By Lynne Snierson
It might seem a long way from these winter days to the first weekend in May, but there should be lots of chatter about the Run for the Roses and the Lillies for Fillies at the Fair Grounds on Saturday when the track hosts its “Road to the Kentucky Derby Kickoff Day” with the Lecomte Stakes (G3) and the Silverbulletday Stakes for fillies.
The winners each receive 10 qualifying points, with the runner-ups receiving 4, third-place finishers 3 and fourth-place finishers 1.
The $200,000 Lecomte, extended this year from 1 mile, 70 yards to 1 1/16 miles to give the colts and geldings a longer run into the first turn on the main track, attracted a full field of 14, but trainer Mark Casse may scratch Lynn’s Map in favor of the $150,000 Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park on Jan. 24 after drawing the outside No. 14 post.
That leaves Scabbard, who was last seen closing to a fourth-place finish in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G2) on Nov. 1, as the lukewarm 7-2 early favorite.
Trainer Eddie Kenneally said that Joseph Sutton’s chestnut colt didn’t care for the Santa Anita surface for the BC Juvenile because it was unkind to closers, but Scabbard showed plenty of grit nevertheless. After some well-earned rest and relaxation on the farm, Scabbard’s conditioner thinks he’s well spotted.
“He’s been training really well and is coming into this race sound and feeling good. We chose the Lecomte because we think he’ll enjoy the long stretch,’’ said Kenneally. “He loves Churchill Downs and I think the Fair Grounds surface is somewhat similar, so I think he’ll handle the ground. With his running style, he seems like the further the distance gets the better he will be. You never know for sure until it happens, but I the way he finished in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the further the better for him.”
Corey Lanerie, who rode the son of More than Ready in his only other three races last year and was the runner-up in both the Iroquois (G3) and the Saratoga Special (G2) will again be aboard and break from post 4.
Even without Lynn’s Map, Casse will still have the chance for a back-to-back victory, winning this one last year with War of Will, who went on to win the Preakness (G1). This year he’ll be represented by John Oxley’s Enforceable, who is experienced at two turns and graduated from the maiden ranks at 1 1/8 miles at Saratoga last year. The son of Tapit closed willingly to be fourth over a sloppy track in the 1 1/16 miles Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) and he may be the live long shot at 15-1 in his sophomore season kickoff under Julien Leparoux.
Still, in a game where bloodlines figure prominently it would be foolhardy to overlook Mr. Monomoy. He is a half-brother to champion and Kentucky Oaks winner Monomoy Girl, who incidentally is just going back into training at the Fair Grounds after sitting out all last year, and he has the common connections of trainer Brad Cox and owners Madaket Stables and Michael Dubb. Mr. Monomoy was beaten by a head last by Lynn’s Map in a $50,000 optional claiming race at one mile on a sloppy Fair Grounds strip. He and Florent Geroux break from post 2 and have been installed at 9-2.
“There is some speed outside of him. We can kind of sit from the inside, save some ground around the first turn and see what happens. I think he can step up and he’s going to have to. We’re going to find out a lot, most importantly, should we keep pointing for the first Saturday in May?” said Cox, a finalist for the 2019 Eclipse Award as outstanding trainer.
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, who sits just shy of 1,000 stakes scores, saddles three in Saturday’s field with Calumet Farm’s Excession and a pair for Winchell Thoroughbreds and Willis Horton Racing in Halo Again and Silver Slate. The rest of the field includes the gelded and one-eyed Finnick the Fierce, who figures to have a tough time breaking from the inside post, Perfect Star, New Eagle, Jack the Umpire, Bango, and Shashashakemeup.
In the $150,000 Silverbulletday, named for the two-time Eclipse Award (1998-99) and Kentucky Oaks (1999) winner, Golden Rod Stakes (G2) winner Finite looks to extend her consecutive stakes winning streak to three and her winning streak to four as the Winchell Farms homebred takes on seven other newly-minted sophomore fillies.
Trained by Asmussen and made the 6-5 morning line favorite in this race, Finite will be ridden again by Ricardo Santana, Jr., and should have the filly up on the pace after departing from post 6.
Cox, who won the 2018 Silverbulletday with the multiple Grade 1-winning Monomoy Girl, sends out Portrait for owner LNJ Foxwoods. The daughter of Tapizar begins her 3-year-old campaign after being idle since her third-place finish in the Pocahontas (G2) last September at Churchill Downs. She is 7-2 in the morning line and Shaun Bridgmohan, who has ridden her in all three previous starts, has the call again.
“We are very excited,” said Cox. “I talked to Alex Solis (bloodstock agent for LNJ Foxwoods) and basically said that I didn’t think it was necessary to go into the first-level allowance right now. She’s training as well as she’s trained, and I feel comfortable to try this stake off the layoff. There’s a quality filly in there who has won a graded stake (Finite) and she deserves to be favored, but if we can get a good trip, she’ll make a good account of herself. I’ve always liked this filly. She’s very talented.”
Tempers Rising, Pass the Plate, Ursula, His Glory, Maga Suite, and She Can’t Sing complete the field.
The card features four other stakes: The $125,000 Colonel E. R. Bradley at 1 1/16 miles on the grass, the $100,000 Louisiana Stakes at the same distance on the main track, the $100,000 Duncan F. Kenner Stakes at 6 furlongs, and the $100,000 Marie G. Krantz Memorial Stales for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on turf.
The Duncan Kenner marks the return of Hog Creek Hustle, who was last year’s Lecomte runner-up and went on to take the Woody Stephens (G1) on the Belmont Stakes undercard to give longtime trainer Vickie Foley her first top level victory. Last time out, Hog Creek Hustle was sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1). He’ll leave from rail under Corey Lanerie as the 9-5 favorite in the field of five.