As Northern Hemisphere Thoroughbred racehorses officially turn a year older on January 1, fans will begin to focus on the newly turned three-year-olds and the series of stakes races that lead to the Grade 2, $1 million Louisiana Derby and the Grade 2, $500,000 Fair Grounds Oaks on March 30. More so than ever thanks to a new points-based system for Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks qualifying, the Road to the Louisiana Derby and Fair Grounds Oaks will establish which local colts and fillies might be prominent at Churchill Downs on the first weekend in May.
The Road to the Louisiana Derby begins in earnest on January 19 with the Grade 3, $200,000 Lecomte Stakes at one mile and 70 yards. The Lecomte is worth 17 points (10 for first, four for second, two for third, one for fourth) toward Kentucky Derby qualification.
Below are leading colts and geldings to watch, listed alphabetically, based on past performances, published works and interviews with horsemen. Inclusion on this list does not necessarily mean that the horse is known to be under consideration for upcoming Fair Grounds stakes.
CIRCLE UNBROKEN (Garry Simms) – Broken Vow colt won his first two starts at Churchill Downs, including the Grade 3 Bashford Manor Stakes, before a second last time out in the August 4 Mountaineer Juvenile. Has four published works at Fair Grounds in December and is up to five-eighths in preparation for a return to the races.
"A couple more works and we'll have him pretty close to running," Simms said. "I don't really have an exact plan for him. We'll just let him tell us. The ultimate plan would be the Louisiana Derby, if he's good enough. He just had a little P1 in his right-front ankle, no big deal. It wasn't a big chip but we decided to clean it up; we do the right thing by the horse."
DEPARTING (Al Stall Jr.) – War Front colt won a deep December 22 six-furlong maiden special weight at first asking by 2 1/4 lengths.
"He's a 'non-two' so that's his game plan," Stall said. "Everybody liked their horses in there (the December 22 race). He showed seasoning and I'd think he got a lot out of that race the way it unfolded, with him being in the pocket and then coming through the inside; that was nice. He'll be fine going long; I was even thinking of running him long first-time out. The family, I know, stretches, so that's a no-brainer."
GOLDEN SOUL (Dallas Stewart) – Perfect Soul colt finished strongly to win a two-turn maiden special weight by 7 1/4 lengths on Sunday.
"I think he's a really good one, I really do," Stewart said. "He's trained so well, has a lot of talent and ran real well first time out. We've got some very high hopes for him. We're going to take our time with him. He's a late foal, May 14. I think he's unlimited on distance. We're going to do the smart thing and take our time. The Lecomte might be pushing it, but we'll have to wait and see."
HAWAAKOM (Danny Peitz) – Jazil colt upset a December 15 maiden special weight in his first try stretching out, winning by 1 1/2 lengths. Peitz said after that race that he would consider the Lecomte.
"I guess you could say he's my Derby horse now," Peitz said. "I'll say that because he's the only two-year-old I have that has won going over a distance of ground."
IVE STRUCK A NERVE (Keith Desormeaux) – Yankee Gentleman colt won a six-furlong maiden special weight opening weekend and was second to Tour Guide sprinting in the December 22 overnight $60,000 Sugar Bowl Stakes.
"I think it was a great prep for the Lecomte," Desormeaux said. "That's my goal is January 19. He's out of a Cryptoclearance mare so he should be able to run all day. We're excited about him."
MALIBU HIGH (Cecil Borel) – Malibu Moon colt is undefeated in two starts sprinting, including an entry-level allowance last Friday at Fair Grounds. Will be nominated to the Lecomte and Oaklawn Park's ungraded $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes on January 21 as possible next starts.
"He has all the talent in the world," jockey Calvin Borel said. "He's a very smart horse; he'll win on his smartness. I think he'll beat some good horses."
MYLUTE (Tom Amoss) – Midnight Lute colt drew off to a 10 3/4-length win in a two-turn entry-level allowance last Wednesday. He's earned $213,695 thanks to three on-the-board finishes in stakes: a third in the Grade 3, $1 million Delta Jackpot, second in the $200,000 Jean Lafitte Stakes at Delta and a second in the $75,000 Prairie Gold Juvenile at Prairie Meadows.
"It'll either be the Lecomte or wait until the Risen Star (Grade 2 on February 23)," Amoss said, "and that's a decision that's going to be made by GoldMark Farm general manager Todd Quast. A lot of it will have to do with how he trains over the next three weeks."
TOUR GUIDE (Bret Calhoun) – Broken Vow colt cruised to a 3 1/2-length score sprinting in the Sugar Bowl Stakes as the odds-on favorite, a win that was foreshadowed by an easy 4 1/2-length victory against winners at Churchill Downs on November 24.
"He's healthy and doing well right now," Calhoun said. "He's still growing and developing and he's doing it very slowly. He's a very fast horse, for sure, and we'll just have to see if we can harness some of that speed and stretch it out. I do think there's more left in the tank. This horse gets a little bit lost when he's out on the lead. Pedigree-wise this horse should stretch out. The last two-turn race (fifth in the October 6 Dover at Delaware Park) was definitely a throw-out race. We may have to try it again."
VIOLENCE (Todd Pletcher) – Undefeated Medaglia d'Oro colt is among the leading Kentucky Derby contenders after wins in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity and the Grade 2 Nashua Stakes. Based in Florida but is among the Louisiana Derby Early Bird nominees and has been mentioned by Pletcher as a possibility for the Risen Star Stakes, which would help keep him apart from other top Pletcher prospects.
"He's the kind of horse that has such a great disposition and good mind that shipping wouldn't bother him at all," Pletcher said. "He'll probably start again at the end of February or the beginning of March."