01/11/2013 12:42PM

Fair Grounds notes: Lecomte field shaping up

Lynn Roberts
Tour Guide, Brian Hernandez Jr. up, wins the Sugar Bowl Stakes.

NEW ORLEANS – Stakes winners Tour Guide and Avie’s Quality are among 10 3-year-olds under consideration for the Lecomte, the first two-turn stakes prep for the Louisiana Derby.

Entries will be taken Wednesday for the Grade 3, $200,000 Lecomte, a mile-and-70 yard race next Saturday. The race is in the first level of races offering Kentucky Derby points – 10 for winning, 4 for finishing second, 2 for third, and 1 for fourth – as part of Churchill Downs’s new qualifying system if the Kentucky Derby overfills.

Trainer Bret Calhoun said he’s considering the Lecomte and the Smarty Jones, a mile race Jan. 21 at Oaklawn Park, for Tour Guide.

A Broken Vow colt who won the six-furlong Sugar Bowl Stakes on Dec. 22 by 3 1/2 lengths, Tour Guide has won 3 of 5 starts but finished fifth in the Dover Stakes at Delaware Park in his only route start. On Jan. 5, Tour Guide worked a mile in 1:44.40.

“He did really well,” Calhoun said. “That didn’t deter me at all.”

Tour Guide was working by himself. “That’s sometimes a little hard to gauge,” Calhoun said of the long workout. “Sometimes they get a little lost. He relaxed and finished up well.”

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

Avie’s Quality, trained by Josie Carroll, worked five furlongs in 1:00.43 on Wednesday at Palm Meadows in Florida. An Elusive Quality colt, he won the 1 1/16-mile Display Stakes on Dec. 1 at Woodbine in his last start. He is a half-brother to Avie’s Sense, who finished second in the Rachel Alexandra last season at the Fair Grounds, and to Avie’s Tale, wwho on the Blushing K.D. here two seasons back.

“He just seems like a horse that’s doing well, and I think it’s the kind of course that will suit him – a long stretch, big-finishing horse,” Carroll said.

Trainer Mike Maker sent Fear the Kitten to the Fair Grounds from Gulfstream Park for the Lecomte. Fear the Kitten finished fifth in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs in his stakes debut.

Malibu High, who is 2 for 2 after winning an allowance/optional claiming sprint Dec. 28 for trainer Cecil Borel, is another Lecomte possibility.

D. Wayne Lukas is expected to send in Oxbow from Oaklawn Park. Oxbow, a maiden winner at the Churchill fall meet, finished fourth in the CashCall Futurity last time out.

Mylute, whose three in-the-money finishes in stakes include a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Delta Downs Jackpot, closed his 2012 season with a 10 3/4-length romp in a mile-and-70-yard optional claiming race Dec. 26 at the Fair Grounds. He’s “possible for the Lecomte but may run next in the Risen Star,” trainer Tom Amoss said. “We’re trying to measure his races carefully for his 3-year-old campaign.”

Trainer Keith Desormeaux is expected to run Ive Struck a Nerve, who finished second in the Sugar Bowl in his last start, in the Lecomte. Hawaakom and Golden Soul, both winners against maidens as second-time starters trying two turns for the first time, are other Lecomte possibilities.

“It’ll tell me a little bit more about what I’ve got,” said Danny Peitz, trainer of Hawaakom.

Dallas Stewart, trainer of Golden Soul, said, “He’s 50-50 for the race right now. He’s training normal and steady. It just depends on how he’s doing.”

General Election, runner-up in the Dec. 26 allowance race, might run in the Lecomte, said Evan Downing, assistant to trainer Kellyn Gorder.

Wes Hawley rolling

Trainer Wes Hawley, who lives in the New Orleans area, for years has been making himself at home at the Fair Grounds.

This meet is no exception.

Through the last racing week, Hawley had won with 13 of 50 starters (26 percent) and stood third in the trainer standings, two wins behind leader Calhoun.

“I always do good down here, all but one meet,” Hawley said. “Probably just the way I train. I probably overtrain them in the summertime. I don’t know. When it gets cold, my horses just start running better.”

In 11 Fair Grounds meets since the 1997-98 season, Hawley won with at least 19 percent of his starters.

Last season, he achieved his Fair Grounds high for wins, 24, with 117 starters, and tied for fifth in the standings. In the 2010-2011 meet, he won with 20 of 86 starters and finished eighth in the standings.

“You gear your horses up for here,” Hawley said. “I’ve got horses I haven’t run a lot here that I didn’t get to run at all during the summer.”

Billy Smith is back

Jockey Billy Smith, whose last victory came in 2005 and who didn’t ride in a race from 2006 through most of 2012, has returned to the saddle at this meet.

Smith, 45, has ridden in eight races. His best finish was a second place.

In a career that began in 1985, Smith has won 1,658 races from 15,444 mounts. His best season at the Fair Grounds was 1989-90, when he rode 104 winners and finished second in the jockey standings, 31 wins behind Shane Romero. On March, 15, 1990, Smith won six races. He is among eight jockeys to achieve that feat at the Fair Grounds. Later that month, Smith rode Malagra when he ran six furlongs in 1:08.80, then a track record, in winning the Week of Fame Sprint Championship.

Combest had Fair Grounds ties

Jimmy Combest, who died Tuesday at age 86, made the Fair Grounds his winter base for much of his riding career.

Combest, who rode from 1942 until 1976, won the Louisiana Derby on Kentucky Sherry in 1968 and won the New Orleans Handicap in 1967 on Cabildo. Both horses were trained by Alcee Richard for Mrs. Joe W. Brown.

Combest finished in the money 5 times from 10 mounts in Triple Crown races. From six Kentucky Derby mounts, he finished second on Roman Line in 1962 and third on Noureddin in 1958. From three Preakness mounts, Combest was third on Royal Bay Gem in 1953 and third on Roman Line. Combest finished third in his only Belmont Stakes ride, on Royal Bay Gem.