Trainer Larry Jones can't help but speak highly of his three contenders for the $200,000 Lecomte Stakes (G3) coming up Jan. 13 at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, the first of the Louisiana oval's three prep races Road To The Kentucky Derby.
For 3-year-olds at a distance of one mile and 70 yards on the Fair Grounds main track, the race awards points towards entry in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford (G1) to the top four finishers on a 10-4-2-1 scale.
The first of Jones' three Lecomte aspirants is Kowboy Karma, who will break from post 5 under Brian Hernandez, Jr. Owned by Jones in partnership with wife Cindy and Michael Pressley, the son of Kodiak Kowboy kicked off his five-race career with a pair of wins at Delaware Park—a maiden score at first asking and a triumph in the Aug. 10 Strike Your Colors Stakes.
Following that effort, Kowboy Karma ran second in Monmouth Park's Sept. 2 Sapling Stakes before stepping up to graded stakes company in the Champagne Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park, where he was fourth behind Firenze Fire. The second and third-place finishers of the Champagne were eventual Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Good Magic and Enticed, who next out won the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs. Kowboy Karma's most recent outing took place in the Nov. 11 James F. Lewis III Stakes at Laurel Park, where he finished second.
"He's training well," Jones said. "We had to do a little throat surgery on him after the (James F. Lewis III Stakes), he kept trying to displace on us, but hopefully we got that fixed. He's training well, though. He blew out nicely the other day (five furlongs in 1:00 1/5 Jan. 3), so it looks like he's coming along. We're looking forward to running him. I don't think that this distance will be any problem for him."
Another contingent from the Larry Jones barn is the regally-bred Believe In Royalty, who is by leading North American sire Tapit out of 2012 Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Believe You Can. The broodmare also was a product of the Larry Jones barn and won Fair Grounds' Silverbulletday Stakes and the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) before she was draped with a garland of lilies at Churchill Downs that May.
"I've had several Tapits, not as many as (Steve) Asmussen, but I've had several of them," Jones said. "I can see a little of both (Tapit and Believe You Can) in him. (Believe You Can) wasn't a super early precocious kind of horse, she got good here (at Fair Grounds)."
Believe In Royalty broke his maiden for Brereton Jones, William Mack, and Robert Baker in his second start at Laurel Park Oct. 9, which he followed with another win around the Maryland oval defeating winners in a one-mile allowance race Nov. 19. Last time out, Believe In Royalty took a dive into some deeper waters in the Dec. 17 Springboard Mile at Remington Park, where he was sixth. Jones referred to his stakes debut at the Oklahoma oval as a "growing-up race" for Believe In Royalty and believes the effort has served as a learning experience.
"The way he worked the other day (five furlongs in :59 3/5 Dec. 31) after the Springboard Mile, it looks like the light finally came on with him," Jones said. "His races got a little better up until the Springboard Mile, but he had a little rough trip. He got a wide trip and (winner Greyvitos) kind of gave him a little squeeze, because that horse had to get out from the 12 hole. The horse is doing well though, he's coming along."
Perhaps it was a post-race discussion with jockey Robby Albarado that contributed to Jones' confidence that Believe In Royalty will improve off his last effort.
"Robby came off of him that day and said, 'If he didn't have hair on his chest this morning when he woke up, he will tomorrow morning. He'll become a man tomorrow,'" Jones said. "He does act like it. I gallop him every day myself and it feels to me like the light really has come on. He's starting to get aggressive and doing the right thing."
Believe In Royalty will break from the 6 hole.
The final Larry Jones starter for the Lecomte is Daniel McConnell's Pennsylvania-bred Prince Lucky. The son of Corinthian, who will break from post 13 under Julien Leparoux, won the Dec. 2 Pennsylvania Nursery Stakes at Parx Racing last out and will be making his first start around two turns in the Lecomte.
"It looks like that's not going to be an issue," Jones said. "I know the Pennsylvania Nursery is not a major prep, but it did produce a horse called Smarty Jones and I won (in 2006) with a horse called Hard Spun . We're hoping that we have the same similarities coming out of that."
"I don't know which horse would have the best shot," Jones added. "I'm sure it's whoever gets the best trip and whoever gets the best post, and things like that. It could be detrimental to get hung on the outside of somebody."