This weekend, the New Orleans spurs of the Derby trail and the Oaks trail get underway: Saturday's card at Fair Grounds features six stakes races, including the Lecomte (GIII) for open company and the Silverbulletday for fillies. With it being the off-season for racing in Chicago, this will be more than just a proverbial road trip: I will be at Fair Grounds for Lecomte Stakes day, and tweeting live updates all afternoon from our Twitter account @picksponderings!
The Lecomte, which drew a full field of twelve to vie for a share of the $200,000 purse, offers Kentucky Derby points (10-4-2-1) to the top four finishers. The Silverbulletday drew seven fillies to run for a $150,000 purse and Kentucky Oaks points (10-4-2-1).
This piece features full discussion of both sophomore points races, the Lecomte and the Silverbulletday. In addition, scroll to the bottom for selections for all six stakes races on Saturday's card.
Selections for the Colonel E. R. Bradley Handicap (GIII) and the Marie G. Krantz Memorial Stakes are made for turf only. The preview of the Lecomte Stakes is written jointly for ThoroFan Handicapper's Corner. Edited Thursday, January 19 to account for the scratch of SAINT'S FAN from the Lecomte. Edited Saturday, January 21 to account for the scratch of HARKNESS from the Silverbulletday.
Fair Grounds: Saturday, January 21
Race 9: Silverbulletday Stakes, three-year-old fillies, one mile and seventy yards on the dirt, post time 4:06pm CST
The series of Kentucky Oaks prep races at Fair Grounds begins with the Silverbulletday Stakes. The race was instituted in 1992 and originally named after Tiffany Lass, who is now the namesake of a different stakes at Fair Grounds. It was renamed in 2010 to honour Silverbulletday, who had been inducted into the Hall of Fame the previous year. Silverbulletday was the American Champion Two Year Old Filly in 1998, and then the American Champion Three Year Old Filly in 1999. Though Silverbulletday did not contest this race (then known as the Tiffany Lass Stakes), she decisively won two Kentucky Oaks prep races at the Fair Grounds in 1999: the Davona Dale Stakes (GIII) and the Fair Grounds Oaks (GIII). She did win the Kentucky Oaks in 1999, as well as the Black-Eyed Susan, the Alabama, and the Gazelle.
One filly has won the Silverbulletday on the way to a Kentucky Oaks victory: Believe You Can, who kicked off her three-year-old campaign here, and also won the Fair Grounds Oaks (GII) on her path to Kentucky Oaks glory. I'm a Chatterbox, who won the Silverbulletday two years ago, went on to sweep the entire series of Oaks preps at the Fair Grounds, finish third in the Kentucky Oaks, and win the Grade I Cotillion at age three. She won two more Grade I races at age four, the Delaware Handicap and the Spinster Stakes, and will try turf for the first time in today's Marie G. Krantz. Another notable winner of this race is 2004 winner Lotta Kim. She never raced again after winning this race, but she produced 2009 Kentucky Oaks hero Rachel Alexandra.
I'm a Chatterbox upsets the 2015 Silverbulletday Stakes, romping easily gate to wire.
The race drew a field of seven, with only one stakes winner in the lot: Golden Rod (GII) winner FARRELL. FARRELL took advantage of a paceless bunch in the Golden Rod and led them all the way around. Here, she might get a bit more on the front end, as GRIS GRIS and UNTAPPED have shown some speed, and even SUMMERTIME SKY stretches out to a route for the first time. But, FARRELL had some front-end contention in her maiden win, and she still drew off to win easily. On the other hand, if the race becomes a game of chicken, rider Channing Hill will not be shy to use FARRELL's speed to her advantage. After all, Monday's Smarty Jones Stakes had so much pace on paper, yet Hill took the initiative on Uncontested and took him gate to wire. FARRELL is proven at two turns, and the class and speed of this short field. She is not a clever choice, but a solid one.
FARRELL's toughest competition looks to be UNTAPPED. This Steve Asmussen trainee, a full sister to 2014 Kentucky Oaks winner Untapable, goes into stakes company for the first time here. But, UNTAPPED already has a pair of two-turn wins: a maiden-breaker at Keeneland, and a one-other-than over this same mile and seventy yards at Fair Grounds. UNTAPPED won by daylight over WICKED LICK -- but she needed some encouragement to do it, and will have to take a step forward to beat FARRELL on a good day. But, she could do so. After all, that allowance victory was UNTAPPED's first race in two months, and this has her second off the lay. She also keeps rider Florent Geroux aboard; Geroux has been firing at 29% at Fair Grounds this meet.
Beyond the top two, GRIS GRIS looks the best of the lot. The question remains as to whether GRIS GRIS can be as effective at two turns as she was at one, since both of her victories have come at one turn at Churchill. She has tables to turn on FARRELL, as she was fourth beaten seven and a half lengths in the Golden Rod. But, GRIS GRIS has tactical speed in a short field, always a positive. She also gets a return to rider James Graham, who has booted her home to both of her career victories. Mother Nature may help GRIS GRIS, too. Should the chance of rain come to fruition, the fact that she is by Spring at Last out of a Speightstown mare should give her affinity for the mud.
#3 FARRELL (2/1)
#5 UNTAPPED (9/5)
#2 GRIS GRIS (8/1)
Longshot: #1 WICKED LICK (8/1) does have tables to turn on UNTAPPED, and class to prove against FARRELL. It would be difficult to see her win. But, for a share underneath? It would not be out of the question, particularly over a sloppy track. She closed for second (behind UNTAPPED) in a short field last out, over the same mile and seventy yards at Fair Grounds as she covers today. The scratch of HARKNESS still leaves plenty of speed in the race for WICKED LICK to attack. And, though she has never run in the slop, WICKED LICK's breeding suggests she will handle an off track well. Maclean's Music babies have won five of their fifteen mud starts so far -- a small sample, to be sure, but a whispered suggestion that his babies take to it.
Race 11: Lecomte Stakes (GIII), three-year-olds, one mile and seventy yards on the dirt, post time 5:00pm CST
This year marks the 73rd running of the Lecomte Stakes, a race that has held Grade III designation since 2003, and been run at distances varying from a mile to a mile and an eighth. Lecomte, by Boston out of the mare Reel, is best known as the only horse to hand Lexington a defeat. On April 8, 1854, Lecomte beat Lexington in two straight four-mile heats, with his setting a new four-mile record of 7 minutes, 26 seconds. Lecomte is also a half-brother of another horse whose name lives on as the namesake of a three-year-old stakes race: his dam Reel also produced Prioress, by Sovereign. Racing from ages two through seven, Prioress was the first American-bred and American-owned horse to win in England, and still has a sophomore fillies' sprint stakes run in her honour at Saratoga.
Though no winner of the Lecomte has gone on to win the Kentucky Derby, 2013 hero Oxbow would go on to win the Preakness. Several other Lecomte victors have gone on to Classic placings: No Le Hace (1972) finished second in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, Linkage (1982) finished second in the Preakness, and Hard Spun (2007) finished second in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Preakness.
Oxbow draws off to an easy victory in the 2013 Lecomte Stakes.
This year's edition of the Lecomte Stakes drew a full field of twelve. The morning line anticipates that this will be a wide-open betting race, with five of the twelve runners sitting between 9/2 and 6/1 on the line. This space agrees that the Lecomte is wide open -- and with that the case, we will go for a price.
Trainer Steve Asmussen sends out three of the twelve runners in the Lecomte, all uncoupled. "A" entry UNTRAPPED is the morning line favourite, and we will circle back to him later. "C" entry TIP TAP TAPIZAR looks a bit overmatched here. However, "B" entry TOTALITY looks primed to take a step forward from a second-place effort in the Remington Springboard Mile last out. There, loose leader Cool Arrow gave him nothing to run at, and he still rallied well to come in second. Here, TOTALITY should have more of a target, with PHAT MAN, TIP TAP TAPIZAR, RUNNING MATE, and TAKEOFF all showing some early speed. Barring a speed bias, TOTALITY should be well suited to improve. He also gets a return to rider David Flores in the irons. Flores is striking at a respectable 15% this Fair Grounds meet, and he booted TOTALITY home to a maiden victory at Churchill Downs back in October. In a race without a clear standout, TOTALITY has enough upside to back.
TOTALITY's shorter-priced stablemate UNTRAPPED stretches out to a route for the first time. He debuted sprinting at Keeneland, finishing second behind eventual Smarty Jones Stakes winner Uncontested after a tough start. UNTRAPPED returned the next month at Churchill Downs, drawing off to win with authority. This will be his first start since that victory, but he has been working regularly and trainer Steve Asmussen sends horses out ready off of layoffs. The stretch out to a mile and seventy yards should be okay; UNTRAPPED is by Trappe Shot out of a Giant's Causeway mare who has produced a winner at a mile. On pace, UNTRAPPED has proven that he can stalk the pace, a good thing with a few speed horses in the field. And, should he get a better start, he may prove the goods, albeit at a relatively short price in this competitive race.
SAINT'S FAN originally occupied the third slot, but Dallas Stewart has opted to scratch him due to the outside post draw. Instead, TAKEOFF intrigues. TAKEOFF broke his maiden last out over the same course and distance as the Lecomte. That came on the front end, which may not be the best way to go here. However, dig back through his form lines and you see his debut: a close call at Keeneland in which TAKEOFF rallied from well off the pace to be beaten less than a length. That came at a sprint, so TAKEOFF still has to prove he's equally versatile going long. But, the connections inspire confidence. Florent Geroux keeps the mount, and he is firing at 29% over the Fair Grounds meet. Geroux has also been strong for Mark Casse, with three wins and five money finishes in eight tries over the last two months. The weather may also play to TAKEOFF's advantage. Though he has not run over an off track yet, his breeding (by Arch out of an Officer mare) suggests he has upside in the mud.
#3 TOTALITY (12/1)
#5 UNTRAPPED (9/2)
#10 TAKEOFF (6/1)
Longshot: #11 PAT ON THE BACK (12/1) was well-beaten last out in the Delta Jackpot, but perhaps he did not take to the love-it-or-hate-it Delta Downs track. He rattled off a nice series of races against state-bred company in New York, with speeds right in rage of what he needs to contend in the Lecomte. He also showed good pace versatility: though he has shown speed, he has also won from off the pace, a style that ought to serve him better here. PAT ON THE BACK also gets rider Dylan Davis back from those New York efforts; he did not have Davis's services in Cajun country. He also adds Lasix for the first time, and has a regular series of work at Fair Grounds stretching back to mid-December. The weather also shows a good chance of rain for Saturday. PAT ON THE BACK romped in the slop two back at Belmont, and more rain here would help him factor at a price.
Below are Nicolle Neulist's selections for all six stakes races on Saturday's card at Fair Grounds. This will be updated as we finish handicapping the card. If you have questions about the logic any of these horses, please leave us a comment or tweet us at @picksponderings!