Friday Notes: Lecomte Updates, General Quarters, Cajun Conference, Jim Jackson

Trainer Neil Howard, enjoying a healthy .333 win percentage through the first 33 days of Fair Grounds’ 2010-2011 season, had indicated earlier in this month that none of his handful of Louisiana Derby Early Bird nominees would be ready in time for the Grade III Lecomte Stakes, to be run Jan. 22 as the headline attraction on Road To The Derby Kickoff Day Presented by Hotel Monteleone.

However, following a work as sharp as a Wilkinson Sword on Tuesday, when Gaillardia Racing’s Wilkinson went four furlongs in 49.80 and looked good doing it, Howard amended his aforementioned prognosis Friday morning during training hours.

“We’re now thinking about running Wilkinson in the Lecomte,” Howard said, speaking of the first leg of Fair Grounds’ sophomore series next week. “He’s been coming along well recently and has been training really well lately.”

Wilkinson, a son of 1999 Belmont Stakes winner Lemon Drop Kid, broke his maiden with a one-length score on Dec. 10 and came back to finish third behind Zayat Stables’ highly regarded Justin Phillip – also on track for the Lecomte – in first-level allowance company on New Year’s Day here, but Wilkinson was compromised by wide trips on both turns that day.

Klaravich Stables and W. H. Lawrence’s Populist Politics, clearly best by 1 3/4-lengths in the $50,000 Louisiana Futurity at Fair Grounds on New Year’s Eve after breaking his maiden on Thanksgiving’s Opening Day program, was not an Early Bird nominee to the  Louisiana Derby but has been nominated to the Lecomte.

“I don’t know yet what we’re going to do (concerning the Lecomte) but the plan is to try and stretch Populist Politics out to see if he can get two turns,” said trainer Tom Amoss. “However, this horse is a Louisiana-bred and that fact is not lost on me. We’ll wait and see.”

Amoss, it should be noted, is a nine-time Fair Grounds trainer champion and is also the defending trainer champion in the Lecomte after saddling Jack Hammer’s Ron the Greek to win last year’s renewal.

Russell Welch’s Mobeetie, a Sky Mesa colt out of a Danzig mare, is also a Lecomte nominee who was not an Louisiana Derby Early Bird nominee. Conditioner Eric Heitzmann, enjoying an excellent local start while currently eighth in the trainer standings entering Friday’s races, was asked about the Lecomte for Mobeetie.

“It’s a possibility,” Heitzmann said. “It’s not a ‘given.’ We’ll see how the race shapes up as it gets closer.”

Heitzmann was also asked about Southern Equine Stable’s Cajun Conference, one of the prime choices for Saturday’s $60,000 Happy Ticket Stakes who closed well to win Fair Grounds’ $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Ladies Sprint at six furlongs but will only be going five and a half this weekend. Would the shorter distance hurt?

“I don’t think so,” said Heitzmann. “She’s doing good right now, so now all I can do is lead her over there.”

GENERAL QUARTERS QUARTERED AT FAIR GROUNDS ONCE AGAIN – Tom McCarthy’s General Quarters, hero of Churchill’s Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on Kentucky Derby Day last year and winner of Keeneland Race Course’s Grade I Blue Grass Stakes the year before that, arrived at McCarthy’s Fair Grounds barn before dawn Thursday morning after an extended layoff in Kentucky.

“They told me it was 18 degrees when he left Kentucky and it was about the same when he got here,” said McCarthy, speaking during training hours one day after Fair Grounds had to cancel its Thursday program due to frozen track conditions.

“He looks good. It’s great to have him back down here with me,” said McCarthy, who has also been trying to get his 3-year-old maiden named Humor’s Punch ready for a second local start despite a recent foot laceration.

“I’ll probably just shedrow General Quarters today (Friday), and hopefully be able to take him to the track tomorrow,” McCarthy said. “I like to give my horses at least 60 days when they’re coming off a long layoff, but I hope to have General Quarters ready for some big races coming up this spring in Kentucky.”

General Quarters finished second in last year’s $75,000 Louisiana Handicap, Grade III Mineshaft Handicap and Grade II New Orleans Handicap on the main track here last year before embarking on a turf career compromised during the summer by chips that were discovered after the Grade I Arlington Million.

TRAINER DALLAS KEEN REMEMBERS OWNER JAMES JACKSON – Trainer Dallas Keen saddled James Jackson’s Valhol to win Fair Grounds’ $75,000 Tenacious Handicap in 2001 and run third in Fair Grounds’ Grade II New Orleans Handicap that same season, and offered the following personal addendum in addition to their professional relationship following his owner’s death earlier this week.

“He was the best man at my wedding,” said Keen, who operates Remember Me Racehorse Rescue in Burleson, Texas, along with his wife Donna. “He (Jackson) had kind of gotten away from the horse business in the last few years,” said Keen, “but he was always willing to let other trainers use the facilities at his farm.”