By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Following a three-week
break, the Road to the Kentucky Derby resumes on Saturday with the $200,000
Lecomte S. (G3) at Fair Grounds.
The Lecomte is the finale of
an action-packed, 14-race card also containing the Silverbulletday S., a
qualifier on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks.
Let's make the Lecomte and
Silverbulletday the focus of this week's handicapping exercise:
Half a dozen sophomore
fillies will race one mile and 70 yards in the Silverbulletday, the second of
four Road to the Kentucky Oaks prep races taking place at Fair Grounds this
meet. The first leg of the series was the Dec. 26 Untapable S., in which #1 Fannie and Freddie employed tracking
tactics to finish second after leading clearly in midstretch.
Fannie and Freddie is a
logical choice to factor again, but there's hardly any speed in the
Silverbulletday field, and Fannie and Freddie may have trouble reeling in the
exciting up-and-comer #5 La Crete.
A beautifully bred daughter
of Medaglia d'Oro out of the multiple Grade 1 winner Cavorting, La Crete is a
half-sister to Cotillion S. (G1) winner Clairiere, who won the Rachel Alexandra
S. (G2) at Fair Grounds last year. La Crete has the pedigree to thrive running
long, as she demonstrated quite clearly in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight
at Churchill Downs two months ago. On that occasion, La Crete led by daylight
at every call to win "geared down" by 2 1/4 lengths.
I believe La Crete has a
world of potential. The Stonestreet Stables homebred has the appearance of a
Kentucky Oaks-type in the making, and jockey Joel Rosario—poised to win his
first Eclipse Award for outstanding jockey—is named to ride. If La Crete dashes
to an uncontested lead, I don't believe anyone will reel her in.
Lecomte S. (G3)
The 1 1/16-mile Lecomte is a
fairly early steppingstone on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, but its impact on
the last decade of Triple Crown history has been impressive. Oxbow (2013) and
War of Will (2019) parlayed Lecomte victories into triumphs in the Preakness S.
(G1), while Lecomte starters Midnight Bourbon, Mandaloun, Destin, and Golden
Soul have all gone on to place in the spring classics.
It will come as no surprise
if the 2022 Lecomte exerts a similarly strong influence. The race has drawn
nine entries, but two appear to rank a cut above the rest. #3 Pappacap has placed multiple times at the Grade 1 level, while #5 Epicenter has already won a race on
the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
Of the pair, Pappacap is the
horse to beat. The son of Gun Runner won the Best Pal S. (G2) during the summer
at Del Mar, then embarked on a productive autumn campaign featuring runner-up
efforts in the American Pharoah S. (G1) and Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1). On
both occasions, Pappacap was beaten only by the undefeated Corniche, the
probable champion two-year-old male of 2021.
Pappacap has trained sharply
for his sophomore debut, and trainer Mark Casse knows what it takes to win the
Lecomte—he's nabbed two of the last three editions with War of Will (2019) and
Enforceable (2020). The only chink in Pappacap's armor is the fact he's lost
ground from the eighth pole to the finish line in both of his route runs,
hinting the distance of the Lecomte might be a hair beyond his best.
This stands in contrast to
Epicenter, who has given the impression he thrives running long. Following an
unremarkable sixth-place finish in his debut sprinting, Epicenter employed
pacesetting tactics to win a one-mile maiden special weight at Churchill Downs
by 3 1/2 lengths. He was even more impressive in the 1 1/16-mile Gun Runner S.
at Fair Grounds last month, pressing the pace before drawing off strongly to
win by 6 1/2 lengths.
Epicenter was ridden in his
maiden win by Joel Rosario, who regains the mount on Saturday after recovering
from a rib injury. Rosario has won at a 24% rate since his return, so he brings
positive momentum into the Lecomte. Epicenter's tactical speed and midfield
post draw should ensure a clean trip, setting the stage for Rosario and trainer
Steve Asmussen to nab a lucrative stakes double with La Crete and Epicenter.
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like in the Silverbulletday and 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.