01/19/2010 12:00AM

Lecomte begins sorting process

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NEW ORLEANS - Granted, Friesan Fire won the 2009 Lecomte Stakes on his way to a clean three-race sweep of the major Fair Grounds 3-year-old stakes. But the Lecomte generally does more weeding out of decent 2-year-olds than producing of top-class 3-year-olds. And judging from the size of the field in the race's 2010 edition, there is plenty of sorting to do Saturday in New Orleans.

Eleven horses were entered in Grade 3, $100,000 Lecomte when the race was drawn Monday. That's a bumper crop of 3-year-old prospects, and Fair Grounds's entire six-stakes Saturday card fared well, too. The track managed to entice 10 3-year-old fillies into the $75,000 Tiffany Lass Stakes, the first step toward the Fair Grounds Oaks in March. The Lecomte figures to have only the mildest of favorites, but Quiet Temper should rule the solid betting choice in the Tiffany Lass despite drawing the outside post.

Only seven were entered in the Louisiana Handicap, an older-horse route race, but this is an excellent group for a $75,000 stakes. The Louisiana pits Friesan Fire against the 2009 Blue Grass Stakes winner, General Quarters, who finished an encouraging second in his Dec. 26 comeback from a long layoff. Good and Lucky and Secret Getaway, steady hands in higher-class New Orleans route races the last couple seasons, lend further substance.

The seven-horse field for the $75,000 F.W. Gaudin Memorial Stakes has less depth than the Louisiana Cap, but the six-furlong stakes features a noteworthy showdown between Cash Refund and Euroears, the two fastest sprinters on the grounds.

Also on the card are two turf stakes, the Grade 3, $100,000 Colonel Bradley for older males going long, and the $75,000 Dr. A.B. Leggio Memorial for older females going short. The Bradley drew only seven horses entered in the main body of the race, and if the Bradley stays on grass, expect Tend to opt for the Louisiana Handicap, in which he was also entered. The Leggio got a full field of 12, with talented Juliet's Spirit marooned on the far outside.

The Lecomte was lengthened this year from a distance of one mile, a race that ended at the sixteenth pole, to one mile and 40 yards, a race configured to end at the regular finish line. Decidedly uncertain is who will hit the new finish first.

Among the 11 entered, only three horses have won stakes races, and only two of those in a stakes around two turns: Turf Melody was a last-start winner of the $200,000 Springboard Mile at Remington Park, while Citrus Kid won the Dover Stakes around two turns in October at Delaware Park before finishing a distant third in the Grade 2 Remsen over nine furlongs. The other stakes winner is Cool Bullet, who captured the six-furlong Sugar Bowl here in his last start.

Maximus Ruler never has even contested a stakes, but should be among the Lecomte favorites anyway. A Roman Ruler colt, he won his maiden in an entry-level allowance race on Nov. 28 at Churchill Downs, and is the only Lecomte entrant to earn a Beyer Speed Figure greater than 80 twice. Maximus Ruler and jockey Cisco Torres drew the rail for the Lecomte, but trainer Clark Hanna has no problem with the inside post.

"As long as he breaks good, it's fine," said Hanna.

Hanna sent Maximus Ruler out to work a half-mile officially timed in 48.40 seconds Tuesday morning. The first horse on the track after the renovation break at 8:30, Maximus Ruler worked alone, and was encouraged to continue on around the clubhouse turn past the wire. Hanna said he timed Maximus Ruler galloping out six furlongs in 1:14.40.

Worldly, third in the Kentucky Jockey Club and subsequently second in a two-turn Fair Grounds allowance race, worked a half-mile in 51.20 seconds here Monday for trainer Paul McGee. Worldly drew post 3, with Robby Albarado taking over for Torres, who had ridden Worldly in his last three starts.

The New Orleans cold snap is long gone, but there is a slight chance for rain in the area Saturday.