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.
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?
Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contests page—there's a new challenge every week!
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 www.theturfboard.com.