The 75th running of the Grade 3, $200,000 Lecomte Stakes is the first of two prep races at Fair Grounds in New Orleans prior to the $1 million Louisiana Derby on March 23. The outcome of the Lecomte is very likely to have an effect on who stays on the path to the Louisiana Derby by running in the intervening race, the Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 16. Due to the importance of this first step on the way to the Louisiana Derby and then to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, the Lecomte drew 15 horses, including one also-eligible runner. Eight are racing in a stakes race for the first time. Of the seven with any type of stakes racing experience, two horses deserve mention above the rest: Mr. Money and Plus Que Parfait. Mr. Money made his last start in the Grade 1 Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, finishing fourth of 13 and beaten 9 1/2 lengths by the winner. Plus Que Parfait was last seen finishing second, beaten by a neck, in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. War of Will also ran on Breeders’ Cup weekend, finishing fifth of 14 in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf and has since won his only start on dirt, albeit in a maiden race. Manny Wah and Hog Creek Hustle have both made multiple starts in stakes races, most recently when second and third, respectively, in the Sugar Bowl Stakes at Fair Grounds. Tight Ten finished ninth in the Juvenile, but proved competitive in stakes previously when second in the Grade 2 Iroquois Stakes. The remaining horse with stakes experience is Roiland, who finished fifth of 14 in the Kentucky Jockey Club. Among the eight stepping into stakes for the first time, Tackett may deserve mentioning first as the only horse in that group to have won two races in a row coming into the Lecomte. On the other end of the spectrum, Night Ops is the only Lecomte entrant to have not yet won a race. Five others — Admire, Chase the Ghost, Malpais, Mo Speed and West Texas (the also-eligible) — won their most recent start either against maidens or in a first-level allowance race. Wicked Indeed finished third in an allowance race in his most recent race after winning his debut.
In this year’s Lecomte, I am going to narrow the contenders down to two horses who have a higher probability to win than the rest, and four others who can win but who also appear to have a good shot to finish second or third. Tackett is the first win contender. He is on a perfect pattern for success in his stakes debut as he finished third in his first career start, a sprint in October, before stretching out to win a pair of two-turn races since. Trainer Mike Stidham, who is based at Fair Grounds, has seen Tackett improve markedly since the debut, first earning an 84 Equibase Speed Figure in victory in November before a career-best 93 figure last month, both at Fair Grounds. That 93 figure effort compares competitively with the 94 figure Plus Que Parfait earned when a neck shy of winning the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last fall, with Tackett having the benefit of both wins coming both over the surface and at the distance of the Lecomte. With a strong chance to continue his pattern of improvement in his 3-year-old debut, Tackett might be tough to beat in this situation.
Plus Que Parfait rallied from 11th of 14 in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last fall and was still eighth on the turn but gobbled up the ground to come up a neck shy of winner Signalman at the finish line. That was his second race in a row around two turns and he improved from an 89-figure effort the prior month to a new best 94-figure effort. Given time off to mature, Plus Que Parfait is trying to follow in the footsteps of Mo Tom, who finished third in the Kentucky Jockey Club in 2015 before winning the Lecomte in 2016. In his two route starts to date, Plus Que Parfait has shown tactical speed by sitting in second in the early stages as well as late speed as when rallying from 11th in his most recent start. That versatility gives jockey Julien Leparoux a potential advantage in the early stages as he can watch what transpires in front of him and put Plus Que Parfait in a great spot from which he can win with just slight improvement of his last effort.
The next four, who have some probability to win and a more than decent probability to finish in the top three, are Chase the Ghost, Manny Wah, Mo Speed, and Night Ops. Chase the Ghost stretched out to two turns for the first time last month and earned his first win, improving to a career-best 84 figure. As a son of Ghostzapper, the colt should improve with distance and racing and, although significant improvement is called for to be competitive with Tackett and Plus Que Parfait, newly turned 3-year-olds can show just that kind of improvement from one race to the next. Manny Wah won a two-turn race last fall when victorious at a mile at Keeneland, then cut back to one turn and could only manage a fourth-place finish in the Street Sense Stakes. With trainer Wayne Catalano setting his sights on the Derby preps this winter and spring in Louisiana, Manny Wah made his next start in blinkers and at six furlongs, finishing second in the Sugar Bowl Stakes last month. That effort earned the colt a career-best 98 speed figure, and if he can repeat that around two turns and overcome what appears to be the disadvantageous 13 post he could be competitive. Mo Speed started his career on turf winning his second race around two turns in November. As often happens in the winter, races scheduled for turf are run on dirt because of inclement weather and that was the case with his next start last month, which he remained in and won nicely. The 85 figure would need to be improved upon but the colt is a son of Uncle Mo out of a mare who produced Neck ’n Neck, who earned more $1 million including the 2012 Indiana Derby as a 3-year-old, so there is little question this colt can run well on dirt again. Night Ops is still a maiden, but he ran well when second at 1 1/8 miles in his most recent race, earning an 84 figure on par with the other horses in this group of four contenders. Trainer Keith Desormeaux does not overestimate his horses’ ability even when maidens, evidenced by the runner-up finish by maiden Sonneteer at 112-1 in the 2017 Rebel Stakes. Those are the reasons I will consider Night Ops as a minor contender as well.
The rest of the field (with their best representative Equibase Speed Figure): Admire (85), Hog Creek Hustle (98), Malpais (90), Mr. Money (95), Roiland (82), Tight Ten (92), War of Will (93), West Texas (88), and Wicked Indeed (84).
Main Win Contenders:
Plus Que Parfait
Secondary Win Contenders (definitely in-the-money contenders):
Chase the Ghost