By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
The Road to the Kentucky
Derby makes a stop at Fair Grounds this Saturday for the $200,000 Lecomte S.
(G3), a 1 1/16-mile prize worth 10-4-3-2-1 points to the top five finishers.
The Lecomte has risen
steadily in prominence over the past 20 years or so. In 2002, future Kentucky
Derby (G1) winner War Emblem started in the Lecomte. In 2007, Lecomte winner
Hard Spun placed in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness S. (G1). In 2013 and 2019,
future Preakness winners Oxbow and War of Will won the Lecomte. And in 2021,
Lecomte third-place finisher Mandaloun went on to win the Kentucky Derby via
Eight horses have entered the
2023 Lecomte, and the field looks promising. At first glance, the race is
shaping up as a battle between a pair of graded stakes winners with formidable
credentials: #7 Instant Coffee and #8 Two Phil's.
Instant Coffee caught eyes
with a quick maiden victory sprinting seven furlongs at Saratoga, and he followed
up with a decent fourth in a strong edition of Keeneland's Breeders' Futurity
(G1). The winner, Forte, came back to nab the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) and
is almost certain to be voted champion two-year-old male at the upcoming Eclipse
Most recently, Instant
Coffee launched a determined rally from behind a slow pace to win the Kentucky
Jockey Club S. (G2) racing 1 1/16 miles at Churchill Downs. Instant Coffee
prevailed by 1 1/4 lengths over Curly Jack, previously victorious in the
Iroquois S. (G3) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
Two Phil's also brings
flashy form to the table. A 9 3/4-length winner of the Shakopee Juvenile S.
sprinting six furlongs at Canterbury Park, Two Phil's was beaten to seventh
place in the Breeders' Futurity (finishing 3 3/4 lengths behind Instant
Coffee), but bounced right back to dominate the 1 1/16-mile Street Sense S.
(G3) by 5 1/4 lengths. The runner-up, Hayes Strike, returned to finish a much
closer third in the Kentucky Jockey Club.
Of the pair, I prefer
Instant Coffee. The Kentucky Jockey Club unfolded in slow early/fast late
fashion, and Instant Coffee finished up quickly on the clock, running his final
five-sixteenths of a mile in approximately :29.94. That's an excellent fraction
for a juvenile competing on dirt, regardless of the early pace. The fact Instant
Coffee is trained by Brad Cox is also appealing, since Cox's red-hot barn has
gone 14-for-31 (45%) at Fair Grounds this meet.
But Instant Coffee isn't the
only Cox trainee in the Lecomte field. Cox has also entered #5 Tapit's Conquest, a son of Tapit
with a live chance to factor if he starts here rather than in an undercard
Tapit's Conquest debuted in
a seven-furlong maiden special weight at Saratoga last summer and ran a gutsy
race in defeat, finishing second by half a length after a prolonged three-way
duel down the homestretch. The victorious Powerful later won the Ed Brown S. at
Churchill Downs, while third-place finisher Full Moon Madness returned to win
his next start and run second in the Nashua S. (G3).
Tapit's Conquest likewise
flattered the form of that Saratoga maiden heat by returning to dominate a 1
1/16-mile maiden special weight at Churchill Downs. After tracking the early
pace, Tapit's Conquest seized command and drew off to score by 3 1/2 lengths.
In terms of Beyer and
Brisnet speed figures, Tapit's Conquest has form to find against the Lecomte
field. But he breezed a bullet five furlongs in 1:00 2/5 at Oaklawn last month
and has red-hot jockey Florent Geroux named to ride, so there are reasons to
believe Tapit's Conquest is sitting on a big run. I'm inclined to believe
Tapit's Conquest can move forward on Saturday and land a top-three finish.
I would also like to
highlight #1 Echo Again, a fast
debut winner sprinting at Saratoga who has since faded to finish seventh in the
Iroquois and third in the Remington Springboard Mile S. on the Road to the Kentucky
It's possible the 1
1/16-mile distance of the Lecomte will prove too far for Echo Again, but the
Springboard Mile was a genuinely fast race, and Echo Again's third-place finish
is better than it appears. There's a chance this well-bred son of Gun Runner
dashes to the lead from the rail draw and takes the Lecomte field a
surprisingly long way on the front end.
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 contest page—there's a new challenge every week! (Please note: older contest entries can be found here.)
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.