For many horsemen at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, the past month has been fraught with worry over an equine herpesvirus outbreak and quarantine restrictions. Trainer Neil Howard may have been equally concerned, but at least one horse in his barn helped ease the burden—W.S. Farish and Lora Jean Kilroy's Guest Suite, who trained perfectly up to the Jan. 21 Lecomte Stakes (G3), then won it.
"He has had a great schedule and hasn’t missed a beat training and has trained wonderfully down here,” Howard said after the 3-year-old son of Quality Road closed to a 1 1/4-length victory. "I thought this was a good gauge for him because it was a nice bunch of 3-year-olds."
Giving jockey Robby Albarado his 4,999th win, Guest Suite closed from sixth to secure his first graded score over Untrapped in the mile-and-70-yard race, which kicked off Fair Grounds' Road to the Kentucky Derby. Awarding points on a 10-4-2-1 scale to the top four finishers toward a spot in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1), the Lecomte placed Guest Suite 11th on the current Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.
“I had a great trip," Albarado said. "He’s a nice horse and Neil has done an exceptional job with him. He’s growing up. He’s a smart horse and it makes it easy. He’s been training forwardly. I just show up for the races, they do all the work, the Howard stable.”
Howard said plans are for Guest Suite to continue toward Fair Grounds' next 3-year-old stakes, the Feb. 25 Risen Star Stakes (G2).
“Everyone has the same goals looking ahead after getting started in a race like this. Obviously it was nothing short of great to see that kind of performance," Howard said. "I certainly think that everything is in front of him, but it’s too hard to tell. There are some really good ones out there, but he's turned a corner."
The 5-2 favorite in a field of 11, Guest Suite sat the rail trip off quick fractions of :23.42 and :46.47 set alternately by Phat Man and Running Mate on a muddy, sealed track at Fair Grounds, with Takeoff racing third. Tipped out by Albarado around the turn for home, as three-quarters went in 1:12.19 with Takeoff moving into second position, Guest Suite ran down that rival through a 1:38.84 mile, and kicked clear to finish in 1:43.20. Untrapped closed from fifth to earn the place by half a length under jockey Ricardo Santana Jr.
"Running first time long, I’m happy with him," Santana Jr. said. "He ran big and we tried to teach him something. He finished really good.”
“I love how he fought on late, for his first two turn race,” trainer Steve Asmussen added.
Guest Suite returned $7.60, $5, and $3.60, while Untrapped paid $6.40 and $4.80. Completing the order of finish were Takeoff, Arklow, Shareholder Value, Phat Man, Tip Tap Tapizar, Marco Mischief, Running Mate, Totality, and Pat On the Back. Saint's Fan was scratched.
Bred in Kentucky by W. S. Farish and Kilroy Thoroughbred Partnership out of the winning Ghostzapper mare Guest House, Guest Suite improved his record to three wins and two thirds from five starts for earnings of $203,840.