Saturday’s $200,000 Lecomte (G3) serves as the initial sifting phase for Kentucky Derby (G1) aspirants at Fair Grounds. In the process of competing for Derby points, allocated on a 10-4-2-1 scale to the respective top four finishers, the sophomores will answer questions about their realistic chances of advancing on the trail.
Here are my five points to ponder:
1. Scabbard brings strong form but must prove he’s not just minor-award material.
The 7-2 morning-line favorite has run creditably in all three graded stakes appearances, without managing to win one. His most alluring effort was a hampered, but clear, second to Dennis’ Moment in the Iroquois (G3). With a clean trip, Scabbard likely would have gotten a lot closer to that odds-on rival in the first Derby points race – and his first try at this 1 1/16-mile trip.
Previously runner-up to Green Light Go in the Saratoga Special (G2), Scabbard concluded 2019 with a staying-on fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), where he ran a race vaguely similar to Elate’s fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). Trainer Eddie Kenneally has said that the colt wasn’t in love with the Santa Anita surface, but forecasts he’ll enjoy Fair Grounds as he does Churchill. A repeat of his Iroquois would make him very tough in this spot, so it’s time for him to prove he can win one of these and not keep settling for placings.
2. The Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) was a messy race.
Three of the Lecomte contenders are coming out of that points race contested over the Churchill Downs slop, forcing a value judgment of its worth. The troubled trip endured by beaten favorite Tiz a Slam, the slow pace on an off track, and the fact that 87-1 shot Finnick the Fierce got up for second, all combine to cast at least a scrupulous question mark on the form. Finnick the Fierce, despite having only one eye, is a game and genuine type who’s never run a bad race. Still, my working hypothesis is that he ran his best while others didn’t put their best foot forward, and he needs to back that up again. Pacesetter New Eagle, who folded to fifth, has a tougher task.
KJC fourth-placer Enforceable is the most logical candidate to improve here with the benefit of a stronger pace scenario. Indeed, two back, the Mark Casse blueblood was a fine third in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1). Yet the Tapit colt has struck me as a dour type so far – unlike brothers Mohaymen and Kingly and half-brother New Year’s Day. His stamina told late when breaking his maiden going 1 1/8 miles at Saratoga, and if he needed that distance last summer, he probably requires at least as far now. Maturity, and the long Fair Grounds stretch, might help.
3. Silver State offers loads of upside but might benefit from the experience.
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen has three in the Lecomte, and it’s easy to see why Ricardo Santana Jr. is staying with Silver State. The Hard Spun colt looks like a big, stout, scopey sort who’s done well so far on raw talent, with more to come as he strengthens into his frame.
Overcoming a slow start on debut at Churchill, he learned plenty while working out a midpack trip, angling out, and rallying to force a dead-heat with Relentless Dancer. Silver State probably would have won by daylight if he’d gotten off to a level break. Considering that they pulled 9 3/4 lengths clear of third (next-out winner Bango), and that front-running Relentless Dancer came right back to romp in the Louisiana Legacy, the maiden has worked out. Silver State didn’t have the best of trips in his entry-level allowance try, also at Churchill, but picked up powerfully once he saw daylight in stretch and collared Necker Island. He might have thought the race was over because he let that promising rival come back to edge him.
Stretching out from a one-turn mile to two turns, Silver State is entitled to keep progressing. The main question Saturday is if he’s mentally reached the point to dispatch more experienced stakes rivals.
Stablemate Halo Again, on the other hand, has shown his scrappiness if perhaps not the same level of pure ability. In both starts, the $600,000 Speightstown colt has come under a ride on the far turn, but found plenty. He drew off down the stretch in his Churchill maiden score, but in the Coronation Futurity at Woodbine, he had to work harder. After appearing outpaced turning for home, he kicked on up the rail to edge the wide-closing Malibu Mambo. Halo Again can’t afford to hit a similar flat spot.
4. Mr. Monomoy might benefit from having other speed signed on.
The Palace Malice half-brother to champion Monomoy Girl was upset last time out in a local allowance prep, when mugged by Lynn’s Map late. Although the loss could be chalked up to a learning experience in his two-turn debut, Mr. Monomoy was arguably inconvenienced by the early crawl.
The Brad Cox pupil had shown good speed in his Churchill maiden conquest, and even in his troubled unveiling at Keeneland, he had an honest tempo to close into after being in a squeeze play at the start. In the Dec. 21 Fair Grounds allowance, however, Mr. Monomoy took a strong hold in second and didn’t switch off as much as he might have. The livelier pace scenario in the Lecomte could help him find his rhythm more readily. Even so, he wasn’t exactly stopping last time, and Lynn’s Map just ran him down in the slop. Lynn’s Map figures to be rallying again late – if he doesn’t scratch from post 14.
5. Shashashakemeup is intriguing as a pedigree play on the stretch-out.
Trained by Keith Desormeaux, who is well capable of springing upsets, Shashashakemeup set the pace in his 7-furlong debut at Churchill and looked stronger the farther he went. As he hurled back 6-5 favorite Lonely Private and opened up, Shashashakemeup evoked the tough spirit of sire Shackleford. He didn’t get involved next time in the 6-furlong Sugar Bowl, getting off a beat slow and trudging home a one-paced fourth in the slop. But he’s plainly better than that, and his immediate family adds to hopes of black type in his future. His dam is a Pulpit half to Grade 3 scorer Summer Raven (the dam of a trio of graded winners including Lewis Bay and Winslow Homer), and multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Wild Rush is close up on his page as well.
The other Lecomte runner stretching out from that “Santa Super Saturday” card, Sycamore Run, wired a 6-furlong maiden in a time faster than the Sugar Bowl (1:10.96 compared to 1:11.20). That was just off the 1:10.83 posted by budding 3-year-old filly star Taraz in the Letellier Memorial. The quick-striding son of Street Sense figures to have a more challenging scenario from post 13 on Saturday. If the track is sloppy again, however, with a reasonable chance of rain in the forecast, Sycamore Run could move up. At the same time, Shashashakemeup’s subpar Sugar Bowl leaves his slop-worthiness an open question.