Steve Asmussen-trained Principe Guilherme heads the field for Saturday's 74th running of the Grade III, $200,000 Lecomte Stakes, the first big race for 3-year-old colts this season at the Fair Grounds.
Prince Guilherme turned heads with his most recent peformance, winning by a whopping 11¾ lengths at a mile and 70 yards on Dec. 16 at the Fair Grounds in an optional claiming race for 2-year-olds. His time of 1 minute, 42.94 seconds rated a Beyer Speed Figure of 92.
“The impressive thing about it was his time, not necessarily who he beat,” said Scott Blasi, Asmussen's assistant trainer. “But I don't worry about that this time of the year. You just want to see your horse continue to improve, especially on the (Kentucky) Derby trail. You don't have a lot of room for mistakes.”
Principe Guilherme also won his only other race, at Churchill Downs on Nov. 10, by 6¼ lengths. The Lecomte, also at a mile and 70 yards, is the feature race on a six-race card on the Fair Grounds' Road to the Derby Kickoff day. Principe Guilherme, a son of Tapit, the leading sire in North America, is the 5-2 favorite in the race. His dam is Aubby K, winner of the 2013 Grade I Humana Distaff.
“He's just a very athletic, well-balanced horse that is pretty straight forward in his running style,” Blasi said. “He's capable of showing pace, but he's also able to relax off some speed if need be. So far, he's done everything right and shown a nice form for it, especially stretching out to two turns.”
Principe Guilherme, who will have Fair Grounds two-time defending champion jockey Florent Geroux aboard, is one of three colts in the Lecomte trained by Asmussen. Zing Zang (15-1) and Snapper Sinclair (20-1) are the others.
Instilled Regard, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, is the 4-1 second favorite, with Kowboy Karma, trained by J. Larry Jones, the 6-1 third choice.
However, Jones also has three horses in the race, and that's where things could get interesting. The way Jones sees it, there are “about six or seven” quality horses in the race, and pace will mean a lot.
“Steve's horse is going to run a lot, without a doubt,” he said. “Anything in the high 80s on the Beyer is a for-real race horse. But I do think there's going to be some in there that will entertain (Principe Guilherme).
“Kowboy comes from well back in the pack. So, if there's a real lively pace the first half mile, then that will improve our shot. We have three horses in there, and they all have a different running style. So, hopefully we can make some things happen in the race that we want.”
Jones' other horses entered are Prince Lucky (8-1), who could set a fast early pace, and Believe in Royalty (15-1). Also noteworthy is that Principe Guilherme will break from the No. 12 post, next to Prince Lucky at No. 13.
Kowboy Karma will break from the enviable No. 5 spot with Believe in Royalty at No. 6.
Instilled Regard, who is at No. 10, may be one to watch. Instilled Regard is coming off a second place in the Grade I Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity on Dec. 9.
Jones said he has confidence in Kowboy Karma because he has run against tough competition. After winning his first two races, at Delaware during the summer, Kowboy Karma was second in the Sapling at Monmouth in September, then fnished fourth in the Grade I $500,000 Champagne Stakes at Belmont on Oct. 7. He was second in the Lewis Stakes, a six-furlong race at Laurel, on Dec. 11.
To many, it may appear that Kowboy Karma, who has Storm Cat in his bloodlines, is stepping up in class. Jones disagrees, saying the Champagne Stakes, a qualifier for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, tells a lot.
“In fairness, he's probably faced the best horses anybody has in (the Lecomte),” he said. “In that Champagne race, he was beaten by a little more than three lengths. The horse that was second (Good Magic) won that little race in San Diego called the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, which proves he's Eclipse Award worthy.
“The horse that was third, Enticed, beat Kowboy by a neck. That horse went straight from there and won the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill and is a top (Kentucky) Derby contender.”
Good Magic is first in Horse Racing Nation's ratings for Kentucky Derby contenders. Enticed is fourth, Principe Guilherme eighth and Instilled Regard 26th. Another in the Lecomte, Steve Margolis-trained Ebben (20-1), is 29th and Kowboy Karma 39th.