01/22/2011 8:48PM

Howard's hot hand with 3-year-olds continues as Wilkinson takes Lecomte

Lynn Roberts
Wilkinson, coming up the rail under Garrett Gomez, outlasts pacesetter Pants on Fire to win the Lecomte.

NEW ORLEANS – The Lecomte Stakes is a race for 3-year-olds. It should come as no surprise that Neil Howard won it.

Howard’s class of 2008 has been running roughshod over the Fair Grounds meet. Six different 3-year-olds of 2011 have won maiden or allowance races this winter in New Orleans. On Thursday, 3-year-old filly Chloe Kate scored her second win of the meeting in an allowance race, and on Saturday, Wilkinson, a Dec. 10 maiden winner here, captured the Grade 3, $96,000 Lecomte, wearing down slow-pacesetting Pants on Fire while rallying up the rail under Garrett Gomez. 

Wilkinson, a dark bay son of Lemon Drop Kid bred and owned by Ed Gaylord’s Gaillardia Racing, had finished third to Justin Phillip in a Jan. 1 allowance race following his maiden win. Saturday, the tables turned, with Justin Phillip last of five in the Lecomte and Wilkinson home by a head.

Justin Phillip, the even-money favorite, broke poorly and was pushed out by Action Ready as he raced up to engage Pants on Fire on the first turn. He briefly pressed the pace but faded steadily around the far turn and finished almost 15 lengths behind the winner.

“He didn’t break and then he got too aggressive,” said trainer Steve Asmussen. “He just ran off from there.”

Wilkinson’s early Lecomte activity registered on the other end of the spectrum. Pants on Fire was setting a slow pace under Joe Bravo, going his opening quarter-mile in just 24.82 seconds and the first half in 48.94, but after a quarter-mile Wilkinson raced fourth, several lengths off the pace.

“Coming down the backside I was wondering,” Howard said. “He was a little far back.”

But Gomez brought Wilkinson into contention past the three-furlong pole, sticking to the fence as Pants on Fire came into the stretch a couple paths off the rail. Bravo tightened things up as Gomez and Wilkinson edged into the gap between horse and fence, and it wasn’t until deep stretch that Wilkinson pushed through.

“It took him a little while,” Gomez said. “He was eyeballing that hole.”

Wilkinson, who paid $8, ran one mile and 40 yards in a moderate 1:40.97, with Pants on Fire five lengths clear of third-place Action Ready.

Wilkinson now has made five starts and raced three times at this meet.

“You can’t run in every race,” Howard said when asked about Wilkinson’s possible participation in the Feb. 19 Risen Star Stakes. But Howard said not to rule Wilkinson out of the Risen Star, either. Before making a firmer decision, Howard will wait and see how Wilkinson has taken his race – and how many other 3-year-olds he might have to consider for Fair Grounds stakes.

Bouquet Booth takes Silverbulletday by a neck

It wasn’t brilliant, but 3-year-old filly Bouquet Booth battled her way to a second straight stakes victory, edging Daisy Devine by a neck in the $98,000 Silverbulletday Stakes. The manner in which she did it surprised both jockey Shaun Bridgmohan and trainer Steve Margolis.

Seans Silverdancer looked on paper like the speed of the Silverbulletday, but she broke last and never got involved in the race, and going into the first turn Bridgmohan found himself in front.

“I just kind of took things up on my own accord,” Bridgmohan said.

Bouquet Booth, making her first start since winning the Nov. 20 Delta Princess Stakes, pulled a little while setting slow splits of 24.53 seconds and 48.67. She passed six furlongs in 1:13.28 while on a half-length lead, and had enough in the tank to hold off a steady late run from Daisy Devine, who fell just short of the winner.

“She did get a little tired,” said Bridgmohan. “She hadn’t raced in a while, but she’s a fighter.”

Daisy Devine, who started this meet winning a $30,000 maiden-claimer, ran another solid race for trainer Andrew McKeever, who seems to think his filly still can improve.

“She’s still got some learning to do,” McKeever said.

Margolis said a minor virus that cost Bouquet Booth a few days’ training early this month might have contributed to the manner in which she finished. Margolis trains Bouquet Booth, a daughter of Flower Alley, for an eight-member Right Time Racing Partnership headed by Dan Glick. The partners are Louisville residents, and Margolis said there’s hope that Bouquet Booth will merit consideration for the Kentucky Oaks. The Fair Grounds Oaks also is on Bouquet Booth’s agenda, but whether she starts in the Feb. 19 Rachel Alexandra before then has yet to be determined. 

Bouquet Booth, who paid $5.20 as the favorite, was timed in 1:41.24 for one mile and 40 yards. Little Miss Holly, another Margolis trainee, finished third, one length behind Daisy Devine.