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Turf Melody, Maximus Ruler, Cool Bullet Head Lecomte as "Road to the Derby" Begins

Fair Grounds’ “Road to the Derby” series gets underway this weekend in New Orleans when Sugar Bowl Stakes winner Cool Bullet and local buzz horse Maximus Ruler get their stiffest tests to date – facing two stakes winners based on the East Coast as well as seven others in the Saturday’s Grade III Lecomte Stakes.

As the first local Grade II Louisiana Derby prep, the $100,000 Lecomte is the centerpiece event among six stakes races Saturday. However, also highlighted is the Grade III Col. E. R. Bradley for older horses on the Stall-Wilson turf course, the $75,000 Louisiana Handicap for older horses on the main track, and the $75,000 Tiffany Lass Stakes for 3-year-old fillies as the initial leg of the series that leads to the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks. Two $75,000 sprint stakes, the Gaudin Memorial on the main track and the Dr. Leggio Memorial on the grass, complete the stakes portion of the 13-race program.

Nevertheless, it is the 3-year-olds that are the stars of the show leading up to the $750,000 Louisiana Derby March 27 and the Kentucky Derby five weeks later. The Lecomte precedes Fair Grounds’ Grade II Risen Star Stakes Feb. 20, which in turn previews the richest running of the Louisiana Derby ever scheduled.

Priscilla Graham’s Turf Melody, trained by Graham Motion, shipped from his Maryland headquarters to capture Remington’s $200,000 Springboard Mile in his last start Dec. 13 and has been installed as the tepid 7-2 morning line choice in the Lecomte. The son of Maria’s Mon also boasts third-place finishes in Woodbine’s $150,000 Swynford and Arlington’s $50,000 Spectacular Bid Stakes last year. Jose Valdivia Jr. is named to ride Turf Melody, who breezed five furlongs in 1:02 at Maryland’s Fair Hill training center Jan. 15.

Don Benge’s Maximus Ruler, who broke his maiden against winners in his last start Nov. 28 at Churchill Downs, breezed five furlongs in 1:00.60 at Fair Grounds in December and has been the buzz of the backstretch ever since. The Roman Ruler colt is the 4-1 second choice in the morning line for trainer Clark Hanna with Francisco Torres slated for the saddle.

Winmore LLC’s Cool Bullet, undefeated in two starts for trainer Steve Margolis at Fair Grounds this season, won the $60,000 Sugar Bowl Stakes in his last start Dec. 19 and is the co-third choice at 5-1 in the Lecomte morning line with Brian Hernandez Jr. in the irons.

Also pegged at 5-1 in the Lecomte is Jay Em Ess Stable’s Worldly, second by a length behind Risen Star candidate Stay Put in his local bow Jan. 3. Worldly, trained by Paul McGee and a son 1992 Belmont Stakes winner A. P. Indy, was third in Churchill’s Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes Nov. 28 and will be ridden by Robby Albarado.

Citrus Kid, winner of Delaware’s $75,000 Dover Stakes and third in Aqueduct’s Grade II Remsen in his last start Nov. 28, is owned by Golden Goose Enterprises et al., trained by John Terranova II and will be ridden by Miguel Mena Saturday after working one more time at South Florida’s Palm Meadows Tuesday before shipping to New Orleans. The Lemon Drop Kid colt is 8-1 on the morning line.

Completing the Lecomte field is Third Street Partners Depaul, Shane Sellers, 20-1; Gary and Mary West Stables’ Callide Valley, Corey Lanerie, 10-1; Richard Hessee’s B’wanagoldmine, Eddie Martin Jr., 15-1; Bob Zollars and Mark Wagner’s Letsgetitonmon, Shaun Bridgmohan, 10-1; Stacey Moak’s Rock Hard, Jamie Theriot, 30-1; and Jack Hammer’s Ron the Greek, James Graham, 8-1.