Dogwood Stable's Blackberry Road may be the 7-2 morning line choice for the $100,000 Lecomte Stakes (gr. III), but he’ll face two unbeaten runners, a graded stakes winner, and an impressive 9 ¼-length victor Jan. 12 when a field of nine heads to the post at Fair Grounds.
The one-mile Lecomte is a significant starting point for 3-year-olds and will be run as one of six $100,000 stakes races carded for the Louisiana track’s “Road to the Derby” kickoff day. Last year’s Lecomte winner, Hard Spun, finished second in the 2007 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). In 2002, War Emblem finished fifth in the Lecomte but went on to capture the 2002 Derby and Preakness (gr. I).
Blackberry Road, a half-brother to Vindication, is a son of Gone West bred in Kentucky by Payson Stud out of the Strawberry Road mare Strawberry Reason. Making the first start of his 3-year-old campaign for trainer David Carroll, he comes off a second-place finish Nov. 24 to Anak Nakal in the 1 1/16-mile Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II) at Churchill Downs.
“We’re starting him pretty early, but he had an easy fall thanks to the barn being quarantined due to Equine Herpes Virus,” said Cot Campbell, president of Dogwood Stable. “He was supposed to run in the Iroquois but couldn’t, so he ran in the Jockey Club coming off about a two-month layoff. He still ran good, and prior to that came off a great third in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile (gr. III) where he was completely blocked at the head of the stretch and had to go way wide and still finished good. So we think he’s sitting on a winning race, and we hope it’s Saturday.”
The winner of the Kentucky Cup Juvenile Sept. 29, Stonerside Stable’s Texas Fever, will tackle dirt for the first time and look to resume his winning ways after a troubled sixth-place finish in the Oct. 26 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. The homebred Victory Gallop colt, who ran into traffic trouble at the three-sixteenths pole, made a late rally and gave the winner just 3 ¼ lengths. All of his previous starts – two wins and two fourths – came over Polytrack. He is the co-highweight with two other runners at 122.
Trainers Steve Asmussen and Al Stall Jr. send out the unbeaten starters, but both have raced just twice thus far.
Asmussen will saddle Zayat Stables’ New York-bred Z Fortune, a convincing winner while breaking his maiden at Belmont Park, where he pressed the pace and drew clear to win by 6 ½ lengths. In his second start in an Aqueduct allowance race Dec. 7, the Siphon colt wired the field and went on to win by 4 ¾ lengths.
Asmussen also sends out Stonerside’s Star Defender, a Vindicationcolt bred in Kentucky by Phillip McCarthy. Second in Zia Park’s one-mile Eddy County Stakes Nov. 23 after breaking his maiden Nov. 2, the $400,000 Keeneland November weanling purchase has run two previous races – both resulting in seventh-place finishes.
Stall’s trainee, Star Guitar, has the advantage of both career starts coming over the Fair Grounds’ surface. A Brittlyn Stable homebred by Quiet American, the Louisiana colt broke his maiden at first asking Nov. 22 by 6 ¼-lengths and won the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Juvenile Stakes in his last start Dec. 8. He shares the high weight with Texas Fever.
Trainer Ronny Werner will send Ben Berger and Connie Scanlon’s The Darp to stakes company for the first time. By Proud Citizen and bred in Kentucky by Spooky Hollow Racing, the colt comes off his maiden win in a one-mile race at the Fair Grounds Dec. 14, in which he wired the field by 9 ¼ lengths.
Morning line third-choice Macho Again, Jack Price Juvenile Stakes winner He’s Eze (also assigned 122), and Mad Flatter, who comes into the race off consecutive victories, complete the field.
$100,000 LeComte Stakes (gr. III, race 9, approximate post 4:28 p.m. CST), one mile for 3-year-olds, dirt
PP., Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Texas Fever, 122, Jamie Theriot
2. The Darp, 116, Robby Albarado
3. He's Eze, 122, Jose Alberto Rivera II
4. Star Guitar, 122, Curt Bourque
5. Z Fortune, 120, Shaun Bridgmohan
6. Blackberry Road, 116, Calvin Borel
7. Mad Flatter, 118, James Graham
8. Macho Again, 118, Julien Leparoux
9. Star Defender, 116, Miguel Mena