Z Royal can enhance Kentucky Derby cred for Lukas/Zayat

Profile Picture: James Scully

January 16th, 2016

Seven of the 12 contestants in Saturday’s $200,000 TwinSpires Lecomte (G3) will be making their stakes debut in the one-mile and 70-yard test, the first of three graded stakes on the Road to the Kentucky Derby at Fair Grounds.

Z Royal is among the majority and the chestnut should find the long Fair Grounds’ stretch to his liking. By Eskendreya and out of a mare by Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos, the Zayat Stables homebred displayed a fine late kick breaking his maiden in a one-turn mile race at Churchill Downs and is bred to appreciate more ground; I’m looking forward to his two-turn and 3-year-old bow.

D. Wayne Lukas had a nice pair a few years back in Oxbow and Will Take Charge, but the Hall of Fame conditioner hasn’t been a serious factor in the Kentucky Derby since Proud Citizen finished second in 2005. With four Kentucky Derby wins, Lukas is tied with Bob Baffert and Henry Thompson for second all-time and the 80-year-old legend hopes to get back into the spotlight this spring with Z Royal and Gray Sky, who runs in Monday’s Smarty Jones at Oaklawn.

Z Royal dropped his first start sprinting, finishing fourth at Keeneland in late October, and waited until the stretch drive to offer his best when graduating three weeks later. Lukas adds blinkers to keep him more focused in the early stages and the added maturity at age 3 should benefit the colt as well. Victor Espinoza will be in for the mount but still expecting solid value given the 15-1 morning line price. And I like the draw in post 4.

Uncle Walter drew well in post 3 and also appears to have plenty of upside. From the first crop of Uncle Mo, the bay colt snapped an extended losing streak for Mike Maker when capturing his first start at a tricky 7-furlong distance at Keeneland, scoring gamely by a neck in a fast time (96 BRIS Speed rating), and Uncle Walter came back with a good effort last time at Churchill Downs, finishing a head second to the well-regarded Tapit colt Synchrony in a 7 ½-furlong allowance.

Owner Ken Ramsey is seeking his third straight Lecomte, and has captured five of the last six graded stakes for 3-year-olds at the New Orleans track, and Uncle Walter looks ready to offer a strong showing from just off the pace.

Todd Pletcher has enjoyed plenty of success raiding 3-year-old stakes races at Fair Grounds and ships in a serious contender in Destin, a full brother to Grade 1 winner and classic-placed Creative Cause. The gray colt graduated in good fashion when making his debut at Belmont Park in October but will be attempting to rebound from a runner-up effort as the 1-5 favorite in a recent Gulfstream allowance. Destin adds blinkers and brings Julien Leparoux with him from South Florida, but he’ll have to overcome a tough outside post.

Lecomte Top 3:

1) Z Royal
2) Uncle Walter
3) Destin

Late Pick 4

The Late Pick 4 (races 9-12) starts with the Silverbulletday and I’m willing to take a stand with Stageplay. Trained by Steve Asmussen, who is well-known for handling Rachel Alexandra and Untapable in recent years, Stageplay stylishly captured her first two outings before finishing second to the very promising Carina Mia in the November 28 Golden Rod (G2). She won’t face any rivals of that caliber today and will be singled in the Pick 4.

I’ll use three horses in the Colonel Bradley (Chocolate Ride, Ibaka & String King), three horses in the Lecomte (Destin, Uncle Walter & Z Royal) and all in the last leg.

.50 Pick 4 Ticket (race 9): 8 with 2,4,12 with 3,4,13 with all ($54)

Go luck!

The Bayou route to the Kentucky Derby gets underway in earnest Saturday at Fair Grounds and is offering 3 Million Points for Players who cash a winning ticket on any of the three Pick 4 pools. For complete details: