Betting an Up-and-Comer in the Lecomte

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

I'm sure it's happened to everyone. You handicap a race... you watch it unfold... and then you shrug and think to yourself, "I had the right idea, but the wrong horse."

Such was the case one year ago when I handicapped the Lecomte Stakes (G3), the first of three Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races held annually at Fair Grounds. Diligently researching the history of the Lecomte, I noted how 12 of the last 15 winners had previously contested a stakes race, and 13 of the last 15 winners had previously contested at least one race over a mile or farther.

Armed with these formidable statistics, I threw my support behind 3.20-1 favorite Scabbard, exiting a fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1). But Scabbard wound up finishing a distant fifth as future Kentucky Derby starter Enforceable (who also matched my historical profile) rallied to post a comfortable victory.

Right idea... wrong horse.

The 2021 Lecomte will take place on Saturday, with a field of 11 set to face the starter. Part of me is tempted to follow the same statistics I trumpeted last year—after all, they did hold true. But why not try to flip the equation? I'd much rather have the wrong idea and the right horse than another round of the reverse.

That's not to imply there's a shortage of horses who match the criteria to choose from. #1 Midnight Bourbon, #2 Arabian Prince, #8 Red N Wild, and #11 Dyn O Mite all fit the bit as stakes-experienced runners who have already competed over a mile or farther. But none have run particularly fast on the Beyer or Brisnet speed figure scales, leaving them vulnerable to a talented up-and-comer like #10 Mandaloun.

Conditioned by high-percentage trainer Brad Cox, this Juddmonte Farms homebred has shown plenty of potential in his first two starts. In his debut sprinting 6 furlongs at Keeneland, Mandaloun rallied gamely from ninth place to beat next-out winner Bob's Edge by half a length. Then Mandaloun stretched out for a 7-furlong allowance race at Churchill Downs, where he tracked the pace before edging away to beat future Sugar Bowl S. third-place runner Twilight Blue by 1 1/4 lengths.

The latter effort produced solid speed figures of 82 (Beyer) and 92 (Brisnet), stamping Mandaloun as one of the fastest runners in the Lecomte field. Stretching out in distance is a question mark, though his pedigree suggests the longer trip won't be an issue. His dam, Brooch, proved sufficiently long-winded to win the 1-mile Lanwades Stud Stakes (G2) at the Curragh, hardly a surprise considering she's a daughter of Juddmonte's Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Empire Maker.

Throw in the fact Cox wins at a lofty 27% rate with horses running long for the first time, and I see no reason to worry about Mandaloun's distance capabilities. With hot jockey Florent Geroux (a 31% winner at Fair Grounds) in the saddle, Mandaloun figures to sit a perfect stalking trip from his outside draw, perhaps showing improved tactical speed while stretching out in distance. From there, I think he'll be tough to deny.

For the exotics, I have to respect the chances of Midnight Bourbon, whose previous forays on the Road to the Kentucky Derby produced a runner-up effort in the Iroquois (G3) and a distant third-place finish in the Champagne (G1). But since we're already riding the up-and-comer bandwagon with Mandaloun, why not fully embrace the notion and back #7 Santa Cruiser for the runner-up spot?

A Calumet Farm homebred, Santa Cruiser knocked heads with some quality runners in his first two starts; in fact, his debut effort saw Santa Cruiser finish third behind future Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Essential Quality.

Stretching out in distance proved to be the key to Santa Cruiser's initial success. Racing a mile at Churchill Downs, the son of Dialed In sprinted to the lead through quick fractions of :22.50 and :45.31, then edged away to beat next-out maiden winner #5 Regular Guy by 1 1/2 lengths.

Trained by Keith Desormeaux (a 22% winner at Fair Grounds this meet), Santa Cruiser is a son of Florida Derby (G1) winner Dialed In out of a mare by three-time leading sire Tapit, so tackling two turns should be right up his alley. He has the speed to be prominent from the outset (he might even set the pace), and his speed figures suggest he has the talent to compete against this caliber of competition. What's not to like? You'll certainly get a fair 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, videographer, voice actor, 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

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