The Fair Grounds' road to the Triple Crown kicks off each year with the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes for 3-year-olds at one mile and 40 yards on the dirt main track.
This year's Lecomte Stakes is expected to feature the highly-regarded Exfactor for trainer Bernie Flint. Exfactor, who won the Grade 3 Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill Downs back in June, returned from a more than five-month layoff to win the six-furlong Sugar Bowl Stakes at Fair Grounds Dec. 17. That return race indicates Exfactor is something more than an early-season flash in the pan, but the Lecomte will be his first time running longer than a sprint distance and it will be interesting to see how he performs as the distances lengthen.
The $100,000 Lecomte, which will be run Jan. 21, 2012, is the first race in the Fair Grounds 3-year-old series that continues with the 1 1/16-mile Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 25 and culminates in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, contested at 1 1/8-miles on April 1. Horses performing well in these races are eligible to go on to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May.
The Lecomte is named for the racehorse of that name from the 1850's. Lecomte was an 11-time winner on the track, but is perhaps best-known for providing the great Lexington, who happened to be Lecomte's half-brother, with the only defeat of his distinguished career. Lexington would go on to become one of the most influential stallions in the American Stud Book.
First run in 1970, the Lecomte gained in notoriety during the first decade of the 21st century. In 2009, Friesan Fire swept the Lecomte, Risen Star and Louisiana Derby and was sent off as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby. However, Friesan Fire disappointed his backers with an 18th-place finish.
In 2007, Hard Spun won the Lecomte and, rather than move on to the local Louisiana Derby, was shipped north to Kentucky for the Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park. Hard Spun would win the Lane's End and go on to be second in the Kentucky Derby, third in the Preakness Stakes and was second in that year's Breeders' Cup Classic.
The 2006 Lecomte had to be canceled because of Hurricane Katrina.
The Lecomte is annually a good gauge for what types of horses will be coming to the Kentucky Derby from Louisiana and surrounding areas. The long stretch of Fair Grounds, which is similar to the extensive stretch at Churchill Downs, also helps to give fans a better idea on if a horse has the proper running style to be successful in the Kentucky Derby.