J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Road to the Kentucky Derby will continue this Saturday with a competitive
renewal of the $200,000 LeComte Stakes (gr. III) at Fair Grounds, a race that
has produced many Kentucky Derby starters in recent years, including Mo Tom,
Tom's Ready, Destin, War Story, Vicar's in Trouble, Oxbow, and Golden Soul.
Time will tell if any of the 2017 LeComte contenders will go on to run in the
Kentucky Derby, but they look like a promising group of horses with the
potential to achieve success on the Derby trail. Let's take a look at the race!
LeComte Stakes (gr. III)
the unbeaten Saint's Fan likely to
scratch due to a poor post position draw, a field of eleven is expected to
start in the LeComte, a race with no clear standout favorites. You can make a
case for pretty much every horse, and finding the winner will be no easy task.
it's interesting to note a couple of trends that we've seen in recent editions
of the Lecomte Stakes. For one, shippers from other tracks--primarily Churchill
Downs--have dominated the winner's circle, with four winners (three from
Churchill) in the last five years. Additionally, horses carrying top weight
have had more success than you might expect, frequently winning under 122
pounds while conceding as many as six pounds to the other runners.
these facts in mind, Guest Suite looks
like the horse to beat. After finishing a decent third sprinting in his debut
at Ellis Park (finishing behind the twice Grade 1-placed Wild Shot) Guest Suite
stretched out to 8.5 furlongs and easily won a maiden race at Keeneland,
pulling away to win by 2 ¼ lengths over a good field that included recent
Oaklawn maiden winner Hence.
up into stakes company, Guest Suite faced early Derby favorite McCraken in the
Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs, and while he was no match for McCraken,
Guest Suite ran well to finish third. He rebounded powerfully in his fourth and
most recent race, cruising to a decisive 6 ¼-length win in a one-mile allowance
race at Churchill Downs.
from the competition he has faced and his excellent runs at Churchill Downs,
Guest Suite looks poised for a very big run in the LeComte Stakes. His human
connections have enjoyed strong success in this race--trainer Neil Howard has
won it twice while jockey Robby Albarado has ridden four winners--and Guest
Suite fits well in terms of Beyer speed figures.
surprisingly, Guest Suite is 5-1 on the morning line and isn't the race favorite.
That honor has gone to Untrapped,
who will make his two-turn debut in the LeComte after a pair of good efforts
sprinting at Keeneland at Churchill Downs. In his debut, Untrapped had a
troubled start and was far back early on before rallying to finish second,
beaten six lengths by the future Smarty Jones Stakes winner Uncontested. Off of
that effort, Untrapped was favored to break his maiden going 6 ½ furlongs at
Churchill Downs and did so by a decisive 5 ¼ lengths, showing much more speed
than in his debut.
big question is whether Untrapped can handle the extra distance and second turn
of the LeComte Stakes. His sire, Trappe Shot, was a sprinter, but Untrapped
could gain some stamina from the dam side of his pedigree, as his half-sister
was a two-time winner going a mile and Untrapped's broodmare sire is Giant's
Causeway, generally a source of stamina. Racing for the team of trainer Steve
Asmussen and jockey Ricardo Santana Jr., Untrapped's speed and ability to rate
off the pace could help him get first run at the leaders turning for home, and
from there, he could be tough to catch.
Larry Jones has won this race three times and could have another big chance
with Running Mate, who opened his
career with two easy wins before faltering in the six-furlong Sugar Bowl Stakes
at Fair Grounds. His performance that day was a bit dull that day, but he has
the pedigree to stretch out in distance and might very well thrive going two
longshot that has really caught my eye is Totality,
who won his debut at Churchill Downs before finishing fifth in a competitive
two-turn allowance race at the same track. Most recently, he contested the
$300,000 Remington Springboard Mile, where he found himself trying to close
ground into a very slow pace. Although he was no match for the front-running
winner Cool Arrow (who closed the final quarter-mile in :24.18), Totality was
the only horse in the race that didn't lose ground against Cool Arrow in the final
two furlongs, staying on gamely to finish second by 3 ½ lengths.
don't think we've seen the best that Totality has to offer, and if he gets a
quicker pace than he did in the Springboard Mile, Totality could be a
legitimate threat to hit the board at 12-1.
Other horses that could draw wagering support include Shareholder Value, the winner of a 1 mile and 70-yard Fair Grounds
allowance race on December 26th, and Takeoff
and Arklow, the 1-2 finishers in
a Fair Grounds maiden special weight at the same distance on the same day.
Interestingly, the maiden race featured modestly quicker fractions and a
significantly faster final time, suggesting that Takeoff and Arklow might be
very good horses. Of the pair, I narrowly prefer Arklow, who had to wait for
racing room on the far turn while Takeoff got away with an easy lead. Once
Arklow got clear, he closed resolutely and fell just a length short of victory--I
think that's an effort he can build on in the Lecomte, and he's appealing at
10-1 on the morning line.
to recap, I'm going to take Guest Suite as
my choice to win and hope that his proven ability against high-class rivals at
Churchill Downs will help him prevail in this competitive race. For the
exotics, the late-running pair of Totality
and Arklow are the two that
intrigue me most at large prices, with Running
Mate and Untrapped the logical
candidates to be part of the pace and hang around for a good finish.
it's your turn! Who do you like in the LeComte Stakes?
The Unlocking Winners Road to the Kentucky Derby Handicapping Challenge is back for a third consecutive year! Please be sure to post all entries, prime horses, and stable additions on the official contest page. Thanks, and enjoy the racing!
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.