Kentucky Derby preps intensify this weekend with all eyes on New Orleans and the $175,000, Grade III Lecomte Stakes.
The Lecomte, run at 1 mile and 70 yards, is the first Fair Grounds prep for the April 1 Louisiana Derby. Thirteen 3-year-olds are entered, including a few surprises, reflecting the still wide-open status of this year's 3-year-olds.
The weekend also features a pair of Kentucky Oaks preps at Fair Grounds and Golden Gate Fields, a smattering of other 3-year-old races on the grass and for various state-bred sophomores and couple nice turf races.
The Lecomte is so wide open that the morning-line favorite, at 4-1, is Shared Property, winner of the Arlington-Washington Futurity on Sept. 10. The Scat Daddy gelding followed the Chicago win with a sixth-place finish in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland on Oct. 8.
Others of note are Seven Lively Sins, who was second in the Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs last October and fourth in the Delta Jackpot a month later, and Exfactor, winner of the Bashford Manor at Churchill Downs last July and the Dec. 17 Sugar Bowl Stakes at Fair Grounds.
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas supplemented Chalybeate Springs to the Lecomte after that Dynaformer colt won a maiden event last weekend at Oaklawn Park. And conditioner Todd Pletcher dropped in Dan and Sheila at the last minute. Ted's Folly has won six in a row in Oklahoma and on Saturday will see when he can do in the big time.
Saturday's six-stakes card at Fair Grounds also includes the $125,000 Silverbulletday Stakes for 3-year-old fillies aspiring to the Oaks trail. Six were entered for that event, including the heavy favorite, Applauding, who is unbeaten in two starts but trying stakes company for the first time. Others to watch could be Believe You Can, Summer Applause and Mexican-bred Yvete Sangalo, who ran third in the Delta Downs Princess in her last start in December.
The other major 3-year-old filly race of the weekend is Saturday's $100,000 California Oaks at Golden Gate Fields. That 1 1/16-mile test over the all-weather track attracted seven starters, three of them trained by Jerry Hollendorfer. Hollendorfer's contingent is headed by Lady of Fifty, an After Market filly who has won two straight stakes events at the Bay Area oval. Your Special Day was fourth in the Grade III Miesque Stakes at Hollywood Park in her last start in November for trainer James Cassidy.
Elsewhere amongst the 3-year-olds:
-- It's on the grass, but who knows what might come out of Saturday's $100,000 Kitten's Joy Stakes at Gulfstream Park? Eight are signed on for the 1 1/16-mile event, including morning-line favorite Lucky Chappy, an Irish-bred High Chaparral colt who was third in the Bourbon Stakes on the Keeneland lawn and fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.
-- State-bred races for 3-year-olds are Saturday's $110,000 Pepsi Cola Stakes at Sunland Park in New Mexico and $50,000 Groovy Stakes at Sam Houston Race Park in Texas. Sunday's $75,000 San Pedro Stakes at Santa Anita is 6 1/2 furlongs.
-- 3-year-old fillies go on the grass in Sunday's $100,000 Sweetest Chant Stakes at Gulfstream Park, Sunday's $50,000 El Paso Times Handicap at Sunland Park and Saturday's $50,000 Cincinnati Trophy Stakes at Turfway Park.
On the turf:
-- Fair Grounds on Saturday offers the $100,000, Grade III Col E.R. Bradley Handicap at 1 1/16 miles.
-- Four-year-olds try 1 1/16 miles on the Santa Anita lawn in Sunday's $150,000, Grade II La Canada Stakes.
Finally, Amazombie may be ready to start 2012 fresh off being named top sprinter of 2011 at this week's Eclipse Awards. Trainer Bill Spawr, with one eye on the weather, has entered the 6-year-old in the $150,000, Grade II Palos Verdes Stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday.
But Spawr said if the predicted rains come, Amazombie may not go. "If I get beat, I want to get beat by a better horse and not the surface or a bias," he told Daily Racing Form.
Amazombie, who won the Breeders' Cup Sprint en route to the Eclipse honor, would face some tough competition if he does run. Among them is Euroears, who finished ninth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint after a long and successful campaign that included a second-place finish in the Dubai Golden Shaheen and a victory in the Bing Crosby Stakes at Del Mar on July 31 -- a race in which Amazombie finished third.