01/20/2011 3:16PM

Talented but erratic Justin Phillip adds blinkers for Lecomte


NEW ORLEANS – No one is calling the 3-year-old colt Justin Phillip bipolar, schizophrenic, or anything like that. “Quirky” was the word his trainer, Steve Asmussen, chose to describe him.

“Ninety percent of the time he’s fine,” Asmussen said Thursday morning at Fair Grounds. “The other 10 percent, you just don’t know.”

The first time Justin Phillip was entered in a race, at Saratoga this past summer, he unseated jockey Garrett Gomez in the post parade, got loose, jumped the outside fence on the backstretch, and wound up in a ditch. Nothing that dramatic took place Jan. 1 at Fair Grounds, but Justin Phillip, racing on the lead, ducked out sharply in the stretch run, forcing jockey Shaun Bridgmohan to invest more energy steering left than finishing the race. Justin Phillip, making his two-turn debut, still won by more than three lengths.

“I’m not looking forward to seeing that horse run a straight course,” said trainer Neil Howard, who sent out Wilkinson to a third-place finish behind Justin Phillip in the allowance race and will try him again Saturday.

Just five horses are entered in the Grade 3, $100,000 Lecomte, which will be run at a mile and 40 yards. The Lecomte goes as race 10, and is the last of six stakes on a 13-race card dubbed Road to the Derby Kickoff Day, with first post at 12:10 p.m. Central. The forecast calls for clear skies and a high in the mid-50s.

Asmussen ascribed another characteristic to Justin Phillip, “talented,” and it’s his innate ability that figures to send him off favored. Justin Phillip, Asmussen said, is not the best horse in the starting gate, but he will be affixed with a set of blinkers for the first time in a race on Saturday. Justin Phillip twice has been on the lead, but can adapt to whatever pace unfolds in the Lecomte, according to his trainer.

There’s one Lecomte shipper, Pants on Fire, in from New York for trainer Kelly Breen. Pants on Fire is drawn outside of Justin Phillip in post 5 and should show speed, having led early in the Count Fleet last out before fading to third.

Action Ready won a two-turn turf allowance race here Jan. 9 while making his grass debut, but trainer Bret Calhoun said he believes it was not so much the surface switch but physical and mental progression that pushed Action Ready forward. Wilkinson has the rail and Garrett Gomez. Once-started maiden-claiming winner Mobeetie completes the field.