01/27/2017 11:28AM

Road to the 2017 Derby: Lecomte Stakes

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Amanda Hodges Weir/Hodges Photography
Guest Suite earned a career-best 82 Beyer Speed Figure for his win in the Lecomte.

Grade 3, $200,000 Lecomte Stakes, one mile and 70 yards, Fair Grounds, Jan. 21, 2017

 (10 Derby qualifying points for a win, 4 for second, 2 for third, 1 for fourth)

 Winner: Guest Suite, by Quality Road

 Trainer: Neil Howard

 Jockey: Robby Albarado

 Owner: W.S. Farish and Lora Jean Kilroy

 Beyer Speed Figure: 82

 GUEST SUITE began his 3-year-old campaign with this victory, and though his Beyer Figure was on the low side compared with what some of his brethren have accomplished already, it was his career best, continuing a pattern that has seen him improve in every start.

 That’s the hallmark of trainer Neil Howard, who is as patient as they come, so it only stands to reason that Guest Suite has the chance to continue that forward progress in coming months after getting a nice, four-race foundation at age 2. He will need to improve, and certainly the competition will get steeper, but he’s headed in the right direction, and he showed in this race he could handle an off track, which he had not previously encountered.

 My overarching concern about this race, though, is that the first five finishers were within 2 1/2 lengths of one another in an average time, which often hints the race wasn’t strong. The Risen Star on Feb. 25 should be next for many of these. As of now, I’m wary toward this bunch.

 Racing over a muddy, sealed track, Guest Suite raced between horses while just behind the early leaders on the first turn, was able to slip inside a tiring PAT ON THE BACK on the far turn before easing outside in upper stretch for his final drive, and needed to be asked for his best to prevail.

 

UNTRAPPED, who was second, showed quite a bit of promise in only his third start, first around two turns, and first in a stakes race. He saved ground just behind the leaders and inside of Guest Suite around the first turn, had to wait in traffic behind tiring leaders nearing the head of the stretch, and then had to wait for Guest Suite to go past him on the outside before he could swing out and get room, and kept to his task while drifting out a bit late.

 TAKEOFF, who was third, was three paths wide while pressing the pace around the first turn, wound up in an ideal spot in third behind two dueling leaders heading into the far turn, was asked aggressively to keep Untrapped pinned in at the quarter pole in a nifty bit of race riding by Florent Geroux, but could not hold off the top two while having a better trip than those two.

 ARKLOW, who was fourth, is still a maiden. He saved ground in mid-pack around the first turn, continued to hug the rail most of the far turn, eased to the No. 3 path entering the lane, and went evenly while being herded between rivals in deep stretch.

 SHAREHOLDER VALUE, who finished fifth, saved ground near the back of the pack around the first turn, was taken outside and raced three to four paths wide on the far turn, and passed tired rivals while being carried out near the wire.

 PHAT MAN, who was sixth, was hustled aggressively leaving the gate to make the lead, dueled with RUNNING MATE through a torrid second quarter in 23.05 seconds, began to tire nearing the top of the stretch, and then faded while needing until midstretch to swap over to his right lead.

 TIP TAP TAPIZAR, who was seventh, was three paths wide while mid-pack around the first turn, raced in a similar spot much of the far turn, was angled toward the rail turning into the lane, was gradually angled to the middle of the track through the lane but never made any impact.

MARCO MISCHIEF, who was eighth, veered out slightly at the start, had no early speed and was in front of just TOTALITY into the first turn, dropped back to last on the backstretch, and never really got involved.

 Running Mate, who was ninth, was making his first start around two turns and ran like a sprinter. He raced just outside Phat Man around the first turn, got into a rapid duel with Phat Man through the second quarter-mile while way too keen for his own good, looked like he had the best of Phat Man midway on the far turn, but emptied out badly after turning into the stretch.

 Totality, who was 10th, was squeezed between horses leaving the gate and trailed into the first turn, checked behind Shareholder Value soon after turning into the backstretch, and was badly outrun thereafter.

 Pat on the Back, who finished last of 11, was four paths wide while very keen around the first turn while just off the early lead, remained three paths wide into the far turn, and tired badly through the lane.