ladder.
COMMENTS: Son of Arch is still a maiden but put in his best effort — by far — in his last start over the local oval, where he recorded his best speed figure and speed rations. He’s a tough sell on the win end, but I could easily see him hitting the board.
COMMENTS: His last race was great, but a similar trip puts him about 12 lengths back at the first call on Saturday (if the projected ESR of -7 proves to be correct). I’d insist on double-digit odds.
COMMENTS: Rated beautifully after taking off the blinkers last time and trainer Tom Amoss is great in graded stakes (+73 percent ROI in his last 73 starts). He’s a contender.
COMMENTS: Steve Asmussen trainee is the morning line favorite — and he looks vulnerable to me. His last race was pretty good… but only pretty good; I don’t think a repeat of that performance will get it done on Saturday. Plus, I’m not really enamored with Untrapped’s sire. From 146 foals to race, Trappe Shot has produced exactly one graded stakes winner (Fish Trappe Road, who won the Grade III Dwyer at a mile). At low odds, this guy is a pass for me.
COMMENTS: After a really poor debut — from a speed and pace figure standpoint — on the dirt, this colt tried the grass and took to it like Cheech and Chong. I don’t think a return to the main track is what the doctor ordered.
COMMENTS: Every time this guy has recorded a moderate (-5) ESR or better, he has suffered the consequences late. Given that he prefers to be near the pace and Saturday’s pace is expected to be relatively quick, I’m not confident this son of Tapizar will be around at the finish.
COMMENTS: From a pace profile standpoint, this guy fits perfectly, as he recorded a -7 ESR and -3 LSR last time at Churchill Downs. I give him a big shot to win on Saturday.
COMMENTS: Larry Jones trainee is the most intriguing entrant in the race, in my opinion. Not only does he have a dominant overall speed edge over his 11 rivals on Saturday, but he’s got enough early zip to set the pace in Saturday’s Fair Grounds feature. And outside of the Sugar Bowl, where he tried — with moderate success — to rate, he’s finished very fast (median LSR of -3, also tops in the field) in all of his races. To me, he’s the horse to beat.
COMMENTS: Wired a decent field of maidens last time, but takes a big jump in class here. Connections are great, but I’d want a price.
COMMENTS: Made a big intermediate move in the Delta Jackpot before fading and shows up with Lasix on Saturday, indicating he bled in that race. Prior to that, the son of Congrats won the restricted Sleepy Hollow Stakes in impressive fashion. Looks like a probable overlay to me.
COMMENTS: This dude is fast and hails from a promising young sire in Tale of Ekati, who has already produced a graded stakes winner at 1 1/8 miles (Verve’s Tale, Grade III Comely Stakes). Outside post position hurts his chances, but he looks like a top contender.