Guest Suite luxurious in Lecomte win

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NEW ORLEANS – William S. Farish and Lora Jean Kilroy’s Neil Howard-trained Guest Suite showed professionalism and class with a 1¼-length victory in Saturday’s showcase event at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots on Road to the Derby Kickoff Day presented by Hotel Monteleone.

The 73rd running of the Grade III $200,000 Lecomte Stakes, for 3-year-olds over a mile and 70 yards on the main track, is the first of three New Orleans stepping stones to the Grade I $2,000,000 Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands at Churchill Downs on May 6.

After breaking from post eight of 11, the gelded bay son of Quality Road sat comfortably in mid-pack in sixth, while longshot Phat Man and 4-1 second choice Running Mate carved out quick fractions of 23.42 for the quarter and 46.47 for the half over the sealed, muddy going.

Launching a bid at the top of the stretch under Robby Albarado – who was recording his 4,999th career victory – Guest Suite swept past those two, as well as John C. Oxley’s Mark Casse-trained eventual third-place finisher Takeoff, to hit the front with more than an eighth of a mile remaining. Stopping the clock in 1:43.20, the Kentucky homebred held off Michael Langford’s Steve Asmussen-trained Untrapped, who rallied well for the place, a half-length ahead of Takeoff. Guest Suite earned 10 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard for his win.

“I had a great trip,” Albarado said. “He’s a nice horse and Neil has done an exceptional job with him. He’s growing up. He’s a smart horse and that makes it easy. He’s been training forwardly. I just show up for the races – they do all the work, the Howard stable.”

“Everyone has the same goals looking ahead after getting started in a race like this,” Howard added. “Obviously it was nothing short of great to see that kind of performance. Providing everything went well, we had (focused on this race) after Churchill. It’s hard because you try to give them a little bit of a break. I certainly think that everything is in front of him, but it’s too hard to tell. There are some really good ones out there, not the least of which is Ian’s horse (McCracken) who is very talented, but I thought this was a good gauge for him because it was a nice bunch of 3-year-olds. He has [turned a corner]. He has had a great schedule and hasn’t missed a beat training and has trained wonderfully down here.”

“Running first time long, I’m happy with him,” jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr., said of Untrapped. “He ran big and we tried to teach him something. He finished really good.”

“I love how he fought on late, for his first two turn race,” Asmussen added.

“It went well,” jockey Florent Geroux said of Takeoff. “It was a hot pace. From where we were (in the gate), there weren’t many options. It was either take back or go forward and when he broke sharply, I just followed Running Mate. I knew we were going quick, but I knew I couldn’t take back at that point.”

“He did everything right,” Casse’s assistant David Carroll added. “That’s what you want to see.”

Donegal Racing’s Brad Cox-trained Arklow under Brian Hernandez, Jr., and Klaravich Stables and William H. Lawrence’s Tom Amoss-trained Shareholder Value under Shaun Bridgmohan rallied well to finish a head and half-length back in fourth and fifth, with a large gap back to the remainder of the field.

“He ran well and had a perfect trip,” Hernandez said of Arklow. “We were behind the winner and I knew he was the horse to beat. We ended up with a good fourth with a horse who was giving up a lot of experience. He has a long run to him, which will be nice later on in the year and will improve as these races stretch out.”

“He settled well and made a very nice run, which you always like to see,” Amoss said of Shareholder Value. “He ran well and was very professional. Hopefully he will move forward from here.”

It was another 8½ lengths back to Phat Man, who led Tip Tap Tapizar, Marco Mischief, Running Mate, Totality and Pat On the Back to complete the running order.

Guest Suite won for the third time in five career starts and annexed his first stakes event. Overall, he has yet to finish off the board and was previously stakes-placed two back when third in the Street Sense Stakes behind highly regarded McCracken. He earned $120,000 to increase his career bankroll to $203,840.

Guest Suite returned $7.60, $5 and $3.60 as the 5-2 favorite. Untrapped returned $6.40 and $4.80. Takeoff returned $5 to show.

GRADE III $200,000 LECOMTE STAKES QUOTES
Robby Albarado, Guest Suite, Jockey, Winner:
“I had a great trip. He’s a nice horse and Neil has done an exceptional job with him. He’s growing up. He’s a smart horse and it makes it easy. He’s been training forwardly. I just show up for the races, they do all the work, the Howard stable.”

Neil Howard, Guest Suite, Trainer, Winner:
“It’s great. Everyone has the same goals looking ahead after getting started in a race like this. Obviously it was nothing short of great to see that kind of performance. Providing everything went well, we had (focused on this race) after Churchill. It’s hard because you try to give them a little bit of a break. I certainly think that everything is in front of him, but it’s too hard to tell. There are some really good ones out there, not the least of which is Ian’s horse (McCracken) who is very talented, but I thought this was a good gauge for him because it was a nice bunch of 3-year-olds. He has [turned a corner]. He has had a great schedule and hasn’t missed a beat training and has trained wonderfully down here.”

Ricardo Santana, Jr., Untrapped, Jockey, 2nd:
“Running first time long, I’m happy with him. He ran big and we tried to teach him something. He finished really good.”
Steve Asmussen, Untrapped, Trainer, 2nd:
“I love how he fought on late, for his first two turn race.”

Florent Geroux, Takeoff, Jockey, 3rd:
“It went well. It was a hot pace. From where we were there weren’t many options. It was either take back or go forward and when he broke sharply, I just followed Running Mate. I knew we were going quick, but I knew couldn’t take back at that point.”
David Carroll, Takeoff, Assistant Trainer to Mark Casse, 3rd:
“He did everything right. That’s what you want to see.”

Brian Hernandez, Jr., Arklow, Jockey, 4th:
“He ran well and had a perfect trip. We were behind the winner and I knew he was the horse to beat. We ended up with a good fourth with a horse who was giving up a lot of experience. He has a long run to him, which will be nice later on in the year and will improve as these races stretch out.”

Tom Amoss, Shareholder Value, Trainer, 5th:
“He settled well and made a very nice run, which you always like to see. He ran well and was very professional hopefully will move forward from here.”

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