(Trainer Mark Casse conditions Pappacap / Photo Courtesy of Keeneland)

(Jockey Joe Bravo will ride Pappacap / Photo Courtesy of Keeneland)

(Epicenter will tet Pappacap in Saturday’s Lecomte Stakes / Photos by Holly M. Smith)

From the Fair Grounds Media Team:

Rustlewood Farm’s Pappacap, the current points leader on the Road to the Kentucky Derby with 12, headlines a field of nine 3-year-olds for the $200,000 Lecomte Stakes (G3), one of 14 races to be run on Saturday’s “Road to the Derby” Day at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. Run over 1 1/16 miles, the Lecomte offers ten Kentucky Derby points to the winner, with the rest of the top four earning 4-2-1.

Six stakes have been carded by racing secretary Scott Jones and his crew for Saturday, including the Lecomte’s sister race, the $150,000 Silverbulletday. The top four in that 3-year-old filly event will earn Kentucky Oaks qualifying points (10-4-2-1). First post is scheduled for noon CT.

A sprint winner on debut on May 14 at Gulfstream, the Florida-bred Pappacap has raced in four graded stakes in California since, winning the Best Pal (G2) at Del Mar and most recently finishing as the runner-up behind Corniche in both the American Pharoah (G2) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1).

“I never questioned where I wanted to go after the Breeders’ Cup,” trainer Mark Casse said of his upcoming run in the Lecomte. “I feel really comfortable at Fair Grounds. We had a lot of success over that track with (Lecomte and Risen Star winner) War of Will and (Kentucky Oaks runner-up) Wonder Gadot. I think it’s a great atmosphere and I have a lot of confidence in David Carroll (assistant on the grounds). 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.”

Joe Bravo, who has ridden the son of Gun Runner in all four of his graded stakes starts, will be back aboard on Saturday. Pappacap will leave from post three as Mike Diliberto’s 8-5 morning line favorite.

“I’m a loyal kind of guy,” Casse said. “I think Joe has ridden him well and he knows the horse. He helped us out a lot early in the horse’s development. In a conversation with the Russells (owners) after the Breeders’ Cup we decided that we were going to stick with Joe moving forward.”

Casse has won two of the last three editions of the Lecomte – with War of Will in 2019 and Enforceable in 2020. Like both of those runners, the plan is to run Pappacap through the Fair Grounds’ series of upcoming Kentucky Derby points races.

“He’s doing well,” Casse said. “I’d rather run him and get him into a race pattern. If you do have a setback this time of year and you miss a little time, you’re not behind the eight-ball. As long as he’s happy and healthy, our plan is to have him run through the series of 3-year-old races at Fair Grounds and get him as much experience as we can. I think that’s a plus.”

The close second choice at 9-5, Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Epicenter eyes his third consecutive win for trainer Steve Asmussen. After breaking his maiden on the lead, the son of Not This Time dominated the Gun Runner last time out, sitting just off the pace before taking over off the turn and drawing away by 6 ½ lengths.

“He’s exciting,” Asmussen said. “The (one-turn) mile from the outside draw when he broke his maiden (at Churchill Downs), the racetrack played for how he ran that day. The Gun Runner and two turns, restrained a little bit early, the way he ran through the wire and galloped out was everything we were hoping for.”

With Joel Rosario aboard, Epicenter will break from post five. Asmussen has won the Lecomte three times, including last year’s edition with Midnight Bourbon, who will run in the Louisiana Stakes (G3) earlier in the card.

Columbine Stable’s Trafalgar enters the Lecomte off a narrow Fair Grounds allowance victory in his two-turn debut on December 2. After building a comfortable margin in the deep stretch, the son of Lord Nelson had to dig deep to score his second consecutive win for trainer Al Stall, Jr.

“He clearly waited on horses from the 3/16ths to the 1/6ths,” Stall said. “Here comes a Brad Cox horse (Naval Aviator) with a full head of steam, and I’m thinking, well there’s goes a 3-5 shot down the drain, but he just reengaged 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.”

Trafalgar’s sire is a multiple graded stakes winning sprinter, so despite the allowance win, the distance question has yet to be emphatically answered.

“He’s by Lord Nelson, but if you come to the barn and look at him, you wouldn’t think that he’s going to be a sprinter,” Stall said. “He looks like A. P. Indy and Pulpit. That’s the main reason I bought him in Florida ($310,000 April Ocala 2-year-old in training). He looks like that family. We always felt that he would be a horse that could stretch.”

With Fair Grounds’ leading rider Colby Hernandez back aboard, Trafalgar will break from post four at 5-1 in the morning line. Stall has been very happy with the colt’s progression so far.

“In the first race at Saratoga, he was drawn on the inside, missed the break and hooked a bear (Classic Causeway),” Stall said. “Second time out (at Churchill), he was in the middle of the racetrack the whole time. He didn’t learn a whole lot, it set up for him and he rolled on home. It wouldn’t hurt my feelings if he tucked in and kind of let the race unfold in front of him on Saturday. It will be better for him if he has a target. He had a really good five-eighths work with some dirt in his face and a target and a three-quarters in 12 and change gallop out (on January 9) and he came out of this weekend’s work great.”

Disqualified after crossing the line first in his career debut at Churchill, the greenness of Gold Square’s Cyberknife got him beat in Louisville six weeks later, this time on the square. Stretched out around two turns for the first time on December 26 at Fair Grounds, he took a clear advantage in the stretch, but nearly coughed it up late.

“He’s obviously raced erratically in all three starts down the lane,” trainer Brad Cox said. “I thought he was very impressive here last time up until the last little bit. It’s all mental with him. It’s nothing we can really fix with him in the mornings. He’s a colt that has always been a little tough to handle. He’s not straightforward. He’s the kind of horse who requires a good hand. He’s very immature. I think the talent is there, but he’s got to take a step forward mentally, and I think he will. He just needs to race and get some miles underneath him in the afternoons. I think he’s going to be a player in the 3-year-old division.”

With blinkers back on for the first time since the debut, the son of Gun Runner will be reunited with jockey Florent Geroux. He breaks from post six at 6-1 in the morning line.

Undefeated from three starts, including consecutive restricted stakes wins, Valene Farms’ Unified Report will face his toughest task to date on Saturday. He will break from post two with Corey Lanerie aboard (15-1 ML).

“He has trained very well and he deserves the opportunity,” trainer Dallas Stewart said. “Obviously he’s been running against Louisiana-breds, but I think he’s a nice horse and we are going to find out how nice he is.”

The remainder of the field with post position, jockey/trainer and morning line odds is as follows: Mark and Nancy Stanley’s Surfer Dude (post one, Reylu Gutierrez/Dallas Stewart, 15-1 ML), third last out in the Gun Runner; Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners’ Blue Kentucky (post seven, Jareth Loveberry/Wayne Catalano, 20-1 ML), who will test two turns for the first time in career start number seven off a runner-up effort in the Sugar Bowl at Fair Grounds; Peter Cantrell’s Call Me Midnight (post eight, James Graham/Keith Desormeaux, 20-1 ML), seventh last out in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs; and Courtlandt Farms’ Presidential (post nine, Brian Hernandez, Jr./Steve Asmussen, 20-1 ML), the runaway winner of a maiden special weight route in his second career start last out at Indiana Grand. –Kristufek

Clairiere’s Half Sister La Crete Tepid Favorite in Silverbulletday

Fannie and Freddie and Pletcher invader Sweet As Pie also draw attention

Off an easy win in her career debut at Churchill Downs on November 20, Stonestreet Stables’ La Crete has been installed as the 2-1 morning line against five rivals for Saturday’s $150,000 Silverbulletday for 3-year-old fillies to be run over 1 mile 70 yards.  The top four finishers will earn Kentucky Oaks qualifying points (10-4-2-1).

By Medaglia d’Oro, La Crete is a half-sister to Clairiere. The winner of last year’s Rachel Alexandra (G2) presented by Fasig-Tipton, she has banked over $1.2 million in her career.

“Different filly, out of the great Cavorting,” said trainer Steve Asmussen, who has won the Silverbulletday four times. “She is not as mature at the same age as Clairiere, mentally or physically.”

Unlike her more accomplished sibling who has done most of her work from off the pace, La Crete went straight to the lead in her November 20 maiden breaker at Churchill, and she was never menaced in that 2 ¼ length triumph.

“I was very impressed with her first race,” Asmussen said. “She would have benefitted from having a first-level allowance race, but due to lack of entries that option was not available to her. She’s trained nicely at the Fair Grounds.”

From post two, La Crete will get the riding services of Joel Rosario.

Off a maiden win and a fourth in the Tempted Stakes at Belmont, Westerberg Limited, Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith’s Sweet as Pie invades from her homebase at Palm Beach Downs in Florida to contest the Silverbulletday for trainer Todd Pletcher.

“We tried to get her into an allowance race at Gulfstream that didn’t go,” Pletcher explained. “We were looking around for opportunities to stretch her out around two turns to continue her development. This race was kind of a short field, but there are some pretty high-quality fillies in there so we will get a gauge of where we are at.”

The daughter of Tapit will break from post four with Florent Geroux aboard as the 5-2 co-second choice.

“She’s a little bit lazy in the mornings,” Pletcher said. “We thought she’d run decently first time out, but she actually ran a little better than we thought she would. The Tempted was an okay race for us, but horses who ran in there have turned out to do pretty well, including Nest, who won the Demoiselle. The two turns should serve us well. I do like that physically she’s doing what you like to see this time of year. A little bigger and stronger. She seems to be taking her training well and we think she has another move forward in her.”

Columbine Stables’ Fannie and Freddie swings back off a recent second behind the undefeated North County in the Untapable Stakes for trainer Al Stall, Jr. The daughter of Malibu Moon won her two-turn debut in the start prior, and she looked home free in the stretch of her stakes debut, only to be run down late.

“That was a really weird weekend for us,” Stall recalled. “We had a few horses turning for home who looked like they were just galloping along and they kind of got run over. We were scratching our head thinking maybe it was just a lack of experience. I don’t go that fast with my 2-year-olds, so this time of year we are playing a little bit of catch-up.”

Seventh and ninth sprinting at Saratoga then Keeneland in the first two starts of her career, Fannie and Freddie has really stepped forward since being stretched out.

“She’s always been a nice-looking filly, but she’s been a little tough in the mental department.” Stall admitted. “She gives me a little trouble saddling. We’ve been schooling her and she’ll go to the paddock again this week. She always breezed like she’s somebody, and it seems like the two turns may have been the trick for her.”

With Colby Hernandez back aboard, Fanny and Freddie will break from the rail as the 5-2 co-second choice.

“She’ll just come out of there and play it off the break until the quarter-pole, see where she is at from there,” Stall said when asked about the preferred trip. “She can be a little nimble about things, but we really like the way she’s doing. Colby (jockey Hernandez) doesn’t say a whole lot, but the most positive comment he gave me the whole weekend was after her breeze.”

Nelson McMakin and Aaron Kennedy’s Bernabreezy makes her stakes debut in career start number three off an eye-popping local maiden win over 1 1/16 miles for trainer Matt Shirer.

“She’s doing awesome,” Shirer said. “There’s not a whole lot of pace in that race, so she may have to be a little closer, but I don’t want to take anything away from the way she finishes. That last race, she finished really well down the lane. That’s kind of how she trains in the mornings. She picks out a target in front of her and goes out and catches those other horses. I think she’ll run a big race for us.

In both of her career starts, the daughter of Bernardini has spotted the field lengths with poor breaks.

“We’ve done a little bit of work with her at the gate,” Shirer said. “She will go stand in there a couple days before the race. She’s come out quick from there in the mornings before, it just seems like for some reason in her two races she hesitated a little bit. I’m not too worried about it.”

For the 36-year-old Shirer, the winner of 112 career races (22%), Bernabreezy represents an opportunity to compete on the big stage with a young, promising horse that he has developed.

“It’s exciting but we’ve got a lot of races to go before she puts herself in that conversation,” Shirer said. “It’s exciting to see what she’s capable of. I’m pretty high on her, and I’m usually pretty realistic about the horses I have in the barn and what they are capable of and this filly is as good as I’ve ever had. Even thinking back to some of the fillies I’ve worked with as an assistant to (Ken) McPeek, I can’t think of a whole lot of them that gallop out the way she does in her breezes. As the races get a little bit longer, she should continue to improve.”

The remainder of the field with post position, jockey/trainer and morning line odds is as follows:  Built Wright Stables’ Miss Chamita (post three, John McKee/Norm Cash, 15-1 ML), a $50,000 claim who has one win from nine career starts and Don’t’ Tell My Wife Stables and Keith Desormeaux’s supplementary entry Candy Raid (post six, Jose Riquelme/Keith Desormeaux, 15-1 ML). –Kristufek

(Mandaloun / Photo by Holly M. Smith)

A Rivalry Born at Fair Grounds Renews in The Louisiana (G3): Midnight Bourbon vs Mandaloun VI

Five pace-forward foes figure prominently in upsetting the apple cart

The Lecomte, Risen Star, Louisiana Derby, Haskell, Kentucky Derby, … and now Saturday’s 76th running of The $150,000 Louisiana Stakes (G3). Going into their sixth match-up, Mandaloun has bragging rights, winning or finishing in front of Midnight Bourbon three times.

The duo will be traveling 1 1/16 miles on Saturday, the same distance they ran in the 2021 Lecomte, the day the rivalry began. Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Midnight Bourbon was fresh off a three-month layoff and wired the field. Now it’s the even-money morning line favorite Mandaloun’s turn to come in fresh. His last start was July 17 in the Haskell (G1) when he dueled through the final furlong finishing a nose short of Hot Rod Charlie, whose impending DQ awarded Juddmonte’s Mandaloun his 5th career win out of 8 starts.

“He needed time off. He made that decision easy,” trainer Brad Cox said. “We stopped on him and gave him time. For horses to progress, whether it be from (age) two to three or three to four, they need a break. He’s received his break and he’s come back. Listen, I’m not going to tell you that he’s working better than ever because he’s always a very, very good work horse to begin with. I think anybody that watched him train up to the Kentucky Derby could believe the way he ran (second at 26-1), the way he was training. He’s definitely working as well as he was leading up to the Derby, or the Haskell, so we’re in a good spot with him. I think this is a race that makes a lot of sense as far as getting back racing and seeing how it goes.”

Mandaloun will break from post two with his sole-rider Florent Geroux on board.  He’ll recognize the horse to his outside but not the rider.

On the track where it all began, Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Midnight Bourbon has the neighboring spot in post three. Last seen setting the pace in November’s Clark (G1) at Churchill Downs with jockey Joel Rosario on board, Midnight Bourbon ran well, only to be overtaken in the stretch by the classy Maxfield and Happy Saver. He gets a slight cut-back in distance to 1 mile 1/16 for The Louisiana. Same as the Clark, Rosario gets the call, his second on Midnight Bourbon who will break from the post three (6-5 ML).  And he’s got a new trick up his sleeve – blinkers on.

“As good as he’s been, I think there is more there,” trainer Steve Asmussen said. “It doesn’t look like he’s finishing it (his races) off. He’s not exhausted when he comes back. I think we can get a little more out of him. There is the possibility that it makes him more aggressive and that he gets in too big of a hurry. The Louisiana Stakes is the perfect time to try it.”

With a field of horses who have shown strong early pace, they’ll have their hands full throughout. Starting on the rail: Chess Chief, Sprawl, Pirate’s Punch, Warrant, and Spa City make up the field of seven.

Adele B Dilschneider and Claiborne Farms’ Sprawl finished sixth last out in October’s Lukas Classic (G3) at Churchill Downs, the race prior was his first graded stakes victory, leading most of the way in the West Virginia Governor (G3) at Mountaineer. Trainer Tom Drury Jr. brought him to Fair Grounds to ready him specifically for the Louisiana.

“That little horse fought some wars for us,” Drury said. “We’ve had this race in mind and we’ve worked backwards from it. After the Lukas Classic, we sent him to Robby Harris in Florida and gave him a little downtime. Ever since it’s been like clockwork. He walked off the van (at Fair Grounds) doing good and he’s been doing good ever since, but I’ll be honest, I didn’t anticipate the race coming up as tough as it has. That being said, Sprawl is a seasoned, older horse and we are going to take our best shot and see what happens.”

By City Zip, his pace-setting presence adds uncertainty to how the race will unfold. Fair Grounds’ leading rider Colby Hernandez is on board from post four (10-1 ML).

“We are just going to let Colby ride his race,” Drury said. “I do think he’s going to want to be forward, but I’d love to see him in a stalking-type position. I don’t want to leave there shooting ducks trying to make the lead at all costs.”

Approximately half of Chess Chief’s earnings have come from his five wins, each of them taking place at Fair Grounds, a place near and dear to his trainer, New Orleanian Dallas Stewart. Possibly a horse for the course, but the Estate of James J Coleman Jr’s 6-year-old has been ambitiously placed throughout his career, losing to Maxfield four times, Knicks Go, and other classy rivals. He’s coming off a thrilling win in the $100,000 Tenacious on “Road to the Derby Kickoff Day ” where he bested Happy American by a scant nose and front-running Pirate’s Punch by less than 1 ¾ lengths. He is scheduled to break from the rail with Reylu Gutierrez aboard (12-1 ML), although Stewart has indicated that a run in the Pegasus World Cup the following Saturday is also on the table.

Finishing third last out in the Tenacious, Craig W. Dragner and Gulliver Racing’s Pirate’s Punch has not won any of his six races since his 2020 back-to-back graded stakes wins. Breaking from post five at morning line odds of 20-1, Corie Lanerie returns after taking him to the lead last out. The Grant Forster-trained 6-year-old gelding will have options to pass or press his brother half Midnight Bourbon. That’s right, dam Catch the Moon and breeder Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings must be proud.

The remainder of the field with post position, jockey/trainer and morning line odds is as follows: Twin Creeks Racing Stables’ Warrant (post six, Brian Hernandez Jr/Brad Cox, 12-1 ML), the 2021 Oklahoma Derby (G3) winner makes his 4-year-old debut and Maggi Moss’ Spa City (post seven James Graham/Tim Amoss, 20-1 ML), who was claimed for $40,000 four starts back. –Kilroy

Additional Quotes: 

Cox on Mandaloun

“He’s really come to hand quick,” Cox said. “He looks amazing. Happy with the way his weight is and how he’s taken shape. Excited about getting him back going this year and we will see how things go.”

“The Saudi Cup is something we’d look at,” Cox said. “Ultimately it will come down to the Juddmonte team. They will make the final determination. We work extremely well together. They’ll play it the way they always do. Horse comes first. If the horse is doing well and it makes sense, that’s definitely something we would look at doing. That was sort of our plan when we got back started in the fall. One step at a time.”