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Lecomte kicks off Fair Grounds' Road to the Kentucky Derby

Avie's Quality will be making his U.S. debut in the Lecomte (WEG/Michael Burns Photography)

Fair Grounds' Road to the Kentucky Derby will begin on Saturday when a field of nine sophomores line up in the Grade 3, $200,000 Lecomte going a mile and 70 yards over the Crescent City oval.

A number of contenders will be looking to solidify their status as Kentucky Derby hopefuls, including Avie's Quality and Oxbow as well as maiden winners Golden Soul and Malibu High.

Avie's Quality will be making his first start outside of Woodbine in the Lecomte for trainer Josie Carroll. The Elusive Quality colt took three tries to break his maiden, but finally got the job done on November 14 going 1 1/16 miles on the Polytrack. He followed up that five-length victory with a 1 1/4-length score in the Display, for which he earned a field-best 100 BRIS Speed rating, and gets hot-riding Rosie Napravnik in the saddle for his Fair Grounds debut.

Oxbow broke his maiden at Churchill Downs on November 25, then shipped cross-country to Hollywood Park for his stakes bow in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity. The D. Wayne Lukas pupil was a one-paced fourth in that 8 1/2-furlong event at 60-1 and will need to show marked improvement if he hopes to be a legitimate Derby horse. The bay son of Awesome Again will have Jon Court in the saddle.

Golden Soul just missed by a head in his career debut under the Twin Spires in mid-November, but the Perfect Soul chestnut returned on December 30 at Fair Grounds to romp by 7 1/4 lengths while going 1 1/16 miles for trainer Dallas Stewart. He's posted just one work since then, speeding four furlongs in :48 2/5 on Sunday in preparation for his first stakes try in the Lecomte. Brian Hernandez Jr. was aboard for Golden Soul's impressive maiden win and retains the mount Saturday.

Circle Unbroken will compete beyond six furlongs for the first time on Saturday (Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography)

Malibu High brings a perfect two-for-two mark into the Lecomte but will have a jockey switch to Miguel Mena after regular rider Calvin Borel was sidelined with a broken left wrist earlier this month. The Cecil Borel-trained son of Malibu Moon will also be stretching out past six furlongs for the first time in this spot.

Fear the Kitten was in the same situation as Malibu High when starting in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club last out on November 24, making his stakes bow while holding an unbeaten record. The Kitten's Joy bay was unable to keep his mark perfect, rallying to be fifth in that 8 1/2-furlong contest, and will be saddled by new trainer Mike Maker for the first time in the Lecomte.

Circle Unbroken, a Broken Vow three-year-old, just missed keeping his mark perfect when a neck second in the Mountaineer Juvenile on August 4, and will be returning off that six-furlong contest in this spot. The Garry Simma pupil captured the Grade 3 Bashford Manor prior to his last one.

Ive Struck a Nerve and Heitai are the most experienced runners in the Lecomte. The former has started seven times, including a runner-up effort in the Sugar Bowl over the local dirt on December 22, while Heitai boasts a 2-2-2 mark from six starts. He has been close in his past three stakes races against fellow Louisiana-breds.

Hawaakom, a maiden winner over track and distance on December 15, completes the Lecomte field.

Earlier on the card, eight older runners will go in the $100,000 Louisiana Handicap at 1 1/16 miles, including last year's Grade 2 Louisiana Derby and Grade 2 Risen Star runner-up Mark Valeski.

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