The Lecomte Stakes this weekend at the Fairgrounds looks like the official kick off to the Triple Crown trail. It is the first graded stakes race of the year for three year old males. In these days where we micro-analyze every step toward the Kentucky Derby it might be beneficial to heed this caution.
Stakes races for three year olds in January are rarely won by Derby winners.
In fact Derby winners very rarely even run in stakes races in January. Many of them are either on the shelf or still among maiden or allowance company. The record of eventual derby winners in January since 1996 is 9-4-0-0 but if you isolate only the stakes races their record is 5-1-0-0. You read that right, only one eventual Derby winner even hit the frame in a main track stakes race in January. That horse was Smarty Jones. All the others actually ran rather badly.
I know that for myself I'm quick to judge horses who miss the board in the Triple Crown prep race but I'd likely be better off to disregard both good and bad results in January. The really good horses usually tip their hand in March and April.
Incidentally horses who do win stakes races in January are often off the trail by the time the Derby comes around. Whether it be through injury or just a string of poor results in March and April. In the last 13 years only 30 horses have made it to the Derby starting gate after winning a stakes race in January. That includes listed stakes and sprints as well as graded stakes. 26 of those 30 horses ran poorly in the Derby.
My top 10 this year is likely going to reflect a spirit of skepticism over the "Z Fortune" types. My eye will be much more closely trained on the Gulfstream allowances than the Lecomte Stakes.