'Rising Star' Nash Faces Track Phantom In Lecomte Rematch Headlining Saturday Graded Races

Nash | Coady Photography

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Like one of those old split-flap mechanical signs at train stations, everyone knows that in the new year the 'Run for the Roses' leaderboard will fluctuate. Week-to-week, the top points begin to compound–from 20 to the winner Saturday and going as high as 100 to the winner come April.

The trail to Derby 150 begins a much steeper ascent on Saturday at Fair Grounds in New Orleans as the GIII Lecomte S. offers 3-year-old colts 20-10-6-4-2 that can be applied to Bank of Churchill.

This year's edition pits a field of eight against one another with the central question being: what happened to Nash (Medaglia d'Oro) in the December running of the Gun Runner S.?

The heavy favorite was unable to build on his Nov. 12 'TDN Rising Star' performance under the Twin Spires at second asking when he powered to the lead, torched a field of maidens by 10 1/4 lengths and posted a 97 Beyer for trainer Brad Cox.

The race shape in the Gun Runner was nothing of the sort for the Godolphin homebred, as he was forced to watch Track Phantom (Quality Road) take control towards the end of the backstretch and never relinquish the lead.

Track Phantom (center) with Nash (along the rail) | Hodges Photography/Amanda Hodges Weir

“It was great to see him [Track Phantom] win the race against a talented field, but especially with going as fast as they did early and showing enough quality to still respond,” said the winner's trainer Steve Asmussen. “I love how he's doing, very happy with him and how he's trained since the Gun Runner. I feel good about the draw and excited to run him again. Past success from there so we'll see what we can do.”

Of course, the pair will have others to contend with in this spot and chief among them is Lat Long (Liam's Map). The dark bay trained by Ken McPeek was never out of the money in all five of his juvenile starts against maiden special weight company starting at Churchill back in September. Facing the likes of GSW Dornoch (Good Magic) and Track Phantom himself, Lat Long broke through at Oaklawn Dec. 17 against his stablemate and next-out winner Common Defense (Karakontie {Jpn}).

“[Lat Long] has been a horse who is still trying to figure it out a bit,” McPeek said. “He's not all there yet. But we're going to try him at a higher level and see how he handles tougher company.”

Also after points is Can Group (Good Samaritan), who was last seen running fourth in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita for trainer Mark Casse. Joining him will be two more Cox runners in Ethan Energy (Uncle Mo), who broke his maiden by 5 1/4 lengths at second asking over this surface Dec. 23, and Awesome Road (Quality Road). Bred by Claiborne Farm, the latter was a $600,000 Keeneland September purchase by Albaugh Family Stables and Donegal Racing.

 

Saudi Crown Kick Starts His 4-Year-Old Campaign

Preceding the Lecomte is the GIII Louisiana S. for 4-year-olds and up going 1 1/16th on the main track. This race marks the return of Saudi Crown (Always Dreaming). Now a 4-year-old, the gray debuted a winner by 4 3/4 lengths at Keeneland last April, then won against allowance company at Churchill Downs a month later.

Saudi Crown | Sarah Andrew

Finishing over the summer as the runner-up by a nose in the GIII Dwyer S. at Belmont Park and in the GII Jim Dandy S. at Saratoga, the Brad Cox trainee set the pace en route to the winner's circle in the GI Pennsylvania Derby at Parx in September. A popular pick in the GI Breeders' Cup Classic, the colt finished a well-beaten 10th to close out his year.

“I'm not treating it like he has to be on the lead,” Cox said. “He's a smart horse. He's capable of sitting off. When he broke his maiden, he sat off horses. I really don't think he has to be on the lead. It probably will be a situation where he will have to take a breath at some point, you can't just run all-out throughout.”

After Cox watched Saudi Crown drill five furlongs behind Nash Jan. 13 (1:00.20, 3/51), the trainer said, “It didn't quite set up as well as we expected. There were other horses out there and we got caught up with a little more company than we wanted. I was very, very happy with the breeze. He was a little wide through the lane and around the turn. Plenty fit. He had a good work the week before last. We just wanted him to cruise along the other day and he did. I think he's set up for a big spot.”

Opposing him in New Orleans are a number of seasoned challengers looking to set the tone for their own campaigns. Smile Happy (Runhappy) has not been seen since he ran fifth in the GI Stephen Foster S. at Ellis Park in July. The 'TDN Rising Star' has a resume which includes a pair of Grade II wins in the Kentucky Jockey Club S. as a juvenile and in last year's Alysheba S.–both at Churchill Downs.

Making the gate is deep closer GSW Red Route One (Gun Runner), defending winner and GISP Happy American (Runhappy) and GII Rebel S. hero Confidence Game (Candy Ride {Arg}).

 

Midnight Memories Faces Desert Dawn Once Again

Swinging out to Santa Anita Park on Saturday afternoon, the GIII La Canada S. has MGSW Midnight Memories (Mastery) taking on MGISP Desert Dawn (Cupid). The last time these two met as 4-year-old fillies in the GIII Bayakoa S. at Los Alamitos Dec. 15, it was Midnight Memories who got the best of her rival by a length. Favored at 6-5 on the morning line, the Bob Baffert trainee will also have to contend with, among others, GISP Musical Mischief (Into Mischief) and Coffee in Bed (Curlin).

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