Asmussen Holds Strong Hand in Lecomte, Silverbulletday

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:

Silverbulletday S.

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.

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