The Road to the Kentucky Derby series runs through Fair Grounds this weekend with the $200,000 Lecomte (G3) at a mile and 70 yards. A competitive field of 14 is set, with a lukewarm 9-2 morning line favorite in Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) runner-up Plus Que Parfait, and a wet track appears likely in the Crescent City.
Seventeen points will be split among the top four finishers (10-4-2-1 scale) and the Lecomte anchors an All-Stakes Pick 4 on Saturday. Three contestants have earned points toward a Kentucky Derby berth: Plus Que Parfait (4); Mr. Money, who received two points finishing fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1); and Tight Ten, two points for a third in the Iroquois (G3).
Tight Ten looks key to the pace from post 11. The Steve Asmussen-trained colt never got involved when rating the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and appears to need a front-running trip to be successful. Speed resides to the inside, with Malpais (post 2) and Mr. Money (post 4) registering triple-digit BRIS Early Pace numbers in previous starts, and Manny Wah must be considered a wildcard from the extreme outside (post 13). Manny Wah has run his best races on the engine and posted a 107 E1 rating contesting the pace in the Street Sense two back.
Plus Que Parfait showed speed in his first two dirt starts, including an October maiden special weight win at Keeneland, but switched to rating tactics while making his stakes debut over a sloppy track in the Kentucky Jockey Club. He didn’t like the kickback during the early stages and took the overland route the rest of the way, launching an eye-catching rally past nearly the entire field on the far turn to almost draw even by the head of the stretch. The chestnut son of Point of Entry couldn’t sustain his momentum to the wire, winding up a neck back of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile third-placer Signalman, but never quit trying finishing a clear second.
He must keep moving forward for Brendan Walsh and faces a tricky outside starting position (post 12), but Plus Que Parfait remains eligible to receive the right set-up and showed an affinity for wet conditions. Julien Leparoux will be in to ride.
War of Will appears formidable for Mark Casse. A classy Grade 1-placed turf performer, the War Front colt switched to the main track and impressively broke his maiden by five lengths in the slop at Churchill Downs on November 24. He earned a 94 BRIS Speed rating last time, the same figure Plus Que Parfait netted for the Kentucky Jockey Club. Tyler Gaffalione retains the call and War of Will won’t be far back during the early stages with his tactical speed.
Mr. Money raced up close to the pace down the backstretch of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and saved fourth at 41-1. The form line certainly sticks out against this mostly unproven cast and Bret Calhoun conditions the son of Goldencents.
Tackett, a gelded West Virginia-bred by Limehouse, enters his stakes debut on the upswing for Mike Stidham following a pair of local wins. The chestnut stretched out to two turns and broke his maiden by a 7 ½-length margin on November 24 and exits a neck tally over entry-level allowance foes on December 22, netting a career-best 88 BRIS Speed for the latter.
Malpais tries stakes foes and two turns after romping by 5 ¾ lengths in a December 22 maiden at Fair Grounds; the Hard Spun colt could be a nice one for Joe Sharp. Wicked Indeed, the second of two runners from Asmussen, won his career debut here two back and will try to improve upon a third to Tackett last out. Mo Speed, who hails from the Casse shedrow, rallied from just off the pace to win an off-the-turf maiden at Fair Grounds going away last time but must improve significantly upon an 82 Speed figure to challenge.
Hog Creek Hustle and Roiland rate consideration for a minor share at expected long odds. Hog Creek Hustle rolled to a convincing win over allowance foes at Churchill Downs two back, rallying from 16 lengths off the pace to score by open lengths, and didn’t run poorly when third behind wire-to-wire winner Gray Attempt in the six-furlong Sugar Bowl last out. Roiland captured a salty allowance two back and experienced a less-than-favorable trip rallying for fifth in the Kentucky Jockey Club last time.
The last two Kentucky Derby winners were still maidens at this point. Always Dreaming, who placed twice as a juvenile, recorded his first win when opening his three-year-old season at Tampa Bay Downs in late January and Justify didn’t make his first start until February 18 last year.
Let’s review some promising three-year-olds who will be pointing to Kentucky Derby qualifiers:
Mihos rallied to get up in the January 5 Mucho Macho Man, prevailing by a neck in the one-turn mile event. Third to Vekoma when opening his career in late September, the James Jerkens-trained son of Cairo Prince came back to break his maiden at Aqueduct in late November. He settled off the pace in his stakes debut and launched his move nearing the conclusion of the far turn, erasing a sizable gap to overhaul Trophy Chaser in the final yards. The runner-up ran a big race to finish well clear of third. Owned by Centennial Farms, Mihos netted a 100 BRIS Speed rating and I’m excited to see his two-turn bow next out.
Federal Case improved to two-for-two while making his first start for Todd Pletcher in a one-mile allowance on December 23, wearing down pacesetter Frosted Grace in deep stretch to post a neck victory. A debut winner at Keeneland in mid-October, the Gemologist colt was purchased by Robert and Lawana Low for $650,000 at the Keeneland November sale a couple of weeks later. His female family offers plenty of encouragement for longer distances and Federal Case received a 94 BRIS Speed. The February 2 Holy Bull (G2) could be next.
Overdeliver won at first asking for Pletcher and Repole Stable on December 23, taking a six-furlong maiden test by two lengths in front-running fashion. The Kentucky-bred son of Overanalyze hails from a mare by Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Tabasco Cat and Overdeliver garnered a 93 BRIS Speed.
Scintillating debut performance from Global Campaign, who appeared to win with plenty of reserve when drawing off to a 5 ¾-length decision in a seven-furlong maiden special weight on January 5. Campaigned by Sagamore Farm and WinStar, the Stanley Hough-trainee earned a commendable 96 BRIS Speed rating for the front-running romp and the well-bred colt will take plenty of action against stakes rivals after being bet down to even-money here.
The Kentucky Derby remains the one big race missing from the resume of sire Curlin, who has been represented by Preakness and Belmont Stakes winners along with multiple champions, and Global Campaign features an excellent mix of speed and stamina in his bloodlines. Out of a mare by A.P. Indy, broodmare sire of Game Winner and 2010 Kentucky Derby victor Super Saver, Global Campaign’s half-brother Bolt d’Oro was already a Grade 1 winner when selling for $250,000 during the fifth session of the 2017 Keeneland September yearling sale. The sales are far from an exact science: Triple Crown winner Justify was tied for the 76th-highest seller when bringing $500,000 at the 2016 Keeneland September sale and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah wound up a $300,000 buyback at the 2013 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga August sale.
Nolo Conteste stretched out to two turns for his second start on January 4 and was caught about five wide rounding the first turn, establishing a stalking position a few lengths off the pace down the backstretch. From the same connections as Accelerate (Hronis Racing/John Sadler), the Pioneerof the Nile ridgling advanced under urging to engage even-money favorite Omaha Beach leaving the far turn and eventually forged past a game rival, edging away to a half-length tally. Nolo Conteste improved nicely upon his first appearance, registering a solid 94 BRIS Speed rating, and appears to be still learning. Omaha Beach, a War Front colt trained by Richard Mandella, switched to turf for his fourth career outing and recorded his third consecutive close second.
Big Scott Daddy steadily advanced into contention through far turn while wide and struck the front in midstretch of a 6 ½-furlong maiden on the December 26 opener, accelerating to a clear lead before holding to win by a half-length. By Scat Daddy, sire of Justify, the Mike Puype-trained colt is eligible to receive plenty of stamina from his female family and received a 96 BRIS Speed. Mike Smith was up.
Tampa Bay Downs
So Alive shipped to his Tampa Bay Downs for his initial two-turn attempt, an entry-level allowance at a mile and 40 yards on January 6, and didn’t experience a favorable trip early. The Pletcher trainee broke a half-step slowly and rushed forward to challenge for the lead while wide before being reined in by Sammy Camacho. So Alive settled down the backstretch, rating a few lengths off the pace while racing well off the rail, and surged to a short lead between horses approaching the stretch. The Super Saver colt straightened for home under a heavy drive and finally wrested control in the final sixteenth of a mile, striding out well as he won going away by 1 ½ lengths. By Super Saver, So Alive counts last year’s Wood Memorial (G2) winner Vino Rosso as a half-brother. His 89 BRIS Speed rating came back a little light but So Alive remains a candidate to keep moving forward in the coming months.
Kentucky Derby Top 10
- GAME WINNER: Breeders’ Cup Juvenile hero the one to beat entering 2019
- IMPROBABLE: Romped stretching out to two turns in the Los Alamitos Futurity
- MAXIMUS MISCHIEF: Parx-based colt remained unbeaten in Remsen
- SIGNALMAN: Continued his progression with Kentucky Jockey Club tally
- VEKOMA: Unbeaten stakes winner with commendable BRIS Speed numbers
- COLISEUM: Giving Tapit colt a mulligan for Sham
- GUNMETAL GRAY: Late-running specialist mowed down Sham rivals
- MIHOS: Registered 100 BRIS Speed for rallying win in Mucho Macho Man
- PLUS QUE PARFAIT: Kentucky Jockey Club runner-up returns in the Lecomte
- MUCHO: Hopeful runner-up recently returned to the worktab for Mott
I will recap the Lecomte and preview the January 25 Smarty Jones on Oaklawn Park’s opener, the first of four Kentucky Derby qualifiers in Arkansas.