2022 Kentucky Derby Preview Series – The Grade 3 Lecomte – By Eric Solomon

Each week, we’ll have an update on horses and races from the previous week that may produce starters for the 148th Kentucky Derby on May 7th, 2022. Current futures odds from Circa or Caesars-William Hill will be provided as they are available. Feel free to reach out on Twitter @EricSolomon718.

Over the last few years, the Fair Grounds has placed an emphasis on big days of racing, and the quality of races on these cards on their Road to the Kentucky Derby Series, continues to be impressive. Last year, the Derby runner up, Mandaloun was defeated by Midnight Bourbon, in this race. While that race was the only win of the year for Midnight Bourbon, he would go on to hit the board in six more graded stakes, four of those in Grade 1 races (and it would have been five, had he not clipped heels and fallen at Monmouth in the Haskell). While they will renew their rivalry for the 6th time this afternoon, perhaps a new rivalry will be born between Epicenter, who runs for the same connections as Midnight Bourbon, and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner up, Pappacap. 

In addition to the stakes race, the Fair Grounds has always tried to card maiden special weight races and allowance races for three year olds at two turns on these cards, in hopes of attracting some of the winners to help fill the stakes races later in the meet. This year, the maiden special weight race was split into two divisions, and there’s a nice optional claiming/allowance race earlier in the card as well for three year olds. I’ll post some thoughts on those races underneath the horse by horse analysis of the Lecomte.

This weekend is also Pool 2 of the pari-mutuel Derby Future Wager offered through Churchill Downs. Wagering opens at 12:00 ET on Friday, January 21st, and ends at 6:00 PM ET on Sunday, January 23rd. With sports gambling being legalized in several more states over the last few years, this is a wager that is on it’s way to becoming obsolete. It’s limited to 23 single entries and the 24th option is the Field (or everyone else). The morning line on every runner in the race is lower than what the odds on that horse is at the moment in the Derby Futures Books through various casinos. Plus the casino odds are fixed, meaning that if I placed a wager on Pappacap to win the Derby at 30-1 through Circa, those would be the odds that the ticket would pay if he wins the Kentucky Derby. Pappacap is listed at 20-1 on the morning line in the pari-mutuel Derby Future Wager. If I placed a wager on Pappacap on Friday, hoping to get 20-1 odds, and he goes on to win the Lecomte by two lengths, it’s almost a guarantee that his future odds will be cut in half prior to the close of wagering on Sunday, thus limiting any true value on that wager. If there is value to be had with this type of wager, you’d want to start looking at the live odds in the final half hour of wagering (5:30 ET on Sunday, 1/23). Perhaps the odds on some of the horses that haven’t run yet in this calendar year, could float up, knowing that the field and whoever runs well in the Lecomte are going to take a decent amount of money. 

 

 

Fair Grounds Saturday 1/22/21, Race 14: The Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes

17 Total Derby points (10/4/2/1)

1 – Surfer Dude (250-1, Circa): The third place finisher in the Gun Runner is back for another shot in stakes company. He faded late in both of his two turn starts, which is a little concerning. He’s sired by Curlin, out of a Tiznow mare, so there’s reason to believe he can develop some more stamina at two turns. However, he’s in start number seven, and I haven’t seen enough progression to endorse him in a race like this. 

2 – Unified Report (300-1, Circa): Dallas Stewart trains this undefeated Louisiana bred colt out of freshman sire, Unified. Unified was a three time graded stakes winner, with all three races being at one turn (Bay Shore, Peter Pan, and the Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship). He’s had a decent amount of success with his first crop, with many winning races at one turn. A few of his runners have found success at two turns though. He did beat Louisiana breds in stakes company in a two turn stakes race at seven furlongs at Delta. This is a big step up in class, but we have seen Louisiana breds that can compete in open company (Most recently, Australasia comes to mind winning the Jersey Girl at Belmont last year). He intrigues me a little more than some of the other longer priced horses here. 

3 – Pappacap (30-1, Circa): The runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile makes his seasonal debut for Mark Casse. He’s a grade two winner, scoring in his second career start in the Best Pal at Del Mar. He had a bit of a difficult trip in the Del Mar Futurity behind gate to wire winner, Pinehurst. He was second best to Corniche in both of his two turn races, having a more difficult trip than the winner in both races. This horse is an interesting player on the Triple Crown trail because I think he’s got a strong foundation of educational races. He’s handled adversity and continued running, which is a trait I value in a Derby horse. He’s sired by Gun Runner, who has had a tremendously successful freshman crop of horses. 

4 – Trafalgar (135-1, Circa): He’s another colt in here represented by a freshman sire, Lord Nelson. He was a $310K purchase at the OBS Two Year Olds in Training sale in April of 2021. He was second to Classic Causeway in his debut at Saratoga, and he followed up that effort with an impressive maiden score at Churchill, when starting slow in a one turn mile race. He passed the two turn test over the local oval last month, clearing the N1X allowance condition. He was under pressure late, but held off Naval Aviator late. He’ll likely have to sit a little further off the pace than he did last out in this race, so that could be a part of his education here.  

5 – Epicenter (32-1, Circa): He had a statement win last month, drawing off impressively to win the inaugural running of the Gun Runner Stakes on this course to earn 10 Derby Points. He sat a great trip from his rail post and drew off handily when given his cue by Brian Hernandez. Joel Rosario, who rode him when breaking his maiden at Churchill in November, gets the call here. He certainly had the run of the race last time, so I’d like to see if he can overcome some adversity as the water starts to get deeper for him. 

6 – Cyberknife (45-1, Circa): Brad Cox and Florent Geroux were on this trail last year with Mandaloun, and they return with this highly regarded son of Gun Runner. He broke his maiden in his third career try last month and his first go at two turns, while running on the undercard of the Gun Runner Stakes. He did cross the wire first in his debut, but was disqualified. He’s never run a bad race in his career, but on the flip side, he was all out to hold on at 1-2 odds. He’s one of many that want to be forwardly placed in this race, and I’m worried that he could wind up with a similar wide trip that plagued Mandaloun in this race in 2021. 

7 – Blue Kentucky (250-1, Circa – TO BE SCRATCHED) After six career starts, this son of Include tackles the two turn question today. Of his six starts, only one has come at a distance longer than six furlongs, and that effort was not very good. However, that was a one turn mile allowance race at Churchill where he was chasing a fast pace, before backing out. He’s exiting the Sugar Bowl Stakes where he swung wide and was gaining late to be third. That has not been a winning formula in sprint races at that distance at this meet, so his effort might be a little better than it looks on paper. He could be flattered if the runner-up from that race, Underhill’s Tab, runs a big race in allowance company in Race 3 earlier on the card. His best chance might be to see if he will be comfortable rating from off the pace, as there are several others inside of him that want to close to the front end. Jareth Loveberry takes over for Florent Geroux, as Geroux rides Cyberknife instead. 

8 – Call Me Midnight (225-1, Circa): He’s run three consecutive 74 Beyers in his last three races, breaking his maiden two starts back at Churchill. He was a nonfactor behind Smile Happy in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club last out. I feel he would have likely been better served trying the allowance race earlier on the card. He’s sired by Midnight Lute out of a First Defence mare, so I’d think a one turn race between seven and eight furlongs might be where he runs his best races. 

9 – Presidential: He’s the other Steve Asmussen horse in the race, and the most expensive purchase of this group. Courtlandt Farms paid $625K for him at the Keeneland September Sale in 2020. However, it wasn’t encouraging that he made his debut at Indiana Grand back in August, especially when Asmussen’s best runners were at Saratoga during that time. He did go on to break his maiden in his next start, winning by 7 and ¾ lengths. He;s been unraced since August 31st though, and this is a brutally tough spot to make his three year old debut. 

The verdict: Top Picks: 5-3-2

I like the matchup between Pappacap and Epicenter this afternoon. I gave the slight advantage to Epicenter because I loved the way he drew off in the stretch in the Gun Runner. Yes he had an easy trip, but he finished his last two races very professionally. Pappacap is battle tested, and is getting some class relief in his first start of the year. He won’t be racing behind a well-bred Baffert horse with a perfect trip like he has in his last three tries in Grade 1 company. He’s been in town for a month now with four works over the course. I think his performance here will show how deep the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile was or wasn’t. There are some interesting horses stepping up in class, and I think Unified Report might be the most interesting of them. He’s stretching out and moving from state bred to open company, but he’s shown that he can be comfortable racing from off the pace, which may be a valuable asset in this race if several of the others are sent from the gate. 

 On The Undercard

The 3rd race on this loaded card at the Fair Grounds is an optional claiming/N1X allowance at 1 Mile and 1/16 for three year olds. Stellar Tap (#4, 150-1, Circa) makes his first start since dull efforts in the Iroquois and the Breeders Futurity in Kentucky this fall. He debuted like a good thing, winning in impressive fashion in a maiden special weight race at Saratoga this summer. He was given some time off to develop, and he’s been working steadily for the last six weeks. I’m more interested to see Underhill’s Tab (#5, 225-1, Circa). He’s made two starts for Al Stall in sprint races, winning at first asking on opening week here, and then narrowly missing in a speedy edition of the Sugar Bowl last month. He’s another horse from the talented first crop of Unified, and Spendthirft paid $400K at the OBS Sale in March 2021. He may have some distance limitations, but he’s been very good so far, and I like that they chose this race to try to pass the two turn test before jumping back into stakes company. 

The maiden special weight race at 1 Mile and 1/16 was split into two divisions, going off as Races 2 and 5. Maasai Warrior (#5), making his second start for Cox and Geroux will likely be favored in the second race. Peaceful Waters (#3, 250-1 Circa) will likely be favored in the 5th race when stretching out to two turns after a pair of solid sprint races to start his career. No one is really jumping off the page as a serious threat to make some noise on the Derby Trail. However, with so many different races at 1 Mile and 1/16 on the card, we’ll have a pretty good picture of how everyone stacks up with each other at the end of the day. 

 

 

Outside of Louisiana

There’s an interesting horse making his debut in a five horse maiden special weight on Friday, January 21st at Santa Anita. Kerouac (#5, Race 7) was purchased for $420K at the Fasig-Tipton Select Sale in 2020. He’s a son of Uncle Mo out of the Tapit dam Walk Close, who produced the runner-up in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Anneau d’Or. He’s been working well for Bob Baffert for his debut and he faces four rivals that have been unremarkable to this point in their careers. Prat and Baffert have won with 45% on their 73 starters since 1/1/21. Baffert has debuted some talented horses at this time of year in the past, most notably Justify in 2018. Obviously, the situation with Baffert and Churchill makes the Derby a major question for any of his horses at the moment, However, he certainly looks like he could be a serious runner at the beginning of his career. 

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