Updated on 09/17/2011 9:37PM

Lecomte distance to test top two


is a little less than four months away, but the issue for the two best horses in the Lecomte Stakes on Saturday at Fair Grounds, the first stop for 3-year-old Triple Crown hopefuls in New Orleans, concerns distance, not time.

Storm Surge, a sharp winner of the six-furlong Sugar Bowl late last month, spent the only two-turn race of his career in retreat mode. He was second, then third, fifth, and finally sixth, beaten almost 10 lengths in the 1 1/16-mile Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last November.

Then there is the talented Biloxi Palace, a sharp opening-week maiden sprint winner whose victory in an entry-level allowance on Dec. 26, his first crack at a two-turn race, drew more shrugs than hosannas. Biloxi Palace, one of the few young offspring of Seattle Slew still kicking around, surged clear a quarter-mile from the finish that day, but his lead dwindled in the final 200 yards, and Biloxi Palace won by only a half-length.

"He didn't win like we wanted him to win," said Danny Peitz, who trains Biloxi Palace for owners Robert and Lawana Low. "He got tired. He was blowing pretty hard. Still, it's hard to be disappointed when you win."

And yet it is hard not to be disappointed, especially for smaller-scale owners like the Lows, when you have a freshly turned 3-year-old that can run. There is so much glory in the spring, if your horse can just take you there.

For Stewart and Storm Surge's owner, Overbrook Farm, such thoughts are annual mid-winter rites. Stewart long played a major role in trainer D. Wayne Lukas's Kentucky Derby cavalcade, which included a Derby win for Overbrook with Grindstone, and since striking out on his own, Stewart sends out at least one live prospect each winter at Fair Grounds. Two years ago, he pulled off the Sugar Bowl-Lecomte double with Saintly Look.

Storm Surge, a Storm Cat colt with plenty of speed and questionable stamina, seems to fit the Saintly Look model. But the KJC flop was just one race, and the one-mile Lecomte, with a short stretch run, could easily be within his scope, even if the classic distances are not.

"We don't really know what he's capable of doing yet, but we at least think he'll get the mile," Stewart said. "He's going to relax a lot better than he did [in the KJC]. That was just one day, and for whatever reason, he was just too eager to go on."

Storm Surge doesn't train like a headstrong horse. He acts relaxed and professional in his day-to-day exercise, and does all his breezes in company. Horses constantly on go tend to work by themselves, not with others.

"He can work head and head with another horse and go as slow as you want him to go," Stewart said. "Look at his work tab. He never really blitzes it."

Biloxi Palace behaves similarly, according to Peitz. "I don't have a feeling he's headstrong at all," he said. "He has speed, but it's never been a problem getting him to settle."

Biloxi Palace almost won at first asking during the Saratoga meet, and after a dud at Aqueduct, he won by more than five lengths here on Nov. 27. In both Fair Grounds starts, Biloxi Palace ran on a dull, tiring racing surface, and Peitz has struggled to determine how much the racetrack itself affected his horse's performance.

"I thought some of it last time was the track," Peitz said. "I'd like to see him run on a fast racetrack, not on a tiring, drying-out kind of track. I'm actually expecting him to run an improved race, which he's going to have to in order to win."

A pair of handicappers already have made their Lecomte selection: Robby Albarado and his agent Lenny Pike had their choice of the top two, and sided with Storm Surge. Javier Castellano, who rode Biloxi Palace in New York, flies in from Florida for the Lecomte.

"I guess if they thought we had a Triple Crown winner they'd be sticking with us," Peitz said.

But this is not the Triple Crown. The Lecomte is a mile race for a nice early-season 3-year-old, and both of these colts are at least that.