By Alan Carasso
Much to the delight of owner/breeder Rustlewood Farm and trainer Mark Casse, Pappacap (Gun Runner) will face nothing of the quality of the likes of 'TDN Rising Star' and likely Eclipse Award winner Corniche (Quality Road) when he makes his sophomore debut in Saturday's GIII Lecomte S. at the Fair Grounds.
The homebred was off the board just once from five runs in 2021, winning the GII Best Pal S. by open lengths at second asking before completing the exacta underneath the OBS April topper when beaten 3 1/4 lengths in the GI American Pharoah S. Oct. 1 and again in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Del Mar Nov. 5, where he sat a perfect trip, but could not quite match strides late and was 1 3/4 lengths adrift at the wire.
“I never questioned where I wanted to go after the Breeders' Cup,” Casse said. “I feel really comfortable at Fair Grounds. We had a lot of success over that track. I think it's a great atmosphere and I have a lot of confidence in [assistant trainer] David Carroll. I think the track there suits him. He's a horse that wants to settle a little bit and not have to hustle a whole lot. He gets over the ground really well there.”
Midnight Bourbon (Tiznow), who runs one race prior to the Lecomte this weekend (see below), won last year's event for Winchell Thoroughbreds and Steve Asmussen and that formidable duo will be represented here by Epicenter (Not This Time). A speed-and-fade sixth in his seven-furlong debut at Churchill Sept. 18, he overcame the widest gate in a field of 10 to graduate by 3 1/2 lengths going the one-turn mile Nov. 13. The second choice to the dramatically overbet Rocket Dawg (Classic Empire) in the first running of the Gun Runner S. Dec. 26, the bay prompted the pace of Surfer Dude (Curlin) to the outside and powered home to take it by 6 1/2 lengths. Joel Rosario, who broke the colt's maiden, is back aboard this weekend.
Trafalgar (Lord Nelson) is an interesting new shooter for trainer Al Stall, Jr. and Andrea Pollack's Columbine Stable. The $100,000 FTKSEL yearling turned $310,000 OBS April breezer was a distant runner-up to the impressive and subsequently GISP Classic Causeway (Giant's Causeway) sprinting on Saratoga debut Sept. 4, then rallied stoutly–albeit with a strong pace to chase–to don cap and gown by 2 1/4 lengths in a one-mile test at Churchill Oct. 2. Conservatively spotted in a first-level allowance over course and distance Dec. 2, Trafalgar attended a much softer pace, looked in all sorts of trouble as first-out winner Naval Aviator (Tapit) rolled up to him late, but turned back that bid to score by a hard-fought head.
“He clearly waited on horses from the three-sixteenths to the sixteenth [pole],” Stall, Jr. said. “Here comes a Brad Cox horse [Naval Aviator] with a full head of steam, and I'm thinking, 'well there goes a 3-5 shot down the drain,' but he just re-engaged when he saw him and had to run hard the last part. I like the fact that he went from lollygagging around straight to fighting.”
Cyberknife (Gun Runner) is another with a two-turn victory to his credit, having idled in the final stages before clinging on for a half-length maiden breaker over track and trip on Dec. 26. Trainer Brad Cox adds blinkers to try to sharpen to colt's focus.