By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
When handicapping races on the Road to the Kentucky
Derby, it's always tempting to think outside the box and look for up-and-comers
with a chance to develop into something special. Who doesn't want to be among
the first to identify a future Triple Crown winner?
But there are some races where it simply doesn't pay to
get too creative. One of these is the $200,000
Lecomte Stakes (G3) at Fair Grounds, a race won more often than not by experienced
stakes performers starting at short prices in the wagering.
The 2020 Lecomte is packed with lightly-raced runners who
could turn out to be any kind. #14 Lynn's
Map has won two straight, including an allowance race here at Fair Grounds.
#2 Mr. Monomoy, a half-brother to
champion Monomoy Girl, was a runaway maiden winner at Churchill Downs for hot
trainer Brad Cox. #9 Silver State is
a nose away from being undefeated in two starts for Hall of Fame conditioner
Steve Asmussen, and #13 Sycamore Run dominated
his debut at Fair Grounds on December 21.
But standing between these promising colts and victory in
the Lecomte are two ominous statistics. Consider the following:
12 of the last 15 Lecomte winners had
previously contested a stakes race.
13 of the last 15 Lecomte winners had
previously contested at least one race going a mile or farther.
If you blindly follow these two stats, you can
significantly reduce the pool of win candidates for the 2020 Lecomte. Indeed,
you can eliminate eight of the 14 entrants, and of the remaining half-dozen, it
isn't hard to land on #4 Scabbard as
the most likely winner.
From a class perspective, Scabbard is a clear standout. Trained
by Eddie Kenneally, this son of More Than Ready competed admirably against
tough company as a juvenile, easily winning his debut at Churchill Downs before
recording runner-up effort in the Saratoga Special Stakes (G2) and Iroquois
Scabbard's performance in the Iroquois was particularly
impressive. While attempting to rally up the rail on the far turn, Scabbard was
stopped hard in traffic, losing a ton of ground and momentum. Many horses would
have given up after facing such an obstacle, but Scabbard shrugged off the
incident and re-rallied strongly in the stretch to finish just 1 3/4 lengths
behind acclaimed winner Dennis' Moment.
Scabbard concluded his 2019 campaign with a respectable effort
in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1). Racing over a deep and tiring track
detrimental to his late-running style, Scabbard nevertheless plugged away
evenly in the homestretch to finish fourth, ahead of the two favorites Eight
Rings and Dennis' Moment.
After being guided by Mike Smith in the Breeders' Cup, Scabbard
will reunite with jockey Corey Lanerie for the Lecomte. Known for his
rail-skimming rides, Lanerie successfully threaded Mo Tom through a tight pack
to win the 2014 Lecomte. A similar ride aboard Scabbard would be beneficial,
helping Scabbard to save ground rather than take an overland route in this huge
I'm optimistic Scabbard will appreciate the quicker main track
at Fair Grounds considerably more than he did the deep surface at Santa Anita, setting
up a winning performance. He has an edge in terms of speed figures and won't
have to concede weight to his rivals, since the conditions of the Lecomte were
modified last year to assign all runners 122 pounds. In short, I see no reason
to oppose Scabbard. He looms as clearly the horse to beat.
For the exotics, Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) runner-up #1 Finnick the Fierce and Breeders'
Futurity (G1) third-place finisher #10
Enforceable are other obvious contenders. But if you want to think outside
the box and look for a longshot, I would point you toward #12 Shashashakemeup.
Trained by Keith Desormeaux, Shashashakemeup looked like
something special in his debut sprinting seven furlongs at Churchill Downs.
After carving out a quick pace, Shashashakemeup was headed on the turn by heavy
favorite Lonely Private. But as soon as jockey James Graham gave
Shashashakemeup his cue, the son of Shackleford found another gear and burst
clear down the stretch to win by 5 1/2 lengths.
Shashashakemeup never fired when racing over a sloppy
track in the Sugar Bowl Stakes at Fair Grounds last month, but I'll dry a line
through this effort and assume he didn't care for the footing. Unfortunately,
there's rain in the forecast for Fair Grounds this week, and if the track comes
up wet I'll have to pass on playing Shashashakemeup. But if the weather clears
and the track is fast on Saturday, Shashashakemeup can rebound and potentially
land in the exotics at a big price.
Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Lecomte
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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.