by Jon White
January 16, 2019
The next steps on the Road to the 2019 Kentucky Derby will be taken this Saturday in New Orleans when the Grade III Lecomte Stakes is renewed at the venerable Fair Grounds.
How wide open is this year’s Lecomte? Plus Que Parfait has been pegged as a lukewarm 9-2 favorite on Mike Diliberto’s morning line. To be contested at one mile and 70 yards, the Lecomte has drawn a bulky field of 15, including one also eligible. Here are my selections:
1. War of Will (5-1 morning line)
2. Plus Que Parfait (9-2)
3. Roiland (12-1)
4. Mr. Money (5-1)
As a maiden, War of Will did not disgrace himself in three graded stakes races on the turf last year for owner Gary Barber and trainer Mark Casse. War of Will ran second to the highly regarded Fog of War in the Grade I Summer Stakes at Woodbine on Sept. 16 and a close fourth in the Grade III Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland on Oct. 7, then finished fifth in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Churchill Downs on Nov. 2.
I interpret the three starts by War of Will in graded stakes races as a maiden last year as reflecting the very high opinion Barber and Casse have of this Kentucky-bred War Front colt.
In War of Will’s final 2018 appearance under silks, he splashed home an impressive five-length winner in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight race on a sloppy main track Nov. 24 at Churchill. That was his first start on dirt.
Maybe War of Will just relished the sloppy going and won’t be all that good on a dry track. But who knows? What if War of Will is even better on a dry track? That can’t be ruled out at this point. In any case, his workouts leading up to the Lecomte indicate to me that he might be primed to run a big race this Saturday on either a dry or wet track. These are his five recorded works at the Fair Grounds:
Dec. 17, 4 furlongs (track fast) in :49.00 (10th fastest of 57)
Dec. 23, 5 furlongs (track fast) in 1:00.20 (2nd fastest of 51)
Dec. 30, 5 furlongs (track sloppy) in 1:01.20 (fastest of 23)
Jan. 05, 5 furlongs (track fast ) in :59.60 (2nd fastest of 76)
Jan. 12, 4 furlongs (track fast) in :48.00 (3rd fastest of 145)
Instilled Regard, coming off the Grade I Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity in which he finished third and was moved up to second via the DQ of Solomini, was sent to Louisiana and won the 2018 Lecomte by 3 3/4 lengths. Instilled Regard would go on to finish fourth behind Justify, Good Magic and Audible in the Kentucky Derby.
Two of the last four Lecomte winners exited the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill. This could bode well for Plus Que Parfait and Roiland, who ended up second and fifth, respectively, in the Kentucky Jockey Club last Nov. 24.
International Star finished fourth in the 2014 Kentucky Jockey Club and went on to win the 2015 Lecomte.
Mo Tom ran third in the 2015 Kentucky Jockey Club and later captured the 2016 Lecomte.
Plus Que Parfait figures to have a big say in this Saturday’s Lecomte. I certainly will not be surprised if he wins. The Kentucky-bred Point of Entry colt was eleventh early in the Kentucky Jockey Club, then rallied to finish second at 14-1, a neck behind Signalman on a sloppy track. Brendan Walsh conditions Plus Que Parfait, who had a sharp four-furlong workout last Saturday in :48.00 at the Fair Grounds.
Roiland came on to finish fifth at 42-1 in the Kentucky Jockey Club after being last early in the field of 14. Tom Amoss trains the Kentucky-bred Successful Appeal colt.
Two Lecomte runners exit the Grade I BC Juvenile at Churchill on Nov. 2. They are Mr. Money, who finished fourth at 41-1, and Tight Ten, who came in ninth at 35-1.
Keep in mind the BC Juvenile has proven to be a productive race. Three BC Juvenile runners have been next-out stakes winners: Signalman, Gunmetal Gray and Mind Control.
Signalman finished third in the BC Juvenile, then won the Kentucky Jockey Club. Gunmetal Gray ran fifth in the BC Juvenile, then won the Grade III Sham Stakes at Santa Anita on Jan. 5. Mind Control finished seventh in the BC Juvenile, then won the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct on Jan. 1.
THIS WEEK’S KENTUCKY DERBY TOP 10
Game Winner, trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, currently holds the top spot on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 list. The Kentucky-bred Candy Ride colt, who won the aforementioned productive BC Juvenile to complete a four-for-four 2018 campaign, is odds-on to be voted a 2018 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male.
In Ed Golden’s Santa Anita stable notes last Sunday, Baffert said his plan, “if all goes well,” is for Game Winner to make his 2019 debut in Santa Anita’s Grade II San Felipe Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on March 9.
Here is this week’s Kentucky Derby Top 10:
1. Game Winner
4. Maximus Mischief
7. Network Effect
8. Mucho Gusto
A BRIEF CONVERSATION WITH JEFF BRIDGES
When the Hollywood Foreign Press Association honored actor Jeff Bridges with the Cecil B. deMille Award at this year’s Golden Globes, I thought back to an autumn morning in 2002 at Santa Anita when I was introduced to him.
Before I relate my brief conversation with Bridges, let me give you some background.
While I was in Las Vegas in February 2002, I noticed that Came Home was 100-1 in the Kentucky Derby future book on the board at the Barbary Coast. Sometimes the price on the board does not match the price you get when you go to make your bet. Thus, I wanted to make sure that was the price before making a wager.
“What price do you have on Came Home to win the Kentucky Derby?” I asked the teller.
“He’s 100-1,” he replied.
Hearing that, I put down a crisp $100 bill.
“How much of that do you want to bet, sir?” the teller asked.
“All of it.”
That meant that if Came Home did come home first in the 2002 Kentucky Derby, I was going to win $10,000.
When I made my bet in Vegas, Came Home already had made one start that year. He had won Santa Anita’s Grade II San Vicente Stakes at seven furlongs by four lengths. He then won Santa Anita’s Grade II San Rafael Stakes at one mile by three lengths on March 2 and the Grade I Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8 miles by 2 1/4 lengths on April 6.
But, alas, Came Home did not win the Kentucky Derby. Sent off at 8-1, he raced close up early before finishing sixth at 8-1, while War Emblem won by four lengths at 20-1.
Later that year on Aug. 25, I was at Emerald Downs to be one of the commentators on the Fox Sports Northwest telecast of the Grade III Longacres Mile. The Pacific Classic was run that same afternoon at Del Mar. While the horses were on the track for the Pacific Classic, I was in the conference room at Emerald, doing research for the Longacres Mile. Sitting across the table from me was ESPN’s Chris Lincoln.
“I am going to be sick if Came Home wins the Pacific Classic,” I said to Lincoln.
“Why is that?” he asked.
“Because I had $100 on him at 100-1 in the future book for the Kentucky Derby,” I said. “I would have won $10,000 if Came Home had won the Kentucky Derby. But War Emblem won the Kentucky Derby. And now War Emblem and Came Home are running against each other again in the Pacific Classic. So I will be sick if Came Home wins today.”
War Emblem finished sixth in the Pacific Classic as the 6-5 favorite. Came Home did win by three-quarters of a length at 10-1. When Came Home reached the finish line in front, I pounded my fist on the conference table. As I recall, there were maybe seven or eight people in the conference room to watch the Pacific Classic.
“Okay everybody,” Lincoln said. “Take all sharp objects away from Jon White.”
Despite being bummed out by seeing Came Home win and beat the Kentucky Derby winner, I couldn’t help chuckling when Lincoln said that.
Came Home, trained by Paco Gonzalez, would race once more before going to stud. The Gone West colt started in the 2002 BC Classic at Arlington Park on Oct. 26. Voloponi won the BC Classic that year. Came Home finished 10th.
Four days before the BC Classic, Came Home had what would be the final workout of his career. I was at the Gonzalez barn at Santa Anita that morning to watch the work. Trudy McCaffery, one of Came Home’s owners, also was there.
McCaffery introduced me to Bridges, who also was there to see Came Home’s workout. McCaffery and Bridges were friends. At that time, Bridges was preparing for his upcoming role as Charles S. Howard, the owner of Seabiscuit, in the 2003 film about the 1940 Santa Anita Handicap winner.
McCaffery had known about my Kentucky Derby future book wager on Came Home. As we all accompanied Came Home to the track from the barn on that October morning, McCaffery asked me to tell Bridges about that bet.
I told Bridges that I had put $100 on Came Home in the Kentucky Derby future book at 100-1. If Came Home had won the race, I would have won $10,000.
I went on to say that, unfortunately for me, Came Home did not win the Kentucky Derby. But he then won the Pacific Classic at Del Mar, beating the Kentucky Derby winner, War Emblem.
As we walked along, Bridges seemed to be listening intently to what I was saying. After I was finished with my tale, he waited a bit before he said anything. He seemed to be processing what I had just told him.
After a few minutes, Bridges said, “Let me get this straight. You bet $100 on Came Home in the Kentucky Derby at 100-1?”
“That’s right,” I replied.
“And if Came Home had won the Kentucky Derby, you would have won $10,000?”
“And then Came Home beat the Kentucky Derby winner at Del Mar?”
I said that also was correct.
Bridges paused, shook his head, and then said, “Man, I really feel for you.”