The Louisiana path to the Kentucky Derby begins this Saturday, with the running of the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes.
A field of 11 3-year-olds will contest this 1 1/16-mile race. It will be run as the 13th race on the card at Fair Grounds, with post time scheduled for 6:50 p.m. ET.
The race is named for Lecomte, a dominant Louisiana-based horse in the 1850s. First held in 1943, the Lecomte Stakes became restricted to 3-year-olds in 1962 and was given Grade 3 status for the first time in 2003. It has since taken its place as one of the first stops on the Derby trail.
In this regular feature, we’ll take a look back at some great horses who used Derby prep races as a springboard to successful careers, kicking off with the Lecomte.
Stars of Yesterday will continue Jan. 26 with a look back at some past stars who emerged from the Holy Bull Stakes.
HARD SPUN (2007)
CAREER RECORD: 13 starts – 7 wins, 3 seconds, 1 third
CAREER EARNINGS: $2,673,470
This promising Pennsylvania-bred colt was already a two-time stakes winner as he got set to begin his sophomore season in the Lecomte. He won the Port Penn Stakes at Delaware Park, then took the Pennsylvania Nursery Stakes in a manner reminiscent of another great Pennsylvania-bred 3-year-old, Smarty Jones. The Fair Grounds bettors respected this East Coast invader, sending him off as the even-money favorite in the seven-horse Lecomte field.
Mario Pino sent Hard Spun right to the lead, and set reasonable fractions while encountering minimal pace pressure. He pulled clear as they passed the three-quarter-mile point and drew away to an impressive 6 ½-length win.
Hard Spun went on to success in the Triple Crown races. He led for most of the way in the Kentucky Derby but was caught late by Street Sense and finished second. After a third-place finish in the Preakness, and a fourth-place effort in the Belmont, Hard Spun went on to two more graded stakes wins, including a revenge win over Street Sense in the Kentucky Cup Classic Stakes. He concluded his 3-year-old season, and his career, with a second-place finish in the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic behind Curlin.
FRIESAN FIRE (2009)
CAREER RECORD: 18 starts – 5 wins, 1 second, three thirds
CAREER EARNINGS: $679,356
Only one horse has swept his way through Fair Grounds’ three Kentucky Derby preps: Friesan Fire. He raced for the same owner-trainer combination that sent out Hard Spun, Fox Hill Farm (in association with Vinery Stables) and Larry Jones.
Friesan Fire won the Lecomte handily, stalking the pace and drawing off to a 1 ½-length win. He enjoyed another good trip in the Risen Star Stakes and picked up a two-length victory. In the Louisiana Derby, he went off as the 2.20-1 favorite and once again stalked the pace and pulled away to a dominant, 7 ¼-length win.
Off those impressive victories, he was made the 3.80-1 favorite in the Kentucky Derby. He had an awkward break but managed to settle into his usual stalking position Friesan Fire was asked for run on the final turn, but he came up empty and finished a distant 18th.
RON THE GREEK (2010)
CAREER RECORD: 38 starts – 14 wins, 6 seconds, 4 thirds
CAREER EARNINGS: $2,769,557
Although he achieved success early in his career, Ron the Greek proved to be more of a late bloomer. Off a fourth-place finish in the Springboard Mile at Remington Park, Ron the Greek was lightly-regarded going into the Lecomte Stakes. He went off at 7.80-1 odds in the 10-horse field.
For most of the race, Ron the Greek looked like a nonfactor. He lumbered along as the back of the pack for most of the race, and remained 15 lengths back as they turned for home. In the stretch, he got going and inhaled the field under James Graham to win going away.
He failed to move forward in his next two races, finishing unplaced in both the Risen Star Stakes and Louisiana Derby. Those two races concluded his 3-year-old season and, for a while, it looked as if the Lecomte would be the highlight of his career.
Late in his 4-year-old season, Ron the Greek began to shine. He won two stakes at Aqueduct that fall, and then Ron the Greek went west and won the Santa Anita Handicap in March of his 5-year-old campaign. In June, he won the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs before finishing second in the Whitney Stakes at Saratoga.
At six, Ron the Greek had another solid campaign. He bookended the year with stakes wins, starting with the Sunshine Million Classic and ending it with the Jockey Club Gold Cup. He retired a few years later with earnings of more than $2.7 million.
CAREER RECORD: 13 starts – 3 wins, 2 seconds, and 1 third
CAREER EARNINGS: $1,243,500
Oxbow burst on the scene with his Lecomte victory. With Jon Court in the saddle, Oxbow set the pace and drew off to a massive 11 ½-length win. It had been 14 years since Lukas won the Derby, but it suddenly looked like he had a serious prospect on his hands.
His Derby flame cooled just a little bit in his next few starts. Oxbow finished fourth in the Risen Star after leading in the last sixteenth, then finished second in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, just missing in a photo against stablemate and eventual champion 3-year-old male Will Take Charge. In his final Derby prep, and his first race with Stevens in the saddle, he was a flat fifth in the Arkansas Derby. Stevens had come out of retirement a few months prior and suddenly had a Kentucky Derby mount for the first time in eight years.
Oxbow finished sixth in the Kentucky Derby after stalking a loose leader and making a mild move. Undeterred, Lukas decided to press forward to the Preakness, where Oxbow was a 15.40-1 chance.
After failing to get to the lead in his two previous starts, Stevens was aggressive with Oxbow and put him right on the early pace. He quickly established firm control and drew off entering the stretch, spurning any challenges. Oxbow crossed the finish line 1 ¾ lengths in front in the Preakness to post the biggest upset in that race since 1975. It was Lukas’s first Preakness win since Charismatic in 1999, Calumet’s first since Forward Pass in 1968, and Stevens’ first since Point Given in 2001.
WAR OF WILL (2019)
CAREER RECORD: 18 starts – 5 wins, 1 second, 3 thirds
CAREER EARNINGS: $1,881,803
The 2019 Lecomte was just the second lifetime start on dirt for Mark Casse trainee War of Will. He won his first start on the surface impressively at Churchill Downs, inspiring his connections to give the Lecomte a try. Bettors made him the 8-5 favorite and their faith was well rewarded. He stalked the pace and won by four lengths, immediately stamping himself a Kentucky Derby contender.
War of Will followed with a 2 ¼-length Risen Star win but disappointed in both the Louisiana Derby and the Kentucky Derby, in which he had a rough trip. Bettors kept the faith going into the Preakness, as he went off at 6.10-1 odds in a wide-open field. His supporters were rewarded as War of Will won by 1 ¼ lengths to become just the second Lecomte victor to win a Triple Crown race.
Fourteen months later, War of Will added a grass Grade 1 victory to his resume when he won the Maker’s Mark Mile at Keeneland. He became the first Preakness winner to win a Grade 1 on multiple surfaces since California Chrome in 2014.