This week the Derby Trail and the Oaks Trail kick into major gear, and Picks and Ponderings will be there. The weekend's racing action features three-year-old preps at three different tracks: the Lecomte Stakes and Silverbulletday Stakes Saturday at Fair Grounds, the Jerome Stakes Saturday at Aqueduct, and the Smarty Jones Stakes Monday at Oaklawn Park.
This piece focuses on the pair of races in New Orleans. Another piece takes a look at Saturday's Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct, and a third piece takes a look at Monday's Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn.
Our preview of the Silverbulletday Stakes is jointly published with ThoroFan Handicapper's Corner.
Fair Grounds: Saturday, January 13
Race 7: Silverbulletday Stakes, three-year-old fillies, one mile and seventy yards on the dirt, post time 4:05pm 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 (G3) and the Fair Grounds Oaks (G3). 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 (G2) 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 1 Cotillion at age three. 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 explodes onto the three-year-old scene with a win in the 2015 Silverbulletday Stakes.
This year's Silverbulletday drew a competitive field of twelve to vie for a $150,000 purse, as well as Kentucky Oaks points (10-4-2-1) for the top four finishers. WONDER GADOT, cross-entered in the Lecomte, is likely to stay with fillies here; however, only eleven are expected to race, as STELLAR MOON is expected to run in a one-other-than on January 19 instead.
Though the race drew several marquee shippers who we'll tackle later, we'll tab on top a runner who is trying stakes company for the first time, but boasts Fair Grounds affinity and solid Fair Grounds connections: AMERICA'S TALE. The daughter of Gio Ponti tried two turns on dirt for the first time on December 17, and romped in the Fair Grounds slop. Regular rider Brian Hernandez, who has taken the call for all but one race of her career, returns to ride the Bernie Flint trainee. Though the risk is that AMERICA'S TALE might be a slop monster, she also has a resounding maiden special weight victory over fast dirt at Churchill, as well as a pair of second-place finishes on fast dirt before she got her diploma. Her running style should also suit the race: she is a forward-style runner going long, but showed last out that she can sit just off the pace if the likes of WONDER GADOT or NOBLAME grabs the front end instead.
BLONDE BOMBER has not raced since the Breeders' Cup, but comes into the Silverbulletday off a regular set of works since late November. A big worry going to Del Mar was whether the daughter of Fort Larned was just a Gulfstream Park Horse as her first six starts came down there, but she took the move and the class rise well and finished third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1). That race was also her first two-turn test, a test she passed. BLONDE BOMBER has the tactical versatility to run well from just off the pace or from well off it -- a positive, since there are a few horses who can be forward, but no cluster of one-way speed likely to burn each other out and cause a true pace collapse.
Trainer Mark Casse sends a classy one-two punch of WONDER GADOT and HEAVENLY LOVE. It would be no surprise to see either of them do well, but both will be short prices. HEAVENLY LOVE is a tougher read, and a bit less trustworthy at a short price. Her Alcibiades (G1) dazzled, but her Breeders' Cup was not good. She still hast to answer the question of which one is the real HEAVENLY LOVE. 3/1 on the morning line seems short; should she drift up to 5/1, she becomes intriguing, but it would be a surprise to see her at such a good price. For a shorter-priced horse to use defensively, WONDER GADOT has a bit more allure. She not only held up a lot better in the Breeders' Cup than her stablemate, but followed that up with a comfortable cruise in the Demoiselle (G2) a month later. She should be part of the front vanguard here, but with a stalking gear, WONDER GADOT is unlikely to be truly burned up in that role. It's also a positive to see that John Velazquez is shipping out to stick with her; Velazquez first took the call with her in the Demoiselle, and the fact that he's leaving New York suggests he thinks she is the real deal. It's hard not to trust his judgment, and WONDER GADOT can't be left off even at a short price.
#6 AMERICA'S TALE (8/1)
#1 BLONDE BOMBER (7/2)
#2 WONDER GADOT (2/1)
Longshot: #9 MISSIVE (15/1) makes her first foray into stakes company, and does have some tables to turn on top choice AMERICA'S TALE. Yet, she is still lightly raced compared to many of her foes -- with only four starts behind her, she has plenty of room to improve. The mile and seventy yards at Fair Grounds should suit her, as well - she broke her maiden over that course and distance on a fast track, then finished second in a lst-out allowance in the mud. MISSIVE's tactical speed is a major positive. So are her human connections: trainer Mike Stidham has been winning almost a quarter of the time this meet, and MISSIVE keeps 30% Fair Grounds rider Joe Bravo from her last two starts.
Race 9: Lecomte Stakes (G3), three-year-olds, one mile and seventy yards on the dirt, post time 5:03pm CST
This year marks the 74th running of the Lecomte Stakes, a race that has held Grade 3 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.
Trainer Larry Jones, who has KOWBOY KARMA, PRINCE LUCKY, and BELIEVE IN ROYALTY in the Lecomte this year, won the 2007 edition when Hard Spun rolled to easy victory.
This year's Lecomte Stakes drew an overflow field of 15 to compete for a $200,000 purse and Kentucky Derby points (10-4-2-1) for the top four finishers. However, with the anticipated scratch of WONDER GADOT (likely to go in the Silverbulletday instead), TRIGGER WARNING stands to draw in.
Though PRINCIPE GUILHERME tries stakes company for the first time here, he comes in as the one to beat. He marked himself a horse to watch with a facile debut at Churchill, outclassing a field of eleven from a relatively outside post. (Count that as a positive for PRINCIPE GUILHERME's ability to handle this relatively outside post in a large field.) His next test came a month later at Fair Grounds, when he stretched out to two turns for the first time -- though sire Tapit has been responsible for plenty of route-distance (even Classic!) horses, his dam Aubby K was a class sprinter. PRINCIPE GUILHERME passed that test easily, winning as easily as he wanted. Here, he'll have to prove he can handle a little more on the front end as he has in his previous two starts, particularly with BELIEVE IN ROYALTY and TRIGGER WARNING in the field. But, if he's as good as his two starts so far have advertised, he should be able to handle it.
The more proven horse in this field, and the other this space would suggest leaning most heavily on, is INSTILLED REGARD. The son of Arch ships east for the first time, but his ability to acquit himself well at all three Southern California tracks suggests he does not have to take his track with him. He also comes in the class of this field: INSTILLED REGARD held his own last out with Solomini and McKinzie, the best two West Coat Derby prospects so far who are not named Bolt d'Oro. He has shown some tactical versatility, able to fight on the lead or sit a couple of lengths back. And, though this space would be even a bit more confident if Drayden Van Dyke were hopping on the plane (note to readers: this alone is reason to bet Botero in the Santa Anita 3rd on Saturday!), new rider Javier Castellano is no mean replacement.
Trainer Larry Jones has three in the Lecomte this year. PRINCE LUCKY has class to prove and got marooned on the far outside. BELIEVE IN ROYALTY has royal breeding, but after a serious disappointment in the Springboard Mile, he may have been exposed as needing the lead, something that will make him a mere pace factor in this spot. KOWBOY KARMA is the best of Jones's chances in the Lecomte. He has gotten a breather since a second-place finish in the Lewis at Laurel on November 11, but Jones excels off these mid-length lays, and Kowboy Karma has been working sharp into this spot. On speed he is already right in the neighbourhood of the top two, and particularly with a few pace factors in there, KOWBOY KARMA should be able to sit a few lengths off them, make a well-timed middle move under solid Fair Grounds rider Brian Hernandez, and be a factor in the lane.
#12 PRINCIPE GUILHERME (5/2)
#10 INSTILLED REGARD (4/1)
#5 KOWBOY KARMA (6/1)
Longshot: #1 LONE SAILOR (15/1) ran on too late in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) last out, but showed two back in the Street Sense (as well as in his sloppy maiden score at Saratoga) that he does not have to rally from the clouds to run a strong race. It looks like Tom Amoss has taken out a bit of insurance on better tactical positioning for LONE SAILOR as well, as he puts on the blinkers for the first time here. Amoss's 21% win rate with first-time blinkers suggests he is more than just grasping at straws with the move. Amoss knows how to get a horse fit and ready off a bit of a layoff -- and a reasonable step forward from his two-turn efforts so far gets him in the picture at a price.
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