How to Bet the Lecomte Stakes
Following a two-week break, the Road to the Kentucky Derby will resume on Saturday with the $200,000 Lecomte Stakes (gr. III), the first of three Kentucky Derby prep races being held at Fair Grounds this winter.The race attracted 15 entrants, though at least two runners are expected to scratch, and with heavy rain in the forecast for Saturday, there’s no telling what might happen in this 1-mile, 70-yard event. But I’ll try my best to break down the contenders from a handicapping perspective, sorting some of the main players into three groups—the horses I’m “for,” the horses I’m “against,” and the horses I’ll use with some reservations.
FOR#2 Malpais: He might be only a maiden winner, but I liked how Malpais looked winning a six-furlong maiden at Fair Grounds last month. After vying for the lead between horses through a quick opening quarter-mile, Malpais was shut off heading into the first turn and lost some momentum before re-rallying impressively to seize the lead and pull away to a 5 ¾-length victory. Joe Sharp trains this well-bred son of Hard Spun, and Malpais will be ridden by the talented jockey Adam Beschizza, who is vying for the meet title at Fair Grounds this winter with 33 victories already.
#3 Tackett: He’s already run twice over the track and distance of the Lecomte, breaking his maiden gate-to-wire by 7 ½ lengths before employing pace-stalking tactics to score a hard-fought win in an allowance optional claiming race. Even better, the horse he beat last time out—Owendale—came back to win a similar race at Fair Grounds in decisive fashion against a quality field. In terms of Beyer and BRIS speed figures, Tackett is among the fastest horses in the Lecomte field, and he should be able to utilize his tactical speed to secure a ground-saving trip from post three.
WILL USE, BUT…#4 Mr. Money: Although he finished fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I), he was beaten 6 ¼ lengths for third place and I’m not convinced that the Juvenile field was the strongest in recent memory—the three Juvenile starters who returned to win their next starts did so with slow speed figures. Then again, it might not take a huge effort to win the Lecomte, and Mr. Money deserves credit for making a solid mid-race before in the Juvenile and fighting on to secure a spot in the superfecta.
#8 War of Will: This son of War Front finished second in the Summer Stakes (gr. I) on turf in September and most recently transferred his form to dirt with an eye-catching and fairly easy five-length win in an 8.5-furlong maiden race at Churchill Downs. However, I think it’s important to keep in mind that War of Will was an established Grade 1 runner competing in a maiden race, and his victory came over a sloppy, sealed surface at a track known for its kindness to turf horses. Considering that War of Will is bred top and bottom for turf, I’m not entirely convinced that he can repeat his last run at Fair Grounds, though he’s almost certain to catch another sloppy track and that’s a positive.
AGAINST#11 Tight Ten: This son of Tapit has twice finished second at the graded stakes level, but one of those runs came in the Iroquois Stakes (gr. III) against a field of questionable quality at Churchill Downs, and Tight Ten was never a factor when finishing ninth with a somewhat troubled trip in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Tight Ten has actually been rather green in three of his four starts, and with his wide draw in the Lecomte, I’ll let him beat me.
#12 Plus Que Parfait: He did finish second by just a neck in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II), but that was a race that essentially fall apart late, benefiting deep closers like Plus Que Parfait. Under the circumstances, it’s a little disappointing that he failed to pass the victorious Signalman, who raced much closer to the fast early pace and even lost focus in the homestretch before battling back to win. I also feel like Plus Que Parfait benefited in his maiden win from the antics of runner-up Harvey Wallbanger, who flattened out badly after making a sweeping move from off the pace.
CONCLUSIONSMalpais (12-1) and Tackett (6-1) are both nice prices on the morning line, so I’ll play them both on top in the Lecomte exotics while emphasizing Mr. Money and War of Will underneath:
$3 exacta: 2,3 with 2,3,4,8 ($18) $1 trifecta: 2,3 with 2,3,4,8 with 2,3,4,10,12,13 ($12)