For trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and Instilled Regard, it was well worth the trip, even though the Californians were greeted by frigid weather in New Orleans.
Instilled Regard took the lead at the top of the stretch and fended off 5-2 favorite Principe Guilherme to win the 74th running of the Grade III, $200,000 Lecomte Stakes by 3 3/4 lengths Saturday at the Fair Grounds.
“The way he ran was very professional for a young horse,” jockey Javier Castellano said of Instilled Regard, the 4-1 second choice. “He is a smart horse.”
The Lecomte is the first big race for 3-year-old Kentucky Derby hopefuls.
Snapper Sinclair, a 20-1 long shot and one of three colts trained by Steve Asmussen, was third, a neck behind Principe Guilherme.
Instilled Regard, who was in the 10th gate, got a good break and settled in third place before the first turn. He was there on the back side, then briefly lost position. However, heading into the second turn, he again was in third, seemingly biding his time.
“The way he developed in the race, I didn't want to dictate the pace,” said Castellano, who was aboard Instilled Regard for the first time. “It was just the (third) time the horse ran two turns. I just liked the way he got good track position.
“I could have gone to the whip, but I didn't want people chasing me. I wanted to save something for the finish. He's a great horse and he has a great mind, and I liked the way he conducted himself.”
Principe Guilherme was not a factor until he closed in the late stretch under jockey Florent Geroux. Geroux, the Fair Grounds' two-time defending champion jockey, had won the Road to the Derby Kickoff day's other two most-prestigious races — the Colonel E.R. Bradley Handicap and the Silverbulletday.
Principe Guilherme had won his only two starts by a combined 18 lengths and had registered an excellent 92 Beyer Speed Figure in his most recent outing, a 2-year-old allowance optional claiming on Dec. 16 at the Fair Grounds. However, breaking from the 12th post position for an inexperienced colt proved to be a difficult proposition, Geroux said.
“We were just hoping to be more clear when we turned the corner, but the post position didn't help,” Geroux said. “It probably cost us a few lengths. I'm not saying we would have won, but we would have made (Instilled Regard) run for his money.”
Unlike lightly raced Principe Guilherme, it was Instilled Regard's fifth race. He had not won since his first outing, an eight-furlong race in at Santa Anita that he captured by 4½ lengths in late October. However, he was coming was a second-place finish in the Grade I Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity at Santa Anita.
Hollendorfer said that race prepared him for the Lecomte.
“The experience of that race and other races helped him, no doubt,” Hollendorfer said. “He ran a good race. He was calm. He shipped well and settled right in.”
Hollendorfer said they are returning to California, but they could be back at the Fair Grounds for the next big Kentucky Derby prep — the Grade II, $400,000 Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 17, Louisiana Preview Day.
“We'll go back and look at things, and we'll see.”