By Derek Simon
The Triple Crown season officially kicks off in the Midwest with the opening of Oaklawn Park on Friday and a great card from Fair Grounds, highlighted by the LeComte Stakes, on Saturday.
Saturday’s Fair Grounds’ card also features the return of last year’s LeComte champ International Star, who became the first horse since Friesan Fire in 2009 to sweep all three Kentucky Derby prep races at the New Orleans track.
Unfortunately, International Star was scratched the morning of the 141st Kentucky Derby after a chip in his left front ankle was discovered. He made his long-awaited return to the races in the ungraded Zia Park Derby at Zia Park, where he finished a well-beaten fourth as the 6-5 favorite on Nov. 25.
This year’s LeComte, the 11th event on a 12-race card, looks wide open.
The 7-2 morning-line favorite is 7-MO TOM. Trained by Tom Amoss, Mo Tom is coming off a solid performance in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club following an ultra-impressive — from a pace figure standpoint — win in the ungraded Street Sense on Nov. 1.
Other top contenders include 13-DESTIN, who dons blinkers for trainer Todd Pletcher after an even effort in his route debut at Gulfstream Park, and 11-TIZNOBLE, who earned a race-best -1 LSR in his first race on the dirt Dec. 28.
I’ll also be watching — and wagering on — the following races:
Louisiana Stakes (7th)
This $75,000 affair includes the aforementioned International Star, but I think 2-MAJESTIC HARBOR is the one to beat. Given the projected soft pace, the eight-year-old son of Rockport Harbor figures to be in prominent position throughout and should be “legged up” after a solid try in the 1 ¼-mile Hawthorne Gold Cup.
Silverbulletday Stakes (9th)
I suspect 8-STAGEPLAY will get the lion’s share of love from the bettors, but two improving fillies are sure to be on my tickets — 3-ANABELLE (8/1 on the morning line) and 4-LOVABLE LYSS (4/1).
The former came off the pace and recorded a -2 late speed ration (LSR) in winning an optional claiming event at Churchill Downs, while the latter has won each of her last two starts in impressive fashion.