The second of four stops on the Derby Trail at the Fair Grounds will be the Lecomte Stakes today. A field of eight horses are entered, headed by the winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, Instant Coffee. He’s one of two graded stakes winners in the field, the other being Two Phil’s, who took home the top prize in the Street Sense at Churchill back in October.
In addition to the favorites, there’s an interesting pedigree story in this race as well. During the 2009 and 2010 seasons, we never had the privilege of seeing Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta face off. In this race, we have a three quarter brother to Rachel Alexandra with Itzos. The dam of Zenyatta, Vertigineux, also foaled the mare, Eblouissante, who is the dam of Confidence Game, who also entered in this spot. While this matchup won’t have the same juice, it is interesting to see them both entered together in this race.
Fair Grounds, Saturday 1/21/23, Race 14: The Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes
40 Total Derby points (20/8/6/4/2)
1 – Echo Again (6-1 ML, 40-1 Circa): There’s a lot of horses in this race that have flirted with the idea of being a frontrunner, however, he is the lone true speed horse in this race. He reminds me a little bit of Midnight Bourbon, who won this race two years ago for these connections while also breaking from the rail. He is such a light price on the futures board because he was the most impressive maiden winner at the Saratoga meet this past summer. He came back after that race and faltered in the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes where he was wide and attended a strong pace. Asmussen gave him a few months off and he resurfaced in the Remington Springboard Mile in December, where he faded late to be third in that race. I do think that race came up stronger than usual this year, so I can be forgiving of that third place finish. Gaffalione is coming in to ride him, and I think he will be able to ration his speed better today. His pedigree says two turns shouldn’t be a problem, and while he hasn’t shown that on the track yet, I think he can move forward today.
2 – Denington (8-1 ML, 225-1 Circa): Here’s another Gun Runner colt, this one trained by Ken McPeek. He’s making his third consecutive stakes start after finishing third most recently in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn three weeks ago. He’s drawn well today, in hopes of saving some ground, which didn’t happen last time. The pace scenario was also unfavorable that day with Victory Formation having things his own way up front. Blinkers will go on for the first time today, which may suit him well. He’s clearly training well since McPeek hasn’t been shy putting him in these higher profile races. I think he has a reasonable chance to finish in the money.
3 – Bromley (5-1 ML, 250-1 Circa): He’s one of two high priced OXO Equine horses that Paulo Lobo has brought here from Turfway. He’s a perfect two for two, winning on debut in a sprint at Churchill and then clearing the first level allowance in a sprint at Turfway. He’s a son of Mastery that sold for 60 times his stud fee at the Keeneland November Sale in 2020. Obviously expectations are high, and I do think he’s the better of the two runners that Lobo is bringing in, but I prefer some of the others in this race.
4 – Confidence Game (8-1 ML, 125-1 Circa): Despite having some familial connection to the great Zenyatta, those ties did little to encourage his sale price, selling for only $25K at the Keeneland September Sale in November of 2021. From that standpoint, he’s been a bargain, earning $183K in his first five starts. He’s won two of five races, both of which were gate to wire victories. When he hasn’t been on the pace, he’s struggled, which is a little bit concerning in this race because I don’t think he’s fast again to go with Echo Again, who also has a better post for the race they want to run. I’m looking elsewhere in this one.
5 -Tapit’s Conquest (9-2 ML, 135-1 Circa): Brad Cox has him cross-entered in an allowance race earlier on the card, so it’s unclear if this son of Tapit is going to start in this race, or take the more conservative route. He makes his first start since breaking his maiden at this distance at Churchill in October. He was very good at Saratoga at first asking, and then he was a much the best winner in that race in Kentucky. The dam has four other starters that have hit the track with the best one having most of his success on the turf. Cox and Florent Geroux have been a potent combination when they team up at the Fair Grounds, winning 42% since the beginning of 2022. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him stay in this race, seeing as how Cox has another runner in that allowance race and the Godolphin colt for Brendan Walsh that’s entered in Race 9 (Banishing) might prove to be more talented than any of these. I think he could be in the conversation if he’s entered here.
6 – Itzos (10-1 ML): He’s the second OXO Equine runner for Paulo Lobo, and his connection to Rachel Alexandra was a big reason for the 1.4 million dollar price tag that was paid for him at the Fasig-Tipton Sale of August 2021. He’s sired by Bolt d’Oro, who was sired by Medaglia d’Oro, who was the sire of Rachel Alexandra. He faded badly on the dirt in his first start at Churchill, finishing 9th. He came back to break his maiden with a much more spirited effort on the Tapeta at Turfway last month. While I respect the horses that run at Turfway over the winter, the maiden special weight races lack the depth of the races at Churchill. He’ll also need to prove that he can be as effective on the main track, and while the pedigree for routing on dirt is there, I’m not sure he’s good enough to compete at this level at this point in his career.
7 – Instant Coffee (5-2 ML, 70-1 Circa): I was not a fan of the morning line favorite when he was sent off as the public’s choice in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club in November at Churchill. He worked hard to beat an evenly matched field that day, where none of his rivals stepped up. I’m still in the camp that believes that he’ll be more effective in one turn races. Luis Saez does come in to ride for Brad Cox and while this stable is loaded right now, I don’t see him as one of the best from the barn. I’ll be siding against him here.
8 – Two Phil’s (4-1 ML, 150-1 Circa): I’m very interested to see what this son of Hard Spun is going to do for Larry Rivelli in this race. Jareth Loveberry, who has been riding well in his first winter full time at the Fair Grounds, will be riding him in his three year old debut. His three wins were excellent, turning in a pair of dominant performances in stakes races. He crushed a field in the Shakopee Juvenile at the end of the Canterbury meet in September. That effort was good enough for him to be considered for the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. He drew a tough post and was wide every step of the way when finishing 7th that day. Rivelli brought him back three weeks later in the Grade 3 Street Sense Stakes on Opening Day at Churchill. He sat off the pace that day and surged to the front with a bold move on the turn, drawing off to win by over five lengths in the slop. His Beyer Speed Figures are a little light, topping out at 79. However, those numbers increased with each start and now he makes his first start in almost three months. Rivelli is a master at getting horses ready to run off that kind of break, winning with 40% of those runners over the past year. I think he’s likely going to move forward again today.
The Verdict: 1-8-2
While I think the morning line might be a little off in this race, I think Echo Again is the one to beat. At 6-1, he’d represent tremendous value, however, I don’t think we’ll get close to that figure. I suspect he’ll go into the starting gate as the second choice, possibly even vying for favoritism with Instant Coffee. I see this race playing out very much like the 2021 edition of this race, where Asmussen’s Midnight Bourbon drew the rail and was able to wire the field while setting moderate fractions. I think the Remington Springboard Mile was a decent prep race, and I think very highly of Giant Mischief, who was the tough luck runner-up that day. I’m going to wager that he’ll be able to improve off that race, and if he can, that should be enough to put him in the Winner’s Circle here.
Larry Rivelli’s Two Phil’s is an interesting runner who was last seen winning a Grade 3 race at the end of October. He recovered nicely from a tough trip in Grade 1 company prior to that outing. Rivelli has great numbers with runners off the layoff, so I think he is in with a big chance today.
Denington continues to gradually improve while facing stakes level foes. Blinkers go on today for the first time to help him keep his mind on business. After watching his last start again, I can’t say that’s a bad idea. Corey Lanerie, who was the main rider of Smile Happy last year for McPeek, gets the assignment for the first time.
Perhaps it will bite me again, but I’ll be trying to beat Instant Coffee in this race. While I liked his debut, I haven’t loved his last two starts. The foundation could certainly be there for him to move forward, as good horses tend to do this time of year. However, I see him as a vulnerable favorite that may not be as effective when going two turns.
We’ll have coverage of every North American Derby Points Race, along with plenty of coverage leading up to the 149th Kentucky Derby on May 6th, 2023. Current futures odds from Circa or Caesars-William Hill will be provided as they are available. Feel free to reach out on Twitter @EricSolomon718.