by Jon White
January 15, 2020
Fourteen 3-year-olds are entered in this Saturday’s Grade III Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. It’s the first 2019 stop in Louisiana on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
The Road to the Kentucky Derby is a series of races that award points to the first four finishers. It has determined preference for the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field since 2013.
The Lecomte, which will be contested at 1 1/16 miles, is worth 10-4-2-1 points toward the Grade I Kentucky Derby.
War of Will won the 2019 Lecomte by four emphatic lengths for trainer Mark Casse. The Kentucky-bred War Front colt did not go on to win the Kentucky Derby. However, War of Will did subsequently capture the Grade I Preakness Stakes last year.
This year’s Lecomte looks wide open.
Scabbard, trained by Eddie Kenneally, is the 7-2 favorite on Mike Diliberto’s morning line. The Kentucky-bred More Than Ready colt is dropping in class from a Grade I race to the Grade III level. He also sports the best lifetime Beyer Speed Figure of the Lecomte entrants, an 87 for his runner-up performance behind Dennis’ Moment in Churchill Downs’ Grade III Iroquois Stakes at 1 1/16 miles last Sept. 14.
In Scabbard’s only start since the Iroquois, he finished fourth behind Storm the Court, Anneau d’Or and Wrecking Crew in the Grade I BC Juvenile at 1 1/16 miles last Nov. 1 at Santa Anita. The aforementioned Dennis’ Moment wound up last in the field of eight, but as you probably recall that’s the race in which he stumbled badly at the start as the 9-10 favorite.
Of the 14 Lecomte entrants, Sycamore Fun has the best last-race Beyer, an 85, for his 3 1/2-length victory at first asking on a sloppy track Dec. 21 in New Orleans. The Ontario-bred Street Sense colt won that six-furlong maiden special weight race at odds of 4-1 for trainer Joe Sharp.
Street Sense won the 2007 Kentucky Derby. He is the sire of multiple Grade I winner McKinzie, runner-up in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita last Nov. 2.
Three in Saturday’s Lecomte are coming off an 82 Beyer Speed Figure. They are Mr. Monomoy, Silver State and Lynn’s Map.
Mr. Monomoy, trained by Brad Cox, won a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight race by 5 1/2 lengths at Churchill Downs last Nov. 16. He recorded a 75 Beyer that day. He then posted an 82 Beyer when he finished second, just a head behind Lynn’s Map, in an allowance/optional claiming race at one mile and 70 yards on a sloppy track Dec. 21 in New Orleans.
Mr. Monomoy’s sire, Palace Malice, won the Grade I Belmont Stakes in 2013. Mr. Monomoy is a half-brother to Eclipse Award winner Monomoy Girl, the champion 3-year-old filly of 2018.
Silver State, conditioned by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, finished in a dead heat for first with Relentless Dancer in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight race at Churchill in his career debut last Sept. 27. Bango finished third, 9 3/4 lengths behind the dead-heat winners.
In Relentless Dancer’s only start since that Sept. 27 maiden race, he won the seven-furlong Louisiana Legacy Stakes by 10 1/2 lengths against Louisiana-breds at Delta Downs on Oct. 19. He’s currently in training at Gulfstream Park.
In Silver State’s lone start since that same Sept. 27 maiden contest, the Kentucky-bred Hard Spun colt recorded an 82 Beyer Speed Figure. That was when he finished second to Necker Island in a one-mile allowance/optional claiming affair on a sloppy track last Nov. 30 at Churchill. Silver State lost that race by a scant nose.
The Casse-trained Lynn’s Map had the misfortune to draw the outside post among the 14 Lecomte entrants. The Kentucky-bred Liam’s Map colt is seeking his third straight win, if he starts. Casse told Daily Racing Form’s Marcus Hersh that Lynn’s Map might instead run in Oaklawn Park’s one-mile Smarty Jones Stakes on Jan. 24. The Smarty Jones, like the Lecomte, is worth 10-4-2-1 Kentucky Derby points.
Lynn’s Map, with three career races under his belt, has an improving Beyer pattern of 69, 80, then 82. After finishing third in a seven-furlong maiden special weight race at Churchill last Sept. 29, he won a one-mile maiden special weight race at Churchill on Nov. 8. He then was victorious in an allowance/optional claimer by a small margin over Mr. Monomoy on a sloppy track Dec. 21 in New Orleans.
One-eyed Finnick the Fierce breaks from the rail in the Lecomte. He very nearly pulled off a shocker at odds of 87-1 in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club on a sloppy strip at Churchill last Nov. 30. The Kentucky-bred Dialed In colt, trained by Rey Hernandez, finished second, three-quarters of a length behind 7-1 Silver Prospector. Tiz the Law, the 3-5 favorite, had a troubled trip and ended up third, a head behind Finnick the Fierce. If Tiz the Law had won, he quite possibly would have been voted an Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male of 2019.
In this wide-open renewal of the Lecomte, I will take a shot and go with Sycamore Run. My Lecomte selections are below:
1. Sycamore Run (6-1 morning line)
2. Scabbard (7-2)
3. Mr. Monomoy (9-2)
4. Silver State (5-1)
Typically, a number of Lecomte participants subsequently run in Fair Grounds’ Risen Star Stakes. War of Will won both races last year.
This year’s Risen Star will be contested at 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 15. It has 50-20-10-5 Kentucky Derby points up for grabs.
It’s not good news for any possible Risen Star runners that Independence Hall now is a possibility for that race. His connections are considering either Tampa Bay Downs’ Sam F. Davis Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 8 or the Risen Star as the next start for the Kentucky-bred Constitution colt, according to horseracingnation.com.
The Risen Star would give Independence Hall more time between races. Also, the Risen Star is worth much more in terms of Kentucky Derby points than the Davis. The Davis is a 10-4-2-1 race. Another consideration working in favor of the Risen Star is it’s a Grade II, while the Davis is a Grade III.
Independence Hall, trained by Michael Trombetta, registered a four-length win in Aqueduct’s one-mile Jerome Stakes on Jan. 1. Also at the Big A last Nov. 3, he was a smashing 12 1/4-length winner of the Grade III Nashua Stakes at the same one-mile trip.
CURRENT KENTUCKY DERBY TOP 10
There are no Lecomte entrants on my current Kentucky Derby Top 10. Will the winner make it onto the list next week? We shall see.
Storm the Court holds the top spot at this time. He pulled off a 45-1 upset in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita last Nov. 1. The Kentucky-bred Court Vision colt is scheduled to make his 2020 debut in Santa Anita’s Grade II San Vicente Stakes at seven furlongs on Feb. 9, according to Daily Racing Form’s Steve Andersen.
At Santa Anita last Sunday, Storm the Court was supposed to have a solo workout. However, it did not turn out that way, Steve Andersen reported.
“Shortly after Storm the Court began the workout under jockey Flavian Prat, two horses from a rival stable loomed alongside,” Andersen wrote. “Storm the Court, running on the inside, finished in company with the other runners in 1:00.60. Eurton timed Storm the Court in a slightly quicker 1:00.20.”
Eurton clocked Storm the Court galloping out six furlongs in 1:13.60. The trainer said he was not pleased to see an intended solo spin turn into a team drill.
“Not what I was looking for,” the trainer remarked. “If he had been outside, I would have been fine with that.”
At Gulfstream Park last Saturday, Dennis’ Moment, who is No. 2 on my Top 10, had his first recorded workout of 2020. He was timed in :50.80 for four furlongs. Dale Romans trains the Kentucky-bred colt by the only two-time BC Classic winner, Tiznow, who was voted 2000 Horse of the Year.
Dennis’ Moment won a seven-furlong maiden special weight race by a whopping 19 1/4 lengths at Ellis Park last July 27. He then took the Grade III Iroquois at Churchill prior to his BC Juvenile debacle.
Thousand Words, a $1 million yearling and ranked No. 3 on my Top 10, is two for two and headed for Santa Anita’s Grade III Robert B. Lewis Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 1. The Florida-bred colt had a snazzy workout Monday at Santa Anita, four furlongs in :47.40.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, who celebrated his 67th birthday Monday, Thousand Words won the Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity on a wet track Dec. 7.
Pioneerof the Nile is the sire of Thousand Words. Baffert trained Pioneerof the Nile, who finished second in the 2009 Kentucky Derby. Baffert also conditioned a son of Pioneerof the Nile in American Pharoah, who in 2015 swept the Triple Crown and was voted Horse of the Year.
Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby five times and the Triple Crown twice. He also trained Justify, who in 2018 was a Triple Crown winner and Horse of the Year.
By the way, Baffert is nearing a milestone of 3,000 Thoroughbred wins. When the white-haired horseman sent out Mother Mother to take Santa Anita’s Kalookan Queen Stakes last Sunday, it was Baffert’s 2,996th career Thoroughbred victory, according to Equibase. But that is not Baffert’s total number of wins. He also piled up a whole bunch of Quarter Horse wins back in the day.
No. 7 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 is Authentic, who also resides at the powerful Baffert barn. The Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt is two for two. He won Santa Anita’s Grade III Sham Stakes at one mile on Jan. 4 by 7 3/4 lengths. While Authentic was far in front all the way down the stretch in the Sham, he did race greenly in the final furlong when he ducked in, then ducked out, then ducked back in again. Despite his erratic behavior in the lane, Authentic clearly is very talented.
Authentic had a four-furlong workout Wednesday in :49.60 at Santa Anita.
Honor A.P., trained by John Shirreffs, is No. 4 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10. I had been planning to put him at No. 1 until he missed the Sham.
But there was good news last Saturday regarding Honor A.P. Ed Golden wrote in the Santa Anita stable notes that “trainer John Shirreffs reports X-rays were negative on Honor A.P. after he was ‘off in his right front’ causing him to miss the Jan. 4 Sham Stakes, but the son of Honor Code is back jogging. ‘Maybe he wrenched it,’ the trainer speculated.”
Honor A.P. closed furiously from far back to finish second when unveiled in a six-furlong maiden special weight race at Del Mar last Aug. 17. He then won a one-mile maiden special in front-running fashion by 5 1/2 lengths at Santa Anita last Oct. 13. Honor A.P. posted a 91 Beyer Speed Figure in his maiden triumph.
Shirreffs won the 2005 Kentucky Derby with 50-1 Giacomo, who edged my pick, 71-1 Closing Argument, by a half-length.
I have a hunch Honor A.P. is much better than Giacomo.
Meanwhile, watch out for Untitled. I have him ranked No. 9. He made a splashy career debut when he won a six-furlong maiden race for Florida-breds by 11 lengths at Gulfstream on Dec. 14 for trainer Ralph Nicks. The Khozan colt was credited with a 98 Beyer Speed Figure, the second-highest in 2019 by a 2-year-old. The only bigger Beyer was Independence Hall’s 101 when he won the Nashua Stakes at Aqueduct. Independence Hall is No. 8 on my Top 10.
Cross Court was the distant runner-up to Untitled on Dec. 14. In Cross Court’s next start, he won a six-furlong maiden special weight for Florida-breds by 3 1/2 lengths at Gulfstream on Jan. 9.
Thoroughbred Daily News’ Steve Sherack reported on Jan. 9 that Untitled “has been purchased privately by Gary Barber.”
Mark Casse now is training Untitled, who is being aimed for Gulfstream’s Grade III Swale Stakes at seven furlongs on Feb. 1.
“Gary Barber bought a majority interest in him and Mike Sebastian kept a small portion,” Casse was quoted as saying by Sherack. “I really like him. I’ve been impressed by him so far.”
Untitled worked four furlongs in a sharp :48.00 at the Casse Training Center in Florida on Jan. 4. He then worked five furlongs in 1:00.95 at Florida’s Palm Meadows last Saturday.
In Untitled’s debut romp, he did not break with alacrity.
“He got away a little slow, was able to scoot up the rail and run fast and win easy,” Casse said.
Casse noted that Untitled completed six furlongs in 1:10.17, which was faster than Lady’s Island’s final time of 1:10.75 when she won the Grade III Sugar Swirl Stakes for older fillies and mares later on the card.
“He’s about 16.2 [hands],” Casse continued. “He’s a big, leggy horse. If you base your opinion on the way he moves and his physique, you would say he definitely would get two turns.”
Considering Untitled has raced just once, there are those who understandably might be skeptical that he could possibly win the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May.
But at this point early in 2018, Justify had not even raced yet. He did not make his first career start until Feb. 18.
Justify would go on to become the first Kentucky Derby winner to have not raced at 2 since Apollo in 1882.
At this point early last year, Maximum Security, like Untitled, had raced just once. Maximum Security won a 6 1/2-furlong maiden $16,000 claiming race at Gulfstream late in 2018 on Dec. 20 in his career debut. He did not make his second start until he won a six-furlong allowance/optional claiming race in the mud at Gulfstream on Jan. 24.
Maximum Security would go on to finish first in the Kentucky Derby, but then was disqualified and placed 17th by the stewards for causing interference on the far turn.
Here is my current Kentucky Derby Top 10:
1. Storm the Court
2. Dennis’ Moment
3. Thousand Words
4. Honor A.P.
6. Tiz the Law
8. Independence Hall
10. Anneau d’Or
WILLIAM HILL KENTUCKY DERBY FUTURE ODDS
Here are the Kentucky Derby future book odds quoted by William Hill as of Jan. 14 for the horses on my Top 10: Storm the Court (12-1), Dennis’ Moment (12-1), Thousand Words (12-1), Honor A.P. (14-1), Maxfield (12-1), Tiz the Law (8-1), Authentic (16-1), Independence Hall (10-1), Untitled (125-1), Anneau d’Or (24-1).
BRAZILIAN JOLIE OLIMPICA STELLAR IN U.S. DEBUT
Jolie Olimpica made quite a favorable impression in her United States debut when she won Santa Anita’s Grade III Las Cienegas Stakes at 5 1/2 furlongs on turf last Saturday.
In her native Brazil, Jolie Olimpica was three for three, winning by 4 1/4, 3 3/4 and six lengths, all on the grass in 2019. A Group III winner against fillies last year in April, she trounced her 13 opponents when she won a Group I event by six lengths at about one mile on June 9.
Purchased privately by Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farms with the help of bloodstock agent John Fulton (who as a trainer won the first Japan Cup in 1981 with Mairzy Doates), Jolie Olimpica was sent to Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella in Southern California. Mandella has had success with a number of Brazilian imports, training the likes of U.S. Grade I winners Sandpit, Siphon, Redattore and Bal a Bali, as noted by the Thoroughbred Daily News’ Alan Carasso.
The DRF’s Brad Free unearthed this remarkable stat: Jolie Olimpica is the 26th import from South America that Mandella has trained to win a graded race in this country.
With Hall of Famer Mike Smith in the saddle, Jolie Olimpica stalked the early pace in the Las Cienegas without being the slightest bit rank. The filly overtook pacemaker Kentan Road in the final furlong to prevail by 1 1/4 lengths.
The 1 1/4-length margin does not do justice to Jolie Olimpica’s superiority in this race. Free wrote that she “did it with effortless ease.”
Smith noted afterward that Jolie Olimpica was running her best at the finish.
“She galloped out well within herself,” Smith said. “She wasn’t winded at all.”
Smith added that Jolie Olimpica “should get a mile for sure.”
A possibility as a logical next start for Jolie Olimpica is Santa Anita’s Grade II Buena Vista Stakes on turf Feb. 22. The distance of that race? Yep. One mile.
Smith said he was happy to win on a daughter of Drosselmeyer. That’s because Smith was aboard Drosselmeyer for victories in the 2010 Belmont Stakes and 2011 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“This is his first offspring I’ve had a chance to ride,” Smith said.
Drosselmeyer is a son of Distorted Humor and Golden Ballet. In Southern California in 2001, Golden Ballet won the Grade I Santa Anita Oaks, Grade I Las Virgenes Stakes, Grade II Santa Ynez Stakes and Grade II Railbird Stakes.
Vasilika dominated the older female grass division in Southern California the last couple of years. Unquestionably one of the greatest claims in the history of the sport, she was taken for $40,000 in a race at Santa Anita on Feb. 11, 2018, and joined the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. After that, Vasilika won 13 of 18 starts and earned $1,722,320.
In Vasilika’s final career race, she finished second to Iridessa in the Grade I BC Filly & Mare Turf at Santa Anita last Nov. 2 for owners All Schlaich Stables, Gatto Racing, Janet Hollendorfer and George Todaro. Prior to the 2019 Breeders’ Cup, Jerry Hollendorfer rather than Janet had been part owner.
Following the 2019 Breeders’ Cup, Vasilika was sold for $1.5 million to Japan’s B. Katsumi Yoshida at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky 2019 November Sale.
With Vasilika now in Japan to begin her new career as a broodmare, she leaves an opening in the SoCal older female grass division. It appears that Brazilian import Jolie Olimpica just might fill that void in light of her victory in her United States debut last Saturday.