Fair Grounds Report: Sam Lord's Castle Wins Le Comte

Published in The Blood-Horse of Feb. 3
Eugene Melnyk's Sam Lord's Castle is no dummy. The February foal proved his ability to learn quickly, passing his mid-term exams in the LeComte Stakes at a mile on Jan. 27 at Fair Grounds. It was the bay colt's first attempt around two turns and the colt was struggling, straining to get out and revert to sprinting around the first turn. Pinched back into fourth, Sam Lord's Castle didn't like those horses in front of him. He was ready to rumble. It was man against horse and the man finally won.

The students had expected a tempo hotter than vine-ripened red peppers with Sam Lord's Castle setting or pressing the pace. It didn't materialize. Jockey Robbie Albarado had a different cake baked.

"He was very aggressive the first part," Albarado said. "I was pulling on him, trying to get him settled in. Once he figured out what I wanted, he was comfortable."

A field of 10 faced the starter in the 58th running of the LeComte. They were a mixed bag of stretch-out sprinters and pace-setting routers. It was a tough spot to make a strong pick.

Solingen shot out of the gate and went straight to the front. Wild Hits, trying to keep his perfect (four-for-four) record intact, stayed in stalking position close behind. The first quarter fraction -- :24.25 -- was surprisingly slow. With a half-mile to go, Wild Hits moved up to challenge for the lead. Sam Lord's Castle was two lengths back and beginning to understand this was a different ball game. A quick study from his lesson learned on the first turn, he swept up on the outside, gobbling ground with a long, reaching stride.

At the top of the stretch, Albarado gave his horse a left-handed love tap. From there he waved the stick to the wire as Sam Lord's Castle pulled away to win the race for 3-year-olds by 1 1/4 lengths over Wild Hits.

Promises, promises. Albarado kept his. "Robby came back after he worked in 1:13 and told me we were going to win if he could get him to rate," trainer Josie Carroll said. "We have been working gradually to get him relaxed. I didn't think the distance would be a problem. He's a young horse and he just loves a good fight."

Back in the familiar territory of the winner's circle, Albarado was pleased to have reversed the order of finish of the Dec. 31 Sugar Bowl Handicap where the team had lost to Wild Hits. In his enthusiasm, the Cajun rider coined a new word for the English language.

"I've been getting on him (Sam Lord's Castle) a few times in the morning and liked the way he worked. If he can staminize his speed, he can go a long way."

Fifty Stars, the favorite, who had not lost since getting Lasix two races back, finally found his stride, rushing from the rear of the pack to finish fourth, a neck behind McMahon. The one-mile distance of the LeComte appeared to lack sufficient real estate for the deep closing son of Quiet American.

Carroll, with a face as serious as a heart attack, was the first to arrive in the paddock for the $100,000 LeComte Stakes. An unusually large crowd had gathered to witness New Orleans' first test of 3-year-olds. Carroll was anxious yet focused. Her colt with the white blaze was the first horse to arrive in the paddock. The son of Carson City stood with professional attention to have his lip tattoo read. Wearing rear wraps, he was calm and relaxed.

Melnyk, who owns more than 150 horses, thought enough of this colt to be on hand in New Orleans. "The one question today was whether he could stretch out beyond six furlongs," Melnyk said. "We got the answer. He's maturing physically and learning his lessons mentally."

According to Melnyk, Sam Lord's Castle's next race will be in the March 11 Louisiana Derby (gr. II).

Solid Wood

At the head of the stretch, everybody could see what was going to happen in the $100,000 Tiffany Lass Stakes on Jan. 28. Floating out widest into the lane, Shortleaf Stable's Wood Sprite was rolling like thunder in the mountains around the final turn of the one-mile race for 3-year-old fillies. With Larry Melancon sitting chilly on a tight rein, the big bay filly was unstoppable when he loosened the hold.

Wood Sprite is not a ballet dancer when it comes to leaving the gate. After bobbling at the start, she recovered and went into chase mode behind a moderate pace. Once the bay daughter of Woodman found her feet, she began taking aim on the field like they were deer in headlights.

"I had a lot of horse all the way," Melancon said. "She broke in a little tangle and after that I laid her back until she was ready to take us into the race. She's a long-striding filly who takes her time. Those kind can run on either surface."

By agreement between trainer David Carroll and starter Frank Comberrel, Wood Sprite was "tailed" at the gate. Tailing is a method where the horse's tail is lifted up over the back door and held by an assistant starter until the gate opens. There is nothing magical about tailing a horse. It's a distraction to divert attention for horses with a tendency to break awkwardly.

Overcoming a horrendous trip, Florida invader Morning Sun made a late run but fell short a half-length. The final time for the mile race was 1:39.30.

It's good to have a switch-hitter on your team. Turf or dirt--you can keep your options open. Wood Sprite was coming off a Dec. 29 win over maidens on the grass. In that race, she put in a sustained late rally behind a slow pace.

"I'm very happy with this filly," Carroll said. "She has trained beautifully since we got her down here. She has always shown us a lot of promise and has beautiful action. Once she got the lead I wasn't worried."

Owner John Ed Anthony, who raised and owns the improving Wood Sprite, said the Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II, March 10) was a possibility for the filly's next start. "None of these races are easy," he said, "but this is a step in the right direction. I will be talking with David (Carroll) to see what's on the schedule."