(Owner Ron Winchell / Photo Courtesy of KY Downs)

(Trainer Steve Asmussen / Photo by Holly M. Smith)

From the Fair Grounds Media Team:

Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Midnight Bourbon took the lead from the start in Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots’ $200,000 Lecomte (G3) for 3-year-olds and held that position to the wire en route to a 1-length win over Proxy, who headed out heavily favored Mandaloun for the place spot. The winner amassed 10 qualifying points for Churchill Downs’ May 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1).

Midnight Bourbon, the second-choice at 3.70-1, and Joe Talamo broke running and took the initiative immediately in the eight-horse field, while allowed to set leisurely fractions of 24.68 and 48.99 over a stalking Proxy at 8.90-1, and 3-wide Mandaloun, who was odds-on at .80-1. Little changed off the far turn, as Talamo asked Midnight Bourbon, and the pair increased their advantage to 2 lengths, and held sway to the line, with Proxy proving a game second over Mandaloun. It was a large gap of 8 ¾ lengths back to fourth-place finisher Santa Cruiser, at 7.30-1. Midnight Bourbon covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.41 while defeating seven rivals. He boosted his career record to 5-2-1-2 with earnings of $221,420.

Midnight Bourbon was making his 3-year-old debut for trainer Steve Asmussen after an encouraging 2-year-old season that saw him hit the board in a pair of graded stakes. The son of Tiznow broke his maiden going 1 1/2 turns in his second start at Ellis Park in August, and ran a good second in Churchill’s Iroquois (G3) on Kentucky Derby Day in September before finishing his season running third in Belmont Park’s October 10 Champagne (G1). Asmussen, who won the Lecomte for the third time, was pleased with Midnight Bourbon’s freshman campaign but he was confident the best was yet to come.

“Lovely horse, he’s a beautiful individual,” Asmussen said. “Obviously he had run some solid races (at 2), but we were very much looking forward to getting him into two-turn races. His pedigree, we think that going further will help him. He’s got a beautiful stride to him. He was away nice and cleanly and Joe (jockey Talamo) gave him a nice trip.”

Midnight Bourbon began his preparation for the Lecomte in November and showed a quartet of 5-furlong works leading up to the race. The Lecomte was clearly just the starting off point to what Asmussen hopes is a big campaign, with races like the local February 13 Risen Star (G2) on Louisiana Derby Preview Day and March 20 TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) on the agenda.

“He’s going to develop into an excellent 3-year-old,” Asmussen said. “Absolutely (when asked about the Risen Star). We were very excited to get him down here (to New Orleans) and get him in this series and stuff. With him being capable of what he is away from there, the ground that he covers, I think it’s a natural fit.”

Talamo was a late replacement for jockey Ricardo Santana Jr., who took off all his Saturday mounts “because his girlfriend and baby are sick and he didn’t feel comfortable leaving Louisville for various reasons,” according to his agent Ruben Munoz.

The veteran Talamo, who was born in Marrero, just 13 miles away from Fair Grounds, was ecstatic over the ultimate catch ride.

“It felt really good (to get the mount),” Talamo said. “Just really grateful to Steve for giving me the opportunity on him. Very, very classy horse. He broke like a rocket out of there and I just tried to be a good passenger from there. He settled like a champ and when those horses came to him down the lane, he fought (them) off, and he really galloped out very, very nice.”

Godolphin’s homebred Proxy earned 4 Derby qualifying points and ran big in defeat for trainer Mike Stidham, as he was stepping up into his first stakes off a pair of local wins. The regally-bred son of Tapit broke his maiden here in November in his second career start and entered off a win in an optional-claimer December 18. Proxy won on the lead while setting slow splits in both starts, while showing some inexperience in the process, but showed a rating gear in the Lecomte, which has Stidham also looking forward to his colt’s future.

“Very, very happy with that (run),” Stidham said. “He was a little green last time and both of his wins were on the lead so he didn’t really learn a lot. But the way he dug in and held off the favorite (Mandaloun) in the end, and was getting to the winner, I couldn’t have been happier. I think the farther the better; the mile and an eighth, and the mile and 3/16ths of the Louisiana Derby is only going to help him. We needed him to do what he did today (to keep going on) and he did it.”

Juddmonte Farms’ homebred Mandaloun, who earned 2 Derby qualifying points, was a strong favorite off a pair of sprint wins in Kentucky to start his career for trainer Brad Cox. The son of Into Mischief won on debut at Keeneland in October then won an optional-claimer at Churchill November 28, but he didn’t finish as strongly while stretching out to two turns for the first time. Mandaloun sat an outside trip from a wide post under Florent Geroux but didn’t kick in as expected through the stretch.

“I was in a good stalking position, 2 or 3-wide,” Geroux said. “My options were limited. The winner just kept going. It was very close for second. The way we started, that’s the way we finished. Maybe it was the slow pace, but the horses in front of me had a better kick at the end.”

Calumet Farm’s homebred Santa Cruiser, who dueled through hot fractions when breaking his maiden in his last start November 19 at Churchill, surprisingly lagged far behind in last but did run on nicely late for trainer Keith Desormeaux. The son of Dialed In earned 1 Derby qualifying point for his effort and is another who figures to move on to the Risen Star.