01/17/2016 11:20AM

Road to the Derby analysis: Lecomte Stakes

Amanda Hodges Weir/Hodges Photography
Mo Tom wins the Lecomte Stakes on Saturday at Fair Grounds.

Grade 3, $200,000 Lecomte Stakes, one mile and 70 yards, Fair Grounds, Jan. 16, 2016
(10 Derby qualifying points for a win, 4 for second, 2 for third, 1 for fourth)

Winner: Mo Tom (sire: Uncle Mo)
Trainer: Tom Amoss
Jockey: Corey Lanerie
Owner: GMB Racing
Beyer Speed Figure: 88

This might not have been the best of football seasons for the Saints, and the Pelicans aren’t exactly soaring in the NBA, but the Benson family is off to a fine start on the racetrack in 2016, with MO TOM and TOM’S READY – both owned by Gayle Benson, wife of Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson – running one-two here in the first of several preps to be run at Fair Grounds this meet.

Mo Tom rallied from well back in the nine-horse field, and there was a lot to like about the race, starting with the raw time (1:43.18), which was faster than the comparable one-mile, 70-yard races on the card. Stageplay won the Silverbulletday for fillies in 1:43.76, and the hard-knocking older horse Hawaakom won a competitive optional claimer in 1:43.38.

Mo Tom’s performance further flattered the result of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, Mo Tom’s prior start, in which he finished third. Second-place finisher Mor Spirit exited that race to win the Los Alamitos Futurity, and all that certainly boosts the stock of Airoforce, the Kentucky Jockey Club winner, who currently is in south Florida preparing for his 3-year-old debut.

The Lecomte result also was big for the Uncle Mo, who sired the first- and third-place finishers.

In the Lecomte, Mo Tom lacked early speed, per usual, and got knocked sideways when bumping with FISH TRAPPE ROAD going into the first turn while also checking behind MENDING FENCES. He was in front of just one horse with a half-mile to go, started to close sharply midway on the far turn, had to be angled widest after moving into the lane owing to a line of horses in front of him, finally swapped to his correct lead about a furlong out, was put to heavy pressure by Lanerie and pulled away in the closing yards from Tom’s Ready.

Tom’s Ready, who finished second, raced three paths wide on the first turn while in midpack. He made an extended run on the far turn while four paths wide to advance from seventh, was fanned five paths wide into the lane, out-battled UNCLE WALTER to secure the lead nearing the sixteenth pole, but could not hold off Mo Tom while swapping over to his left lead with about 50 yards remaining.

Uncle Walter, who was third, bumped hard with Fish Trappe Road from his inside and lightly with Z ROYAL from his outside leaving the gate but secured a gorgeous spot around the first turn – in third on the rail behind the two leaders. He was angled out down the backstretch in order to launch a three-wide rally on the far turn, came off the bend in the four path, remained with Tom’s Ready to midstretch while under heavy punishment from jockey Miguel Mena, then tired in the closing yards. This was only his third start, and first around two turns, so he too bears watching.

DESTIN, who was fourth, went into the first turn in fourth, just outside Uncle Walter, remained midpack while off the rail down the backstretch, was outrun on the far turn when Mo Tom rocketed past him, was shoved on aggressively at that point, ran into a spot of trouble in upper stretch, then finished with some interest while passing tired rivals. As with Uncle Walter, this was his third start and first around two turns.

Z Royal, who was fifth, bumped with Uncle Walter leaving the gate but sped to the lead and set solid fractions of 23.64 seconds for the opening quarter and 47.30 for a half-mile while in front of and inside of PINNACLE PEAK. He was sent along down the backstretch and had a two-length lead into the far turn, kicked away from Pinnacle Peak when initially challenged midway on the turn, led into the lane, started to tire a furlong out, swapped over to his left lead, returned to his correct lead at the sixteenth pole, but was spent by then.

Pinnacle Peak, who was sixth, was urged away from the gate and took up a stalking position just outside of Z Royal. He took a run at Z Royal three furlongs out but was turned back, drifted out to the three path in upper stretch while being aggressively urged, but was outrun through the lane.

Fish Trappe Road, who finished seventh, bumped hard with Uncle Walter leaving the gate, bumped with Mo Tom into the first turn, then made an extended brush around the first turn and into the backstretch. He was third on the rail directly behind Z Royal into the far turn but began to fade approaching the quarter pole. He’s a speedy sort who obviously was compromised by the rough opening furlong. He’s very intriguing on the turn back.

Mending Fences, who was eighth, drifted over entering the first turn to tighten things up on Mo Tom, raced inside Tom’s Ready initially on the backstretch while in the latter half of the field, secured an inside position into the far turn, but could not keep up.

TARPON BAY ROAD, who finished last of nine, was in front of only Mo Tom for the briefest of times into the first turn while wide, then was badly outrun the rest of the way.