History is Key to Handicapping the Lecomte

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 Stakes (G3).

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 field.

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 Stakes?


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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.

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