Jon White: Lecomte Picks, Plus Kentucky Derby Top 10 & Future Wager

Instant Coffee, coming off a victory in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs on Nov. 26, heads a field of eight entered in Fair Grounds’ Grade III Lecomte Stakes at 1 1/16 miles this Saturday (Jan. 21).

Instant Coffee is one of 1,000 candidates for the 2023 Kentucky Derby trained by Brad Cox. Okay, it’s not 1,000. But it sure seems like it.

A $200,000 auction purchase, Instant Coffee has won two of three career starts. He rallied to win a seven-furlong maiden special weight contest by three-quarters of a length in a 14-1 upset when unveiled at Saratoga last Sept. 3.

Instant Coffee then ran in Keeneland’s Grade I Breeders’ Futurity at 1 1/16 miles on Oct. 8. Tenth early in the field of 14, the Kentucky-bred Bolt d’Oro colt finished a non-threatening fourth at 7-1 in a race won by subsequent Breeders’ Cup Juvenile victor Forte.

In his final start at 2, Instant Coffee was seventh early and won the 1 1/16-mile Kentucky Jockey Club by 1 1/4 lengths as the 3-2 favorite. He succeeded on that occasion despite a very wide journey.

In his three starts, Instant Coffee has recorded Beyer Speed Figures of 85, then 81, then 82. In other words, it’s fair to say to say Instant Coffee has not exactly been the second coming of Flightline in terms of Beyers.

Instant Coffee has been installed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite in the Lecomte, according to a Fair Grounds press release issued Tuesday.

Considering Instant Coffee is going to be a relatively short price while not yet having posted a Beyer higher than an 85, I’m inclined to go elsewhere for my top pick. I’m going with Echo Again.

A primarly reason that I’m making Echo Again my top pick is I like the rider switch to Tyler Gaffalione. I also like Echo Again’s 6-1 morning-line price.

I like 6-1 on Echo Again inasmuch as he sports the best lifetime Beyer (a 94) AND the best last-race Beyer (an 86) of the Lecomte entrants.

Echo Again was credited with a 94 Beyer when the Kentucky-bred Gun Runner colt won a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight race by 6 3/4 lengths at Saratoga last Aug. 20. Nobody else in the Lecomte has recorded a 90+ Beyer.

In his most recent start, Echo Again posted an 86 Beyer when finishing third in Remington Park’s Springboard Mile on Dec. 17 for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.

Other than Echo Again, no one entered in the Lecomte has recorded a Beyer higher than Instant Coffee’s 85 in his debut triumph.

Do I love Echo Again in the Lecomte? No, I do not. But I am willing to make him my top choice based on his Beyer Speed Figures vis-a-vis the rest of the field and based on his better price than Instant Coffee in the wagering.

Below are my selections for the Lecomte Stakes:

1. Echo Again
2. Instant Coffee
3. Two Phil’s
4. Bromley

Larry Rivelli trains Two Phil’s.

“It’s not going to ruin my day if it rains,” Rivelli said this week regarding the Lecomte.

That comment by Rivelli is perfectly understandable. In the latest appearance under silks by Two Phil’s, he splashed his way to a dominant 5 1/4-length victory on Oct. 30 in Churchill’s Grade III Street Sense Stakes, which was contested at 1 1/16 miles on a sloppy track.

Two Phil’s is also a stakes winner on dry land. He won the six-furlong Shakopee Juvenile at Canterbury Park by 9 3/4 lengths on a fast track last Sept. 17.

In between the Shakopee Juvenile and Street Sense, Two Phil’s finished seventh in the aforementioned Breeders’ Futurity when ridden by Jareth Loveberry. The Kentucky-bred Hard Spun colt lost the Breeders’ Futurity by 10 3/4 lengths at 69-1, while Instant Coffee was defeated by seven lengths at 7-1.

Two Phil’s “would have run better in the Breeders’ Futurity if he didn’t have such a bad trip,” Rivelli said. “Despite the [seventh-place] finish, Jareth told me he liked the horse even more coming out of it.”

Two Phils is the 4-1 second choice on the morning line. Listed at 5-1 is the undefeated Bromley.

Bromley, trained by Paulo Lobo, is two for two. The Kentucky-bred Mastery colt, a $450,000 auction acquisition, kicked off his racing career with a 1 1/2-length win in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race on dirt Nov. 19 at Churchill Downs. He then won a six-furlong allowance/optional claiming affair by the same margin on a synthetic surface Dec. 28 at Turfway Park.

Adding to Bromley’s appeal in the Lecomte is he’s scheduled to be ridden by Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, a four-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey.


Arabian Knight, who hails from the powerful barn of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, retains the No. 1 spot on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week. The $2.3 million Uncle Mo colt worked a sharp five furlongs in :59.60 at Santa Anita last Saturday (Jan. 14).

In his lone start to date, Arabian Knight won a seven-furlong maiden race by 7 1/4 lengths at Keeneland last Nov. 5. He recorded a 97 Beyer Speed Figure.

A pair of 3-year-old colts who likewise registered a 97 Beyer last weekend have moved onto my Top 10 this week. Verifying debuts on the Top 10 at No. 9, while Hejazi joins the list at No. 10.

A $775,000 auction purchase, Verifying received a 97 Beyer Speed Figure when an emphatic 5 1/4-length winner of a one-mile allowance/optional claiming race at Oaklawn Park last Saturday (Jan. 14). It was his first start since finishing sixth in the BC Juvenile on Nov. 4.

A Kentucky-bred son of undefeated 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, Verifying’s trainer is -- who else? -- Brad Cox.

Baffert, who conditioned Verifying’s sire, sent out Hejazi to win a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race by 1 1/4 lengths at Santa Anita last Sunday (Jan. 15). Hejazi recorded a 97 Beyer.

Hejazi was bought for $3.55 million at a 2-year-olds in training sale last May in Maryland after showing the sheer zip to work a furlong in 9 4/5 seconds. The New York-bred Bernardini colt returned to the maiden ranks last Sunday while making his first start since finishing third behind the Baffert-trained duo of Cave Rock and National Treasure in the Grade I American Pharoah Stakes at Santa Anita last Oct. 8.

In Cave Rock’s next start after the American Pharoah, he was sent away as the 2-5 favorite in the BC Juvenile. The Kentucky-bred Arrogate colt ran second to 5-1 Forte.

Forte is No. 2 and Cave Rock is No. 3 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week.

Speaking of Forte, BloodHorse’s Bob Ehalt reported Tuesday (Jan. 17) that the Kentucky-bred Violence colt “is in light training with Todd Pletcher at Palm Beach Downs in Florida and is expected to log his first workout as a 3-year-old in ‘a week or so.’ ”

“He’s galloping well,” Pletcher said. “He’s been here approaching three weeks and we’re probably going to give him his first breeze in the next week or so. We’re still penciled in for the Fountain of Youth [at Gulfstream Park on March 4] for his first start [of 2023], but we’ll monitor him and his training and let him decide if that should be the target. The good thing about this time of year is that there’s literally a prep race every weekend, so you are not under the gun for a race if you need another week.”

Below is my current Kentucky Derby Top 10:

1. Arabian Knight
2. Forte
3. Cave Rock
4. Banishing
5. Cyclone Mischief
6. Giant Mischief
7. Instant Coffee
8. Arabian Lion
9. Verifying
10. Hejazi

Bubbling Under My Top 10: Angel of Empire, Blazing Sevens, Corona Bolt, Curly Jack, Faustin, Hit Show, Jace’s Road, Kingsbarns, Litigate, National Treasure, Newgate, Please Be Nice, Practical Move, Reincarnate, Shopper’s Revenge, Signator, Tapit Trice, Worcester and Victory Formation.

While No. 7 Instant Coffee runs this Saturday in the Lecomte, which goes as the 14th and final race on the marathon Fair Grounds card, No. 4 Banishing is entered in the ninth race, a 1 1/16-mile allowance/optional claiming affair at 1 1/16 miles.

Trained by Brendan Walsh, Banishing is coming off a resounding 8 1/2-length win in a Fair Grounds maiden race at 1 1/16 miles on Dec. 26 in his second career start. The Kentucky-bred colt is by 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012.

Among the others entered in Banishing’s race on Saturday are Tapit’s Conquest and Tapit Shoes, a pair of Tapit colts trained by -- who else? -- Brad Cox.

Tapit’s Conquest is cross-entered in the Lecomte. He finished second when debuting in a seven-furlong maiden race at Saratoga last Sept. 3 (74 Beyer). Tapit’s Conquest then won a 1 1/16-mile maiden contest by 3 1/2 lengths at Churchill Downs on Dec. 3 (72 Beyer).

Tapit Shoes ran sixth in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race on a sloppy track Sept. 3 at Churchill Downs in his career debut (51 Beyer). He subsequently won a Fair Grounds maiden race at 1 1/16 miles on a fast track by 7 1/2 lengths on Dec. 3 (73 Beyer).


Forte is the 10-1 morning-line favorite among individual horses in Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW), which opens for betting this week at noon ET Friday (Jan. 20) and closes at 6 p.m. ET Sunday (Jan. 23).

The KDFW now has expanded to offer 38 individual horses, plus an “all other 3-year-old colts and geldings” option and an “all fillies” option, for a total of 40 betting interests. In past years, the KDFW had 23 or 24 individual horses.

The “all other 3-year-old colts and geldings” is listed with the lowest morning-line odds at 6-5 in Pool 3 of the KDFW.

Horses currently trained by Bob Baffert are not among the individual horses because he has been banned from the 2023 Kentucky Derby. This does add Baffert-trained runners such as big debut winner Arabian Knight, two-time Grade I winner Cave Rock, highly regarded Arabian Lion and recent maiden winner Hejazi to the “all other 3-year-old colts and geldings” option.

Two Baffert trainees, Taiba and Messier, did run in last year’s Kentucky Derby after being transferred to trainer Tim Yakteen.

It is not advisable this early in the year to be betting a horse at relatively low odds to win the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May. Keep in mind that there are no refunds in the KDFW.

There are four horses at 40-1 on the morning line that I might put some money on. They are Banishing, Cyclone Mischief, Signator and Verifying.

Banishing, trained by Brendan Walsh, looks like a serious 3-year-old colt to me. I thought there was much to like when he romped to an 8 1/2-length victory in a Fair Grounds maiden race at 1 1/16 miles in late December. Of course, whether or not I do bet Banishing in KDFW Pool 3 does depend on how he does in New Orleans this Saturday (Jan. 21) in a 1 1/16-mile allowance/optional claiming race.

Cyclone Mischief won a one-mile allowance/claiming contest by 5 3/4 lengths at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 8. He recorded a 90 Beyer Speed Figure.

“This is a real racehorse. He’s the real deal,” trainer Dale Romans said following Cyclone Mischief’s big effort on Jan. 8. “He’s one of the best I’ve had in a long time.”

Signator, trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, won one of two starts last year when racing in New York. The Kentucky-bred Tapit colt ran second in a six-furlong maiden race at Aqueduct on Sept. 16, then won a one-mile race on a muddy track vs. maidens by 4 1/2 lengths there Oct. 14. Signator worked four furlongs in a crisp :46.60 at Payson Park in Florida on Wednesday (Jan. 18).

Verifying, yet another 3-year-old colt trained by Brad Cox, looks like he might make noise on the Kentucky Derby trail and perhaps in the Run for the Roses itself following his sparkling victory in a one-mile allowance/optional claiming race at Oaklawn Park last Saturday (Jan. 14). It was Verifying’s first race since finishing second in the Grade I BC Juvenile on Nov. 4. He ran second to Blazing Sevens in the Grade I Champagne Stakes on a sloppy track at Belmont Park prior to the Breeders’ Cup.

Before you make any bets in KDFW Pool 3, you might want to monitor what happens in Fair Grounds’ Grade III Lecomte Stakes this Saturday (Jan. 21).

Below are the morning-line odds for 2023 KDFW Pool 3:

No. Horse (Morning Line Odds)

 1. Angel of Empire (80-1)
 2. Arctic Arrogance (50-1)
 3. Banishing (40-1)
 4. Blazing Sevens (40-1)
 5. Confidence Game (99-1)
 6. Corona Bolt (20-1)
 7. Curly Jack (80-1)
 8. Cyclone Mischief (40-1)
 9. Disarm (80-1)
10. Dubyuhnell (30-1)
11. Echo Again (80-1)
12. Extra Anejo (20-1)
13. Forte (10-1)
14. Giant Mischief (40-1)
15. Gulfport (80-1)
16. Gun Pilot (80-1)
17. Hit Show (80-1)
18. Instant Coffee (40-1)
19. Jace’s Road (40-1)
20. Kingsbarns (80-1)
21. Litigate (80-1)
22. Loggins (20-1)
23. Lugan Knight (50-1)
24. Practical Move (80-1)
25. Prairie Hawk (99-1)
26. Recruiter (99-1)
27. Rocket Can (99-1)
28. Shesterkin (80-1)
29. Shopper’s Revenge (80-1)
30. Signator (40-1)
31. Sun Thunder (99-1)
32. Tapit Shoes (50-1)
33. Tapit Trice (30-1)
34. Tapit’s Conquest (99-1)
35. Two Phil’s (80-1)
36. Verifying (40-1)
37. Victory Formation (30-1)
38. Wildatlanticstorm (50-1)
39. All 3-Year-Old Fillies (30-1)
40. All Other 3-Year-Old Colts and Geldings (6-5)


Flightline was named the World’s Best Racehorse of 2022 during an awards ceremony held by Longines and the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) in London on Tuesday (Jan. 17).

Flightline is odds-on to be announced as the Eclipse Award-winning 2022 Horse of the Year on Jan. 26. The fabulous colt, impeccably trained by John Sadler, was undefeated in three starts during the year. He won the Grade I Met Mile by six lengths in June, Grade I Pacific Classic by a record 19 1/4 lengths in September, then the Grade I BC Classic by a record 8 1/4 lengths in November.

On my list of the Top 10 performances by a Thoroughbred in the United States during 2022, Flightline’s Pacific Classic ranked No. 1, his BC Classic was No. 2 and his Met Mile was No. 3.

Flightline reorded a 112 Beyer Speed Figure in the Met Mile, 126 Beyer in the Pacific Classic and 121 Beyer in the BC Classic.

A number of people said they considered Flightline’s Pacific Classic to be the best performance in this country since the 31-length victory a half-century ago by the legendary Secretariat in the Belmont Stakes to complete a Triple Crown sweep.

The IFHA compiles official rankings for top racehorses in racing jurisdictions all over the world.

“As with the Association of Tennis Professionals Rankings and Official World Golf Ranking, the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings establish a pecking order among elite Thoroughbreds,” BloodHorse’s Julian Muscat explained. “However, the [World’s Best Racehorse Rankings] differ markedly from other sports in that a figure for each horse is allocated on the basis of that horse’s best performance. Once established, that figure is set in stone, however much the horse in question may underperform thereafter. Rankings in tennis and golf are established by a player’s performance over a 12-month rolling period.”

Flightline originally was given a rating of 139 by the IFHA panel of international handicappers following his spectacular Pacific Classic performance. His Pacific Classic rating then was upgraded to 140 at a gathering of the panel in December.

“The IFHA’s panel of international handicappers sprang a surprise [at Tuesday’s ceremony] by ranking Flightline on a par with Frankel,” Muscat wrote. “The latter’s official rating of 140 was the highest give to any racehorse since North American-trained horses first appeared on the world rankings table in 1995.

“Flightline eclipses Cigar as the highest-rated U.S.-trained horse in nearly three decades after Cigar earned a rating of 135 in 1996…Other dirt horses to earn superior rankings in recent years include American Pharoah (134 in 2015) and Arrogate (also 134 in 2016 and 2017).”

I find it interesting that the IFHA’s panel of international handicappers rated Flightline equal to Frankel. That’s because a comparison between Flightline and mighty Frankel was discussed in my Pacific Classic recap for

In a story for the Thoroughbred Racing Commentary website prior to the Pacific Classic written by Steve Dennis, a turf writer in England, Sadler said that Flightline had been a “wow” horse from day one.

“April Mayberry, who broke him at her farm in Ocala [Florida], said the first time she saw him breeze she knew he was special,” Sadler noted. “Flightline’s the kind of horse who comes along every 20, 30 years. The numbers he runs are unbelievable. I don’t think there are many people who’ve ever had a horse this good.”

Sadler went on to tell the English writer that Flightline might be the equivalent of Frankel.

“One imagines a number of people who read that, especially some folks in Europe, might have concluded that the trainer had gone insane,” I wrote in my Pacific Classic recap. “Frankel won all 14 of his races from 2010-12 while racing exclusively in England, with 10 of his victories coming at the Group I level.

“But anyone who saw what Flightline did in the Pacific Classic knows that his trainer certainly need not be fitted for one of those jackets with the sleeves in the back for mentioning Flightline in the same breath as Frankel.”

And now a distinguished international panel of handicappers has rated Flightline equal to Frankel.


The Eclipse Awards were established in 1971 to recognize excellence in Thoroughbred racing. The 2022 finalists were revealed last month.

The 2022 winners will be announced during the Eclipse Awards dinner on Jan. 26 at The Breakers in Palm Beach, Fla.

The first year that I made Eclipse Award predictions for was for the racing that was conducted in 2011. My Eclipse Award predictions from 2011 to present have been correct 91.2% of the time:

2011: 15 correct, 2 wrong
2012: 16 correct, 1 wrong
2013: 16 correct, 1 wrong
2014: 17 correct, 0 wrong
2015: 14 correct, 3 wrong
2016: 16 correct, 1 wrong
2017: 16 correct, 1 wrong
2018: 16 correct, 1 wrong
2019: 15 correct, 2 wrong
2020: 15 correct, 2 wrong
2021: 16 correct, 1 wrong

Total: 172 correct, 15 wrong

Remember, these are my predictions, not who I think should win or who I voted for.

And now here are my predictions for the 2022 Eclipse Awards, which will be announced on Jan. 26:


Finalists (alphabetically): Cave Rock, Forte, Victoria Road
Predicted Winner: Cave Rock


Finalists: Leave No Trace, Meditate, Wonder Wheel
Predicted Winner: Wonder Wheel


Finalists: Epicenter, Modern Games, Taiba
Predicted Winner: Epicenter


Finalists: Nest, Secret Oath, Tuesday
Predicted Winner: Nest


Finalists: Flightline, Life Is Good, Olympiad
Predicted Winner: Flightline


Finalists: Clairiere, Goodnight Olive, Malathaat
Predicted Winner: Malathaat


Finalists: Cody’s Wish, Elite Power, Jackie’s Warrior
Predicted Winner: Elite Power


Finalists: Caravel, Echo Zulu, Goodnight Olive
Predicted Winner: Goodnight Olive


Finalists: Modern Games, Nations Pride, Rebel’s Romance
Predicted Winner: Rebel’s Romance


Finalists: In Italian, Regal Glory, War Like Goddess
Predicted Winner: Regal Glory


Finalists: Down Royal, Hewick, Snap Decision
Predicted Winner: Hewick


Finalists: Steve Asmussen, Chad Brown, Todd Pletcher
Predicted Winner: Todd Pletcher


Finalists: Irad Ortiz Jr., Flavien Prat, Joel Rosario
Predicted Winner: Irad Ortiz Jr.


Finalists: Jeiron Barbosa, Vincente Del-Cid, Jose Antonio Gomez
Predicted Winner: Jose Antonio Gomez


Finalists: Peter Brandt, Godolphin, Klaravich Stables
Predicted Winner: Godolphin


Finalists: Godolphin, Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings, Summer Wind Equine
Predicted Winner: Godolphin


Finalists: Not announced
Predicted Winner: Flightline

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