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Four Horses We’re Watching in Saturday’s LeComte Stakes

by Dustin Fabian

January 11, 2018

Saturday is a big day at the Fair Grounds. There’s no way around that. Their ‘Road to the Kentucky Derby’ kicks off with the Grade 3 LeComte Stakes. And while the LeComte isn’t always a ‘hit’ race on the Triple Crown Trail – for every one Hard Spun, Oxbow or Friesan Fire, there seems to be five or six ‘forgotten’ winners.

This year, however, feels like a big one. The field is massive – 14 entrants and an also eligible – but, probably more importantly, the class seems to be there. Principe Guilherme is on every ‘watch list.’ Same true for Instilled Regard. The filly entrant, Wonder Gadot, as of Thursday at least, appears more likely to run in the Silverbulletday Stakes earlier in the card.

Here are four LeComte horses I’m watching this Saturday, and also throughout the Triple Crown season. You can the LeComte as Race 9 at the Fair Grounds, at 6:03PM ET.

Four Horses I’m Watching

12. Principe Guilherme (5/2)
Pedigree: Tapit x Aubby K (Street Sense)
Owner: Three Chimneys Farm
Trainer: Steve Asmussen
Jockey: Florent Geroux

The sky appears to be the limit for the regally-bred Principe Guilherme, who blitzed through maiden and first-level allowance fields by 18-lengths combined late last year. His sire, Tapit, is regarded as one of North America’s finest, and his dam, Aubby K, won the G1 Humana Distaff and G2 Inside Information in 2013. This is a major class test, though, and his outside post does him no favors. I’m interested to see how aggressive they are early with him. Ask too much and he’ll be vulnerable late – ask too little and he could be hung wide throughout. I expect to see a positive performance and assume he’ll still be on most Derby Lists in the coming weeks.

10. Instilled Regard (4/1)
Pedigree: Arch x Enchancing (Forestry)
Owner: OXO Equine, LLC
Trainer: Jerry Hollendorfer
Jockey: Javier Castellano

If we’re betting this one on class alone, this guy is your pick. He ran great against Bob Baffert’s two-headed monster of McKinzie and Solomini last month in the G1 Los Alamitos Futurity, a race in which he was bumped down the stretch and ultimately placed second due to the DQ of Solomini. To finish right there on the wire with those two horses is quite the accomplishment. It’s interesting that the connections chose to bypass racing against McKinzie at ‘home’ last Saturday in the G3 Sham. Hard to know what to make of that (if anything), but given the version of McKinzie we saw last weekend, I wouldn’t have wanted any parts of him either. I love that this horse has improved significantly in two-turn races and I love even more that Javier Castellano gives up a Saturday riding at Gulfstream to head to New Orleans and pilot this one. He’s my top choice by a very slim margin.

9. Zeke (15/1)
Pedigree: Gio Ponti x Dancing Years (El Prado [Ire])
Owner: Bossci Stable
Trainer: Michael Stidham
Jockey: Joe Bravo

On paper, he lags well behind this field. That’s a given. But I watched his last race and left nothing short of very impressed. Breaking from the outside post in nine-horse allowance field on the lawn, he raced wide and wider behind a dawdling pace, yet still managed to run down and beat a ‘loose on the lead’ frontrunner who raced toward the rail. The final margin was only a nose, but based on the ground Zeke covered, he was probably much the best. The Stidham/Bravo combination has been virtually unbeatable in 2017/18 (41% winners, $3.23 ROI) and you’re getting him at 15/1 on Saturday! Zeke broke his maiden on the dirt at Laurel (albeit slowly), so he’s at least adept on this ground.

13. Prince Lucky (8/1)
Pedigree: Corinthian x Lucky Notion (Great Notion)
Owner: Daniel McConnell
Trainer: Larry Jones
Jockey: Julien Leparoux

Like Javier Castellano with Instilled Regard, you have to take note that Julien Leparoux picks up this mount. He’s likely in town primarily to ride Heavenly Love in the Silverbulletday, but this is a strong pickup mount. Prince Lucky is 3-for-4, with a win last out at Parx in the Pennsylvania Nursery Stakes. He’s very hindered by an outside draw here, but this is a horse that has been well-backed throughout his career in the Mid Atlantic and figures to receive support again Saturday. Note the big workout (5f in 1:00 1/5, best of 60) on January 7 to sharpen him for this.

Also on the Docket

Race 3 (MSW) – 3:03PM ET – Tapability (5/1, Bradley/Graham) is the first of two-time champion, Groupie Doll’s, offspring to make it to the races. Following her 2013 G1 BC Filly & Mare Sprint win, Groupie Doll was purchased for $3.1M by Mandy Pope and bred to star stallion, Tapit. I’ve got no idea if Tapability can run, especially in a pretty decent maiden race, but it’ll be nice to see him on the track.

Race 5 (Duncan F. Kenner Stakes) – 4:05PM ET – All eyes are on Yockey’s Warrior (4/5, Stall/Mena), who is 3-for-4 locally and won the Thanksgiving Handicap here by 5-lengths in November. Chublicious (3/1, Faucheux/Valdivia) won the G3 Xpressbet DeFrancis Dash at Laurel in September but was no match for ‘Warrior in the Thanksgiving. The once regarded Zulu (6/1, Catalano/Albarado), who was runner-up behind Mohaymen in the 2016 G2 Fountain of Youth, is now trained by Wayne Catalano, but hasn’t won in over a year.

Race 6 (Marie G. Krantz Memorial Stakes) – 4:35PM ET – Mom’s On Strike (4/1, Sharp/Beschizza) is a tepid favorite in a wide-open field. And anytime a ML favorite is a $10 horse, that’s great for bettors. Giada Vegas (9/2, Casse/Lanerie) has won four-straight races, while Inveniam Viam (9/2, Cox/Bridgmohan) is 5-for-10 at the Fair Grounds and 3-for-5 at the distance. No matter where you land here, you’re going to get paid if you’re right.

Race 7 (Silverbulletday Stakes) – 5:05PM ET – Sophomore fillies are on display and most money will funnel through the Mark Casse-trainees, Heavenly Love (3/1, Leparoux) and Wonder Gadot (2/1, Velazquez). Both have big wins on the resume – Heavenly Love took down Keeneland’s G1 Alcibiades, Wonder Gadot scored in Aqueduct’s G2 Demoiselle. Both were disappointing the G1 BC Juvenile Fillies – Wonder Gadot (6th) despite closing into a fast pace and Heavenly Love (11th), who was cooked by a fast pace. Heavenly Love was fancied by bettors more that day (7/2 vs 12/1 for her stablemate), but Wonder Gadot has the recency edge with the Demoiselle win. Blonde Bomber (7/2, Gold/Lezcano) benefitted from the hot BC pace to run 3rd at 30/1.

Race 8 (Col. E.R. Bradley Handicap) – 5:35PM ET – Like the Marie Krantz, this is a very deep turf race. Special Ops (6/1, Maker/Leparoux) won the Claiming Crown Emerald last time at Gulfstreamm and has won 3-of-5 since Maker claimed him. Tower of Texas (7/2, Attfield/Geroux) was 3rd, beaten 1-length, in the G3 Tropical Turf at Gulfstream in December, and Galton (5/1, Maker/Castellano) was second in that race. Avanzare (12/1, Broberg/Beschizza) makes his first start off the claim for Broberg, a positive angle, while Dimension (8/1, Murphy/Graham) scored at 40/1 last out in a stakes race here.

Race 10 (Louisiana Handicap) – 6:34PM ET – The Player (3/1, Bradley/Borel) won the G2 Fayette at Keeneland and was a tough-trip 5th in the G1 Clark last out. Dazzing Gem (9/2, Cox/Bridgmohan) is reliable and makes his second start off the layoff, which is a huge angle for Brad Cox. Hawaakom (12/1, Hawley/Mena) won this last year, while Cedartown (Stidham/Bravo) appears to be an up-and-coming sort off his Zia Park Derby win.

Worth Noting

Here are the Top 10 Trainers and Jockeys at the Fair Grounds, for those who don’t bet there often:

Top 10 Trainers

1. Brad Cox – 22 (31%)
2. Joe Sharp – 19 (26%)
3. Tom Amoss – 16 (30%)
4. Al Stall – 14 (21%)
4. Mike Stidham – 14 (24%)
6. Mark Casse – 10 (26%)
7. Bret Calhoun – 9 (17%)
7. Karl Broberg – 9 (15%)
9. Sam David Jr. – 8 (29%)
10. Steve Asmussen – 7 (11%)
10. James Hodges – 7 (32%)

Top 10 Jockeys

1. Shaun Bridgmohan – 31 (29%)
2. Miguel Mena – 30 (18%)
3. Mitchell Murrill – 24 (14%)
4. Joe Bravo – 19 (30%)
4. Adam Beschizza – 19 (21%)
6. Colby Hernandez – 18 (15%)
7. Marcelino Pedroza – 15 (12%)
8. Corey Lanerie – 14 (10%)
8. James Graham – 14 (12%)
10. Florent Geroux – 12 (13%)
10. Gabriel Saez – 12 (13%)