The 76th running of the Grade 3, $200,000 LeComte Stakes is a race to start sifting out the contenders from the pretenders on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. Half of the 14 entrants come into the race off a stakes try. The best finish among that group belongs to Finnick the Fierce, runner-up at odds of 87 to 1 in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, in which Enforceable finished fourth and New Eagle checked in fifth.
Another who has run at the level is Scabbard, having finished second in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special Stakes and in the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes before a fourth place effort in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile. A pair of LeComte entrants recently won non-graded stakes and may fit at the level. They are Jack the Umpire (Jean Lafitte Stakes) and Halo Again (Coronation Futurity). One horse who has yet to race in stakes competition may go to post as one of the favorites and that is Mr. Monomoy, a half-brother to multiple stakes winner Monomoy Girl who recently missed by a neck at Fair Grounds in his first try around two turns.
Lynn's Map was the winner of that race in his two turn debut and has potential to run even better in this situation, as does Silver State, who missed by a neck in his first route at the end of November. Recent allowance winners Perfect Star and Sycamore Run both earned their victories leading from start to finish, with Shashashakemeup having led from the opening bell in his debut win in November before a fourth place effort in the Sugar Bowl Stakes last month. Those three, as well as Bango, who stretches out after finishing second in an allowance race in November, all figure to want to lead early so the pace may be faster than average. Excession, who finished third behind Lynn's Map and Mr. Monomoy recently, rounds out the field.
Silver State makes his third career start and his two races to date have been exemplary. He won his debut at the end of September by nearly 10 lengths then two months later he improved a ton when missing by a nose in a mile race. That second effort earned Silver State a 99 Equibase Speed Figure which is top in the field and he's likely to improve off the effort nicely in his third career start. Additionally, that figure was far better than the 92 figure earned by Silver Prospector later on the same day over the same track in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.
It's likely there will be a very hot early pace in this year's LeComte with Bango, Shashashakemeup and Sycamore Run all having early speed and stretching out from outside posts, which will force their jockeys to go fast early to gain good position before the turn. Silver State should be in a similar position in the early stages as in his most recent start when fifth after three quarters of a mile, with some tiring targets in front of him. Of the three horse in this year's LeComte trained by Steve Asmussen (the other two being Halo Again and Excession), Silver State is the one who gets the trainer's #1 rider in Ricardo Santana. With an excellent workout over the track on December 31 which was the second best of 35 on the day, followed by one which was the second best of 50, Silver State appears to be holding top physical condition and is my top pick to win this year's LeComte Stakes.
Finnick the Fierce was disregarded by bettors in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at the end of November, going to post at odds of 87 to 1. In spite of that he nearly posted the upset as he rallied from seventh of eight in the early stages to miss by just three quarters of a length at the end. Having improved to a 91 figure in his first route, from 85 in his previous start, Finnick the Fierce gets the benefit of the ground saving rail for the LeComte from which to launch his late bid. With room to continue to improve in his second route and third start off a layoff, and also likely to benefit from a faster than average early pace, Finnick the Fierce should be respected as a contender to win this race as well.
Lynn's Map has a win at Fair Grounds, and around two turns, which may give him an experience edge over some of the other horses in this year's LeComte. Lynn's Map was racing around two turns for the first time in that race last month when he showed a good deal of maturity rallying from third at the top of the stretch to win by a head over Mr. Monomoy, who was also making his third career start and first in a route. Both horses earned 87 figures for the effort, less than their previous races, but both have room to improve off the experience and neither would be a surprise if winning the LeComte Stakes.
The rest of the field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures, is Bango (93), Enforceable (97), Excession (87), Halo Again (92), Jack the Umpire (75), New Eagle (88), Perfect Star (92), Scabbard (96), Shashashakemeup (95) and Sycamore Run (98).
Top win contenders:
Finnick the Fierce
Second tier win contenders:
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