Friesan Fire, a talented 3-year-old colt who had disappointed in his last three starts, finally showed why trainer Larry Jones considered him a legitimate Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) prospect from the outset. He took over at the top of the lane and held off a late charge by Patena to win the $100,000 LeComte Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO) by a 1 1/2 lengths Jan. 10 at Fair Grounds.
Ridden by Jones’ top rider Gabriel Saez for the first time, Friesan Fire stalked the pace set by Au Moon, made his winning move around the final turn and drew away in the stretch. Patena, winner of the Display Stakes at Woodbine last out, rallied well in deep stretch to take second under Robby Albarado in his first start on dirt. Au Moon and Julien Leparoux finished third.
The final time in the one-mile Lecomte was 1:37.67. It was less than one-tenth of a second off the stakes record.
It was a terrific day all around for Jones. One race earlier, the veteran trainer sent out 3-year-old filly Just Jenda to win the $75,000 Tiffany Lass for his wife, Cindy. But it was the LeComte win that capped the day for Jones, who has said that this will be his last year as a trainer.
Friesan Fire, owned by Vinery Stables and Fox Hill Farms, broke his maiden by three lengths at first asking Aug. 25 at Fair Grounds. Three weeks later at Belmont, the son of A.P. Indy finished third in the Futurity (gr. II), and followed up that effort by tiring to finish fourth in the Nashua (gr. III) at Aqueduct Nov. 2. Jones added blinkers for Friesan Fire’s 2-year-old finale Dec. 18 at Fair Grounds, when he finished second to LeComte entrant Uno Mas as the odds-on favorite in a one-mile allowance event.
“It’s just a matter of trying to push the right buttons with him and figuring out what he wants to do,” said Jones of Friesan Fire. “He’s obviously talented; the way he broke his maiden. It’s hard not to get excited about an A.P. Indy like that. I’m not going to say he’s been disappointing, but he’s been a challenge.
“The last race got snowed out and we had an extra seven days with him. He was a little too sharp once he did run. We couldn’t get him throttled down.
“It all worked out well today. He sat well and then went. We hadn’t had any trouble getting him to sit for us, it was getting him to go. And today he went when Gabe asked him.”
Unlike the allowance contest, in the LeComte Friesan Fire did not get caught up in a speed duel. Instead, he sat third throughout most of the backstretch while Au Moon clicked off fractions of :24.08, :48.67 and 1:13.53. Longshot Citizen was closest to the leader in the early going.
Friesan Fire made his winning three-wide move around the final turn and took a one-length lead into the stretch. The bay colt extended his advantage in upper stretch and held off Patena, who was full of run in the final yards.
“I put him in the right spot,” Saez said. “He settled really good for me. I made my move to the outside and he did it all.”
Jones said Friesan Fire would stay in Louisiana for the $200,000 Risen Star (gr. II) on Feb. 7. His win also means Jones’ other Kentucky Derby (gr. I) contender, Remsen (gr. II) winner Old Fashioned, will be sent to Oaklawn to run in the $250,000 Southwest (gr. III) on Feb. 16.
“He’s a slow learner, but we had some of the same problems with Eight Belles,” Jones said of Friesan Fire. “Part of being a trainer is figuring out these horses. Sometimes the horses have to teach the trainers what to do.”
Bred in Kentucky by Grapestock LLC, Friesan Fire is out of the Dehere mare Bollinger. He now has $85,000 of graded earnings.
The winner paid $6.80, $4.20 and $3.20 as the favorite in a field of eight. The exacta (1-4) returned $40.20, while the trifecta (1-4-2) was worth $187.
Indygo Mountain, the second choice trained by Bret Calhoun, hit the side of the gate and bobbled at the break. He was never a factor.
In the one-mile Tiffany Lass, Just Jenda moved three-wide along the turn while chasing pacesetter Selva. The daughter of Menifee took over mid-stretch and pulled away to win by 1 3/4 lengths under Terry Thompson. The final time was 1:38.15.
Jones said Just Jenda, who has won three of four starts, has the looks of a Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) contender.
“She really is a nice-looking filly,” Jones said. “Pedigree-wise, she should certainly get the distance. We feel like the Oaks is certainly within her scope. She moved when asked and finished well today.”