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Weekend Stakes Preview: Lecomte Edition (Updated)

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Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Amazombie returns to the track this Saturday in the Grade 2 Palos Verdes at Santa Anita Park.
Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Amazombie returns to the track this Saturday in the Grade 2 Palos Verdes at Santa Anita Park.

It's been a snowy, icy, cold, and wet week up here in the Pacific Northwest, which is perfect weather for staying inside, handicapping and watching races. The stakes calendar slowly picks up steam this weekend with a quartet of graded races and a nice ungraded event on the grass at Gulfstream Park. Let's dive into the action.

UPDATE: A couple of notes for today -

  • No Amazombie in the Palos Verdes. Rain in SoCal has turned the Santa Anita main track into a sloppy mess causing the Breeders' Cup Sprint winner to scratch. Canonize has also scratched out. [Santa Anita Changes]
  • Santa Anita is listed as WET/FAST on the main track and GOOD on the turf course. Race 5 has been taken off of the grass.
  • It looks like Exfactor will run in the Lecomte after all.
Date Track Race Gr. Dist. Surf. Age Sex Division
01/21/12 FG Bradley Hcp. 3 8.5 Turf 4up Turf Mile
01/21/12 FG Lecomte 3 8.3 Dirt 3yo 3yo Colts
01/21/12 SA Palos Verdes Hcp.
2 6.0 Dirt 4up Dirt Sprint
01/22/12 SA La Canada 2 8.5 Dirt 4yo f Dirt Fillies Mile

G3-Lecomte Stakes

There appears to be a decent amount of speed in this year's Lecomte, something that should ensure quick fractions through the opening half-mile/six furlongs. As a result, I'm looking for a horse that won't get caught up in an early duel and has the ability to come from several lengths off the pace in deep stretch. The long stretch run at the Fair Grounds should give the closers plenty of time to overtake the tiring speed horses, should they go sufficiently fast up front.

We can narrow down the off-the-pace horses in this race to the following:

  • Adena's Chance: This colt is all over the map with his running style but he generally likes to comes from several lengths back and doesn't possess a ton of early speed. However, he's got some serious class issues; he was beaten by 7 ½ and 13 lengths in his last two starts, both coming against OC $50k/N1X company. He'll probably need the race to fall apart to have much of a chance.
  • Ted's Folly: A winner of six races in a row at Remington Park, this Oklahoma-bred stretched out to a mile in his last start and ran down the field in the final furlongs for a nice score in the ungraded Remington Springboard Mile. The field for that race was better than you might think; the second place horse, Reckless Jerry, finished 2nd in the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park last Monday, and the show horse, Pee H Dee, won a N2L Allowance event at Oaklawn on the same day.

    The concern with Ted's Folly is the possibility that he's more of a grinder than a hard-charging closer; he didn't come home all that quickly in the Springboard and he's got some good off-the-pace horses to contend with in this race. On the other hand, the race should set up for him.
  • Shared Property: This colt has been well back in each of his last two races, both of which took place on Polytrack. He made up a decent amount of ground in the later stages of the G1-Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland but was wide and gave himself way too much to do in the final furlongs. He may show a little more speed in his return to dirt, which would probably be a good thing. I doubt he'll get mixed up in anything that's going on out in front and, strategically, it's probably best if the jock restrains him early in order to move him over towards the rail to save some ground.

    Trainer Tom Amoss is a top conditioner at the Fair Grounds but over the last five years he's won just one of nine graded stakes races at the New Orleans track, with a 33% in-the-money rate (Ron the Greek - 2010 Lecomte).
  • Z Dager: This Steven Asmussen trainee was up near the lead in his last race, a two-turn affair over a sloppy/sealed track at the Fair Grounds, but I think it's likely he'll be a little further back in the Lecomte should the track come up dry. He probably fits the mold of a grinder, and one that should be able to stay within five or six lengths of the lead on the backstretch. He drew a nice post position (#6) which should allow Shane Sellers to decide exactly where he wants to put this colt in the early stages.
  • Z Dager's stablemate and coupled entry, Dan and Sheila, scored a nice first-out win at Gulfstream in a one-turn mile back on Dec. 17th.

I don't love the post position for Shared Property, but I think the combination of his running style, a solid early pace battle, and the long stretch-drive of the Fair Grounds gives him a good shot at notching his second graded stakes victory.

G3-Colonel E.R. Bradley Handicap

I really like Dubious Miss in this spot, especially when you throw in an 8/1 morning line. He had a bit of a rough patch at Churchill Downs last spring/fall but he's always run well over the Fair Grounds lawn (4-1-2-1) and he was second to Gran Estreno in this race a year ago. Trainer Paul McGee spotted him well in his last race, a 7.5 furlong open company claimer at the Fair Grounds, which should help to get his confidence up. Given his form over this turf course in his career, I have to think he's going to come up with a strong effort.

Kitten's Joy Stakes

The morning line zeroed in on Lucky Chappy (IRE) as the 9/5 pre-race favorite and he probably deserves those accolades based on his competitive runs in the G3-Bourbon and G1-Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. However, I like the other Graham Motion trainee, Howe Great, due to his ability to sit closer to the lead in the early stages, a strategy that I think will be more effective given the fact that the temporary rail is going to be set at 108 feet. This race doesn't have much in the way of pure early speed which should allow Howe Great to easily set the tempo after leaving the gate.

G2-Palos Verdes

Breeders' Cup Sprint champion Amazombie returns to the track for the first time since his win at Churchill Downs to battle a field of eight at Santa Anita. If he's anywhere near his best on Saturday he'll be all but impossible to beat. However, there are plenty of examples of Breeders' Cup winners struggling after a big performance several months earlier and it wouldn't be a shock to see Amazombie need a race before he's back at his best. He's the ‘most likely' winner, but in terms of trying to find some value in this race...

Courtside has never competed at the graded stakes level but he's clearly in the best form of his life and he's run well over the Santa Anita main track in the past (3-2-0-0; 4-3-0-0 at the 6f distance). He easily beat M One Rifle in the Cal Cup Sprint back on Oct. 29th and he's been working like a freight train in his preparations for this race. If Amazombie isn't on his game (and that's a big ‘if'), I like Courtside to perhaps spring the upset.

It's hard to find much to like with Euroears' last three races. He was a no-show in the Vosburgh and then ran himself into the ground in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. His last race, the G3-Vernon O. Underwood at Hollywood was a big-time improvement but he still lost by three lengths and finished behind M One Rifle. On the other hand, the best race of his life came in this same race one year ago. Can he break out that kind of performance this year? I'm not sure.

G2-La Canada

Older fillies and mares get into the action on Sunday at Santa Anita in the G2-La Canada Stakes. Unbeaten in all three of her lifetime starts, Tiz Flirtatious will step out of the state-bred ranks for the first time and into a very competitive field. You can't quibble too much with an undefeated record but there's a little bit of the unknown when leaving the restricted races in your rearview mirror. Tiz Flirtatious has been good at Santa Anita (2-2-0-0) but has yet to try going two-turns. She's a tough call given some of the uncertainties.

I like Jerry Hollendorfer's Capital Plan a lot in this spot. She's coming off a nice score at the distance in her last effort at Hollywood Park she's shown and ability to sit on or off the pace, albeit on grass and synthetic tracks, and she's probably the most proven router in the field. There is some question about the footing; this will be her first start on conventional dirt. But when you combine her sire (Rock Hard Ten) with some really nice recent works over the Santa Anita main track, you get the feeling that she might not have that much trouble making the transition.

According for Formulator, over the last five years Jerry Hollendorfer is 123 for 429 in horses moving from synthetic to dirt (32% win, 65% in-the-money, $1.71 $2 ROI). Some cause for concern, however, is a 4-for-41 mark when his horses go from a synthetic surface to the Santa Anita main track (10% Win, 51% in-the-money, $0.98 $2 ROI). As a result, I'd like to see something a little bit better than the 7/2 morning line odds for this filly, perhaps something in the 9/2 or higher range.