Though its been only two years since Steve Asmussen saddled stable star Gun Runner to victories in the Risen Star (G2) and Louisiana Derby (G2), it’s been a decade since the Hall of Fame trainer reached the winner’s circle after Fair Grounds’ first major Kentucky Derby (G1) prep, the $200,000 Lecomte (G3). On Saturday, he’ll take three cracks at the one-mile and 70-yard race, most notably with stakes debuter Principe Guilherme.
The Lecomte, which offers Kentucky Derby qualifying points of 10-4-2-1 to the top four finishers, highlights a tremendous 13-race program on Road to the Derby Kickoff Day at the New Orleans track, with six of the races being stakes.
A homebred racing for Three Chimneys Farm, Principe Guilherme (Prince William in Portuguese) has been untouchable in two starts to date, winning by 6 1/4 lengths in a seven-furlong maiden at Churchill Downs November 10 and following up with an 11 3/4-length demolition of six rivals in a December 16 allowance at Fair Grounds over the Lecomte distance. He’s a son of Tapit and the Humana Distaff (G1) winner Aubby K, by Derby hero Street Sense.
“Principe Guilherme is out of a Grade 1 winner and I think he shows some tendencies with her speed,” Asmussen said. “We’re just trying to get him to relax and use it effectively with his acceleration and his quickness is obvious.
“I think the Lecomte will be a very good test for him with him drawing (post) 12. I think that will put a lot of questions of how effective he can be at a two-turn race that obviously has plenty of pace in it.”
Perhaps helping to provide some of that pace is Instilled Regard, who was elevated from third to second in last month’s Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) after being squeezed by the Bob Baffert-trained pair of Solomini and McKinzie. The latter inherited the victory via disqualification, and romped in last weekend’s Sham (G3) at Santa Anita in his follow-up.
After placing in a pair of sprints to start his career, Instilled Regard won at first asking around two turns, taking a 1 1/16-mile Santa Anita maiden by more than four lengths after leading most of the way.
Of Asmussen’s other two entries, Snapper Sinclair has some tactical foot while Zing Zang is a dead closer. The former was a stakes winner on the Kentucky Downs turf prior to running up the track in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), while Zing Zang rallied from well off the pace to break his maiden on the same day Principe Guilherme won his allowance.
“(Snapper Sinclair) is obviously a very talented horse,” Asmussen said. “We’re just trying to get him to transfer his obvious ability on turf to the dirt. This is an opportunity early in the year to see if his form will transfer over or if we need to isolate him to turf races.
“With Zing Zang, I must admit, the Tapit in him I see as hopefully (Belmont S. [G1]) winner Creator,” Asmussen said. “He has a lot of disposition as well as his style and how he trains and he’s never tired and the more you ask him to do, the happier he seems. I think, to put him in the Lecomte is to get him in a rhythm. Just like Creator, it’s going to take races for him to step up his game and kind of get his attention. He’s young minded and very playful, but he’s got a ton of ability.”
Larry Jones, who’s won the Lecomte three times since 2007, has his own trio in the three-time stakes-placed Kowboy Karma, Pennsylvania Nursery winner Prince Lucky, and the allowance scorer Believe in Royalty, a son of Tapit and Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Believe You Can.
“I don’t know which horse would have the best shot,” Jones said. “I’m sure it’s whoever gets the best trip and things like that. It could be detrimental to get hung on the outside of somebody.”
Lone Sailor has a chance to improve for trainer Tom Amoss. Third in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and second by a head in the $83,000 Street Sense, he endured a troubled trip in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) but did manage to rally for fifth after dealing with a loose horse in the clubhouse turn. He adds blinkers for the Lecomte.
Whether Demoiselle (G2) winner Wonder Gadot chooses the Lecomte over the $150,000 Silverbulletday remains unknown, but Ciaran already is an early withdrawal from that race. That ensures also-eligible Trigger Warning a spot in the field.