01/19/2013 8:04PM

Fair Grounds: Oxbow crushes competition in Lecomte

Hodges Photography/Alexander Barkoff
Oxbow, ridden by Jon Court, begins to pull away coming into the stretch of the Lecomte Stakes. The final winning margin was 11 1/2 lengths.

Nine horses went into the gate for the Lecomte Stakes on Saturday at Fair Grounds, but there was only one worth talking about when the dust had cleared. Oxbow delivered a breakout performance, winning by 11 ½ lengths while – if he wasn’t camped there already – putting trainer Wayne Lukas on the Kentucky Derby trail.

Oxbow only had a maiden win atop his ledger coming into the Lecomte, but that victory, by nearly five-lengths in a seven-furlong Churchill race, was a major step up from Oxbow’s initial offerings: At Saratoga last summer, Oxbow couldn’t make the course and was taken off the track by a horse ambulance.

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

Returning to race with Lasix added in the fall, Oxbow ran decently at Keeneland and Churchill before his maiden win, and after it he did not embarrass himself in a trip to California for the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity in December. Oxbow pressed the pace from a wide draw in that synthetic-surface start, his first around two turns, before losing by nine lengths to Violence, whose stock went up by virtue of the Lecomte.

Oxbow, with Jon Court up for the first time since October, leaned in a little and brushed Fear the Kitten at the start of the Lecomte, but quickly straightened and went up to press early leader Heitai through a soft opening quarter-mile in 24.44 seconds. Court said Lukas had instructed him to try and make sure Oxbow relaxed, and indeed, Oxbow looked comfortable pulling Heitai through a half-mile in 48.58 seconds and three-quarters in 1:13.74.

The top two broke away from the main body of the field around the turn, and Heitai tried to make a race of the Lecomte in upper stretch, pulling nearly alongside Oxbow. But as Heitai fell completely apart in the final furlong, Oxbow gained momentum. Coming home without wandering or weaving, and finishing with good energy, Oxbow raced alone under the line, stopping the timer in 1:43.30, a strong clocking for one mile and 70 yards at Fair Grounds.

The winner, owned by Brad Kelley’s Bluegrass Hall, paid $11.20. Oxbow, a son of Awesome Again, is from the same family as dual Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow.  Lukas, who did not travel for the Lecomte, said Oxbow would definitely be considered for the Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 23 at Fair Grounds.

Golden Soul, a blowout route maiden winner in his most recent start, chugged along for a distant second, 1 ½ lengths in front of third-place Fear the Kitten. Race favorite Avie’s Quality never got involved and showed next to nothing in his dirt debut, finishing eighth of nine.