The Kentucky Derby remains one of the more difficult thoroughbred races to win anywhere in the world, and one of the more challenging sporting achievements regardless of whether the athlete is equine or human. Expectations can begin following a flashy win as a juvenile at a summer or fall meeting and then progress through a series of increasingly more challenging steps throughout the winter and spring. And all along the way, multiple perils exist to derail even the most promising Derby hopes.
Saturday's Lecomte Stakes at the Fair Grounds (Post Time: 5:55 pm Eastern; TV: HRTV) presents a pair of obstacles for the top two contenders in the race. Morning line favorite 6-Avie's Quality (5/2) will race for the first time on dirt after running four races at Woodbine in Canada over both the synthetic main track and the turf course. For second choice 8-Circle Unbroken (7/2), the challenge is one of stamina - the winner of last summer's Grade 3 Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill Downs will race around two turns for the first time in his career on Saturday.
Looking strictly at the pedigree of Avie's Quality, it appears likely that he'll run just fine over a dirt surface. His dam, Fly For Avie, won five races on the lawn and none on dirt, but two of his three half-siblings won over dirt during their careers (Avie's Tale and Avie's Pegasus). Additionally, his sire Elusive Quality has no difficulty in producing dirt winners. And finally, trainer Josie Carroll sports exceptional numbers over the last five years when moving a horse from a synthetic surface to dirt (16 wins from 59 starts, 27% Win%, 56% In The Money). Once you add all of those factors up, it is easy to get on board with Avie's Quality in this race.
As for Circle Unbroken, he's definitely tasked with the more difficult challenge when you view his lack of racing on the form. The son of Broken Vow won his debut at Churchill Downs last June, followed by the aforementioned win in the Bashford Manor just two weeks later. He then finished second by a neck in a minor stakes race at Mountaineer in early August, his last race before this Saturday's Lecomte. That's a long layoff, especially for a horse stretching out to a mile in his first race back.
Circle Unbroken has worked well since returning to the track in early December, including a bullet morning drill from the gate on Jan. 13, the best of 74 at the distance that day. Trainer Garry Simms is solid with horses starting off of a 61-to-180 day layoff over the last five years (5-for-35, 14% Win%, 49% ITM) but he has rarely attempted to stretch a horse out after a layoff that long (just 1 for 4) and he has never been close to successful with the move in anything but maiden conditions.
I expect Circle Unbroken to be keyed up for this race right from the gate, and at odds of 7/2, I'm not willing to back him given the time on the bench and the distance questions.
If we're looking for a couple of non-favorites to spring an upset on Saturday, I think 4-Oxbow (8/1) and 7-Golden Soul (5/1) pose the biggest threats. Oxbow ran just "okay" out in California when he finished a well-beaten fourth in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity back on Dec. 15, but I think we can give him a bit of a pass in that race given the synthetic surface at Hollywood Park. (Also, the winner of that race, Violence, is considered one of the top Derby contenders at this early stage; there's no shame in losing to that colt). Oxbow will be back on his preferred dirt footing on Saturday and could be in line for a nice rebound effort in his first start as a three-year-old.
Golden Soul missed by a head in his debut at Churchill Downs in late November but returned to dominate an over-matched field of maidens at this same Fair Grounds surface on Dec. 30. The great thing about Golden Soul's first two races (besides the fact that they were both strong efforts) was that he raced at a mile and a mile-and-a-sixteenth in each one; we don't have any distance questions with this colt. Nor do we need to worry about racing over a new and/or different surface. About the only thing we really need to determine is whether he'll be able to step up from winning a maiden race to winning a graded stake less than a month later.
Avie's Quality makes sense as the favorite in the Lecomte and he's probably the likely winner, but those 5/2 morning line odds are sure to be hammered down once the betting windows open. Golden Soul might be overlooked just a bit, given the fact that he's exiting a maiden race and could be a nice play at 7/2 or higher at post time. I also like Golden Soul in an exacta play above and below Avie's Quality and Oxbow.
Below are the entries, post positions and morning line odds for Saturday's Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes at the Fair Grounds.
|1||Malibu High||M. Mena||C. Borel||5/1|
|2||Heitai||R. Eramia||S. Breaux||10/1|
|3||Fear the Kitten||S. Bridgmohan||M. Maker||8/1|
|4||Oxbow||J. Court||D. Lukas||8/1|
|5||Hawaakom||L. Goncalves||D. Peitz||20/1|
|6||Avie's Quality||R. Napravnik||J. Carroll||5/2|
|7||Golden Soul||B. Hernandez||D. Stewart||5/1|
|8||Circle Unbroken||M. Guidry||G. Simms||7/2|
|9||Ive Struck a Nerve||K. Desormeaux||J. Desormeaux||12/1|