01/17/2013 4:42PM

Fair Grounds: Avie's Quality gets chance to prove himself on dirt in Lecomte


There are, as usual, more questions than answers in the Grade 3, $200,000 Lecomte Stakes, the first local step toward the $1 million Louisiana Derby. Can quick horses like Circle Unbroken, Malibu High, and Oxbow go two turns? How will two-turn maiden winners Golden Soul and Hawaakom stack up against stronger competition? But probably the most important question the Lecomte can answer is whether Avie’s Quality runs as well on dirt as on synthetic, because if he does, Avie’s Quality might be good enough to factor in races more important than a Grade 3 in mid-January.

Avie’s Quality ran well in his four races during the fall at Woodbine, three on Polytrack, one on turf, and all over a route of ground. With blinkers added, he won a maiden race by five lengths and came back with a decisive score in the $150,000 Display Stakes on Dec. 1. Avie’s Quality has worked on dirt four times at Palm Meadows in Florida and got his first feel of the Fair Grounds main track Thursday after shipping the day before.

“He appears to get over dirt fine, but this is something new, and I guess we’ll find out for sure on Saturday,” said Josie Carroll, who trains Avie’s Quality for Ivan Dalos.

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

Saturday’s 13-race card, billed Road to the Derby Kickoff Day, was supposed to have five stakes, but two turf races, the Colonel Bradley and Marie Krantz, were shifted to Jan. 26 because of a sodden turf course. That leaves the Silverbulletday, a wide-open race for 3-year-old fillies, and the Louisiana Handicap, which features the 4-year-old debut of Mark Valeski, as the card’s two supporting stakes. The weather turned for the better Thursday and conditions should be clear and dry Saturday.

Nine horses were entered in the mile and 70-yard Lecomte, which offers Kentucky Derby points to the top four finishers and should have Avie’s Quality as the favorite under Rosie Napravnik. By Elusive Quality, Avie’s Quality is out of Fly for Avie, a mare who preferred turf to dirt in her racing career, but who produced Avie’s Sense, one of the better 3-year-old dirt fillies at Fair Grounds last season. Avie’s Quality rated kindly on the inside and rallied professionally in his two wins and ought to have a fair pace at which to run.

“The horse is doing well, and I think he’ll run well,” said Carroll, who won the 2001 Lecomte with Sam Lord’s Castle.

Golden Soul emerged as a promising Fair Grounds-based 3-year-old with a 7 1/4-length two-turn dirt maiden win Dec. 30 in his second start. Golden Soul finished second by a head racing a one-turn mile in his career debut at Churchill, and trainer Dallas Stewart said Golden Soul has thrived in recent weeks.

“With the Derby point system, you only get three or four races before the Derby, and if we think he’s that kind of horse, we need to participate now,” Stewart said. “He’s telling me the way he’s training that he’s ready to participate.”

Circle Unbroken won one stakes and finished a close second in another last summer, but is making his first start since August and first at two turns. He was not even a certain Lecomte entrant Wednesday morning. His dam, Baldomera, was strictly a sprinter, as was Hi Beautiful, the dam of rail-drawn Malibu High, who started his career with a pair of sprint victories. Oxbow, who was fourth behind Violence last out in the CashCall Futurity on Hollywood Park’s synthetic surface, won well over seven furlongs in November and has the pedigree to stretch out. Hawaakom, like Golden Soul, won a Fair Grounds maiden route race in his most recent start.