The Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes gives you current Kentucky Derby points leader Pappacap. It gives you one of the most exciting 3-year-olds in the country, Epicenter. And it gives you recent alumni Triple Crown success.

Best Pal stakes winner Pappacap leads the Kentucky Derby points list with 12. He comes into Saturday’s Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds as the 8/5 morning-line favorite in the Derby prep. (Image: Benoit Photo)

The 1 1/16-mile Lecomte also gives you Derby preps for the first time in three weeks. It is the first of three Derby preps at the New Orleans track, along with next month’s Grade 2 Risen Star and March’s Grade 2 Louisiana Derby. The Lecomte offers 10-4-2-1 Derby points to its top four finishers.

It also offers a bit of recent highlights from Lecomte alums. Last year’s winner, Midnight Bourbon, finished sixth in the Derby and second in the Preakness Stakes. The 2019 Lecomte winner, War of Will, won that year’s Preakness. The 2013 Lecomte champion, Oxbow, won that year’s Preakness. The 2007 Lecomte winner, Hard Spun, finished second in that year’s Preakness.

It’s that history that prompted trainer Mark Casse to bring Pappacap to Fair Grouds. Casse trained War of Will, along with Kentucky Oaks runner-up Wonder Gadot, who ran at Fair Grounds. This explains why Casse will run the Florida-bred Pappacap in the Lecomte, Risen Star and Louisiana Derby. That’s the same playbook Casse employed with War of Will and 2020 Lecomte winner Enforceable.

Finding a repeatable pattern in the Lecomte

“He’s doing well. I’d rather run him and get him into a race pattern,” Casse told Fair Grounds’ Joe Krystufek. “If you do have a setback this time of year and you miss a little time, you’re not behind the eight-ball.”

The son of Gun Runner comes in with a solid resume that explains his 12 Derby points. He’s 1-2-0 in four graded stakes, winning the Grade 2 Best Pal and finishing second to current Derby futures favorite Corniche in both the Grade 1 American Pharoah at Santa Anita and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar. This, in turn, explains why Pappacap is the 8/5 morning-line Lecomte favorite. He’s 32/1 on Circa Sports’ Derby futures board and 25/1 at Caesar’s=William Hill.

Waiting for Pappacap is 9/5 second choice Epicenter, who tries giving Steve Asmussen back-to-back Lecomte titles. Asmussen won the Lecomte with Midnight Bourbon last year. The 4-year-old will run earlier on the 14-race card in the Grade 3 Louisiana Stakes.

Epicenter comes in with full head of steam

This time, Asmussen brings in a colt riding a two-race winning streak. That streak includes a commanding 6 ½-length romp in the inaugural Gun Runner Stakes last month. That victory and its career-best 98 Equibase Speed Figure came one race after Epicenter broke his maiden by 3 ½ lengths with a 97 Equibase at Churchill Downs.

“He’s exciting. The mile from the outside draw when he broke his maiden, the racetrack played for how he ran that day,” Asmussen told Krystufek. “The Gun Runner and two turns, restrained a little bit early, the way he ran through the wire and galloped out was everything we were hoping for.”

Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes/Fair Grounds

Morning Line (Jockey/Trainer)

  1. Surfer Dude, 15/1 (Reylu Gutierrez/Dallas Stewart)
  2. Unified Report, 15/1 (Corey Lanerie/Dallas Stewart)
  3. Pappacap, 8/5 (Joe Bravo/Mark Casse)
  4. Trafalgar, 5/1 (Colby Hernandez/Al Stall Jr.)
  5. Epicenter, 9/5 (Joel Rosario/Steve Asmussen)
  6. Cyberknife, 6/1 (Florent Geroux/Brad Cox)
  7. Blue Kentucky, 20/1 (Jared Loveberry/Wayne Catalano)
  8. Call Me Midnight, 20/1 (James Graham/Keith Desormeaux)
  9. Presidential, 20/1 (Brian Hernandez Jr./Steve Asmussen)

Expect those two to take most of the money. The most intriguing choice for underneath exotics is Trafalgar (6/1). He too, comes in with a two-race winning streak that features a two-turn allowance victory at Fair Grounds Dec. 2. That outing featured Trafalgar — the aptly named son of Lord Nelson — battling through deep stretch to hold off a fast-closing Naval Aviator.

“He clearly waited on horses from the three-sixteenths to the one-sixths,” trainer Al Stall. Jr. told Krystufek. “He comes a Brad Cox horse (Naval Aviator) with a full head of steam, and I’m thinking, ‘Well, there goes a 3/5 shot down the drain.’ But he just reengaged when he saw him and had to run hard the last part. I like the fact that he went from lollygagging around straight to fighting.”