For a race that carried a mere $40,000 purse as recently as 1996, it’s impressive how quickly the Lecomte (G3) at Fair Grounds has developed into an important stop on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
The Lecomte pays homage to the equine Lecomte, a New Orleans sensation who received widespread acclaim in 1854 when he ran four miles in the record-shattering time of 7:26.
The rise of Lecomte’s namesake race has been slow but steady. First run in 1943, the race was open to older horses until 1962, when it became an age-restricted test for 3-year-olds. Early winners tended to be local stars more than national standouts, and the Lecomte didn’t receive graded stakes status until 2003.
Nevertheless, the Lecomte occasionally produced nationally prominent horses. Future Preakness (G1) runner-up Linkage claimed the Lecomte in 1982. Risen Star used a second-place finish in the 1988 Lecomte as a springboard to victories in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes (G1). Then in 2002, War Emblem became the first Lecomte starter to claim victory in the Kentucky Derby.
Since achieving graded status, the Lecomte has grown rapidly. Hard Spun (first in 2007) and Golden Soul (second in 2013) kicked off their sophomore seasons in the Lecomte before going on to finish second in the Kentucky Derby. Oxbow (runaway winner in 2013) and War of Will (triumphant in 2019) went on to score victories in the Preakness. Even the 2016 fourth-place finisher Destin went on to achieve major success, battling to victory in the Belmont Stakes.
During the 2010s, the Lecomte produced 13 Kentucky Derby starters, averaging better than one per year. In 2020, Fair Grounds lengthened the race from 1 mile and 70 yards to 1 1⁄16 miles. With its growing prestige and prominent placement on the Road to the Kentucky Derby (offering 10 qualification points to the winner), you can bet the Lecomte will maintain its steady ascent for the foreseeable future.
By J. Keeler Johnson