01/16/2016 8:38PM

Mo Tom displays powerful closing kick in Lecomte

Amanda Hodges Weir/Hodges Photography
Mo Tom, with Corey Lanerie aboard, wins the Lecomte by 2 1/4 lengths.

NEW ORLEANS – The more he races, the more Mo Tom looks like a horse who could have a real impact on the 2016 Triple Crown.

His winning debut at Ellis Park last summer was slow but encouraging, and a subsequent sprint race at Keeneland showcased a powerful closing run. He was a stylish winner of the listed Street Sense in his third race, and rallied along the fence on a sloppy track – changing leads at an inopportune moment in the homestretch – to get third behind two apparently good horses, Airoforce and Mor Spirit, in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, his final start at 2. And Saturday at Fair Grounds, in the Grade 3, $200,000 Lecomte Stakes, Mo Tom ran better still, making a sustained run from the half-mile pole and pulling away the final half-furlong from Tom’s Ready to win by 2 1/4 lengths.

“Today, I thought his kick was the most powerful it’s been,” said jockey Corey Lanerie, who came from Florida to ride Mo Tom. “Before, he had a nice kick, but it was more of a grind, and today I felt more turn of foot from him.”

Mo Tom ran one mile and 70 yards on a fast track producing moderate times in 143.18, 0.20 seconds faster than the winning time in an older-horse second-level allowance race earlier Saturday.

The Lecomte was a Kentucky Derby qualifying race and earned the top four finishers points on a 10-4-2-1 basis. Mo Tom ranked seventh among Derby hopefuls with 12 points as of Saturday night.

Mo Tom led a one-two sweep in the Lecomte for owner GMB Racing, which bought Mo Tom and Tom’s Ready – the latter trained by Dallas Stewart – as yearlings at Keeneland. GMB is the acronym for Gayle M. Benson, the wife of Tom Benson, who owns the New Orleans Saints and the New Orleans Pelicans.

Tom’s Ready finished three-quarters of a length in front of Uncle Walter, who was followed by Destin, Z Royal, Pinnacle Peak, Fish Trappe Road, and Tarpon Bay Road. There were four early scratches from the Lecomte, and Dolphus was scratched after rearing up and falling while being loaded into the starting gate. Trainer Joe Sharp reported that Dolphus was uninjured and said he was displeased the colt was scratched so quickly without being more carefully examined by the track veterinarian.

One pace player, Fish Trappe Road, broke flat-flooted and, other than a middle move into a strong pace, was never part of the race, but Victor Espinoza sent Z Royal to the front and set quick splits of 23.64 and 47.30 seconds while pursued by Pinnacle Peak, Fish Trappe Road, and Uncle Walter. Mo Tom, racing in the clear and along the rail down the backstretch, still was eighth at the half-mile pole, but he was into the bridle, and Lanerie crept closer, plotting his move.

“I was on the rail around the turn, and I didn’t want to go around everybody, but it looked like a jackpot about the quarter- pole, so I said ‘Let me get out in the clear,’ ” Lanerie said.

Mo Tom surged strongly to reach contention, followed Tom’s Ready into the straightaway, moved to the far outside, and mowed everyone down. Tom’s Ready ran with Mo Tom for a furlong or so, but could not match strides with the winner late.

“I thought I had him fairly easy, and he made me work a little bit,” said Lanerie.

Shaun Bridgmohan was riding Tom’s Ready for the first time, and said his unfamiliarity with the colt proved detrimental. Stalking in midpack on the outside down the backstretch and around the turn, Tom’s Ready unleashed a burst when Bridgmohan asked for run before the quarter pole.

“If I knew him, I’d have waited a little longer,” Bridgmohan said. “I didn’t know his turn of foot was that good.”

Uncle Walter turned in a solid performance making his stakes and two-turn debut, and finished best of any horses racing close to the pace.

“He was a little light on racing experience, thought he was a little bit green, but very proud of his effort,” said Mike Maker, who trains Uncle Walter for Ken and Sarah Ramsey. “To me it looked like he might have run a little spotty.”

Mo Tom blew past Destin in upper stretch, but Destin, another horse racing around two turns and in a stakes for the first time, plugged away to finish a clear fourth.

Mo Tom, a $150,000 auction purchase who ran his record to 5-3-0-2, is from the first crop of Uncle Mo and out of the Rubiano mare Caroni, and has a female family loaded with stamina influences. He was a late foal, born in May, and has yet to grow into his tall, rangy frame.

“I refer to him as a work in progress,” said Amoss, who won his fourth Lecomte. “Today he made a big step forward, and I look for more of that in the future.”

The first three finishers, at least, are expected back for the Risen Star Stakes here next month.