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Justin Phillip Tops Saturday's Grade III Lecomte Stakes for 3-Year-Olds

Zayat Stable’s Justin Phillip, an impressive allowance winner here on New Year’s Day, has been installed as the 7-5 favorite in Saturday’s Grade III Lecomte Stakes, initial leg of Fair Grounds’ three-race sophomore series for horses hopeful for a Triple Crown run later in the spring.

As the first local prep for the $1 million, Grade II Louisiana Derby March 26, the $100,000 Lecomte at a mile and 40 yards is the centerpiece event among six stakes races slated for Saturday’s expanded 13-race program packaged as Road to the Derby Kickoff Day Presented by Hotel Monteleone.

Also on tap Saturday is the Grade III Col. E. R. Bradley Handicap for older horses over the Stall-Wilson Turf course, the $100,000 Silvebulletday Stakes as the first leg of Fair Grounds’ sophomore filly series, the $60,000 Louisiana Handicap for older horses on the main track, the $60,000 F. W. Gaudin Memorial Stakes for older sprinters and the $60,000 Dr. A. B. Leggio Memorial for older filly and mares sprinters on the grass.

As the headline attraction this weekend, the Lecomte precedes Fair Grounds’ Grade II Risen Star Stakes Feb. 19 before the series concludes with the Louisiana Derby on the penultimate day of the New Orleans 2010-2011 Thoroughbred racing season.

Justin Phillip won his only local start on New Year’s Day in front-running fashion over a mile and 70 yards by 3 1/4-lengths, but the son of First Samurai ducked in and out repeatedly in the lane more like a Kamikaze pilot so blinkers will be added to his equipment for the Lecomte as his sixth lifetime start. He broke his maiden last Sept. 18 at Belmont Park. Eclipse Award-winning trainer Steve Asmussen is his conditioner and the colt will be ridden once again by Shaun Bridgmohan, who was aboard for his Jan. 1 start.

George ands Lori Hall’s Pants On Fire is pegged as the 9-5 second choice in the morning line after finishing third in Aqueduct’s $65,000 Count Fleet Stakes in his last trip to the post Jan. 1. Jockey Joe Bravo will come to New Orleans for the mount aboard the son of Jump Start, who is trained by Kelly Breen and broke his maiden by seven lengths at Delaware Park last Oct. 4.

Gaillardia Stable’s Wilkinson is the early third choice at 7-2 in the Lecomte after finishing third behind Justin Phillip on Jan. 1 and breaking his maiden at previous asking here Dec. 10. Eclipse Award-winning jockey Garrett Gomez will journey to Fair Grounds for the mount aboard the Neil Howard trainee.

Wayne Sanders and Larry Hirsch’s Action Ready, a half-length winner over a yielding grass course here last time on Jan. 9, is installed at 9-2 in the early line, is trained by Bret Calhoun and will have Rosie Napravnik in the saddle Saturday.

Russell Welch’s Mobeetie, a Sky Mesa gelding who broke his maiden by 2 1/4-lengths in his first and only career start here on Jan. 1, will be ridden by Jesse Campbell, is trained by Eric Heitzmann and completes the Lecomte field at 20-1 in the morning line.