The Lecomte Stakes is a Kentucky Derby prep race run at Fairgrounds Race Course in mid-January. The race has had a few notable winners including Oxbow, Ron The Greek, and Hard Spun to name a few. But who is the race named after?
Regarded as one of the fastest racehorses in the world in the 1850s, Lecomte was a chestnut colt sired by Boston and owned by a trainer named Jefferson Wells.
The Spirit of the Times on November 9, 1856 had an excellent description of the colt.
“Lecomte is a rich chestnut, with white on one hind leg, which reaches a little above the pastern joint. He stands fifteen hands three inches in height. Is in a fine racing form, and well spread throughout his frame, with such an abundance of bone, tendon, and muscle, that he would be a useful horse for any purpose. His temper is excellent; he is easily placed in a race, and yet responds to the extent of his ability.
He never tears himself and his jockey to pieces attempting to run away. His action is low, smooth, and easy. His stride is about twenty-three feet, and he gets away from the score like a quarter-horse. He has a constitution of iron, the appetite of a lion, would eat sixteen quarts of feed if it was given to him, and can stand as much work as a team of mules.
In a word, he has all the good points and qualities of both sire and dam, without their defects; consequently, he is about as fine a specimen of a thoroughbred as can be found in this or any other country.”
Lecomte’s rise to the top was swift after winning races at Fairgrounds and Metairie Race Course, both in New Orleans, as well making winning appearances in Mississippi.
At the same time there was an undefeated colt getting attention up in Kentucky. Originally raced under the name “Darley,” he was purchased by Captain Willa Viley and Richard Ten Broeck and the two renamed him Lexington then moved him to the deep south to race and train.
Lecomte and Lexington met a couple of times on the track and are remembered as one of the best rivalries in American racing, but the details of the meetings are pretty inconsistent depending on which source you use.
Story goes that Lexington won a hard fought victory over Lecomte in a series four mile heats in January 1854 in the Great State Post Stakes at the Fairgrounds. Also in the race was Highlander, one of the best from Alabama, as well as Arrow, another Louisiana runner. The local fans of Lecomte demanded a rematch, and Lexington’s team agreed.
On April 9, 1854 a $2,000 a series of heats were set up for the two. Another horse named Reube was entered to fill the stakes requirements, but it was marketed as a match race which they ended up being. Lecomte pulled away to win the first heat by six lengths, finishing four miles in a world record 7 minutes and 26 seconds.
Lexington’s owner Ten Broeck was so bothered by the loss that just the mention of 7:26 would drive him nuts. There were a few attempts to get the two back on the track but nothing materializing. He set up an exhibition for Lexington to race the clock to break the record, which he did, coming home in 7:19 1/2. After a lot of pressure from the public once again, Lecomte’s team agreed to another race.
On April 14, 1855 the two met one last time at Metairie. For a brief moment it was a head to head match, but once Lexington shook off Lecomte it was all over, Lexington pummeled him and won going away. This was Lexington’s final race.
Lecomte continued to race well into 1856 with some success. But for reasons not totally clear, Wells decided to clear off his stock later that year. He sold Lecomte for $10,000 to Ten Broeck who then sent him to Kentucky to join Lexington for a short rest and a brief stint as a stud before sending him to England. He only raced there once finishing last in the Warwick Cup. Shortly after the race, Lecomte suddenly died of colic.
As a stallion he only bred a few mares but his son Umpire, out of the dam of Lexington, was also sent to England by Ten Broeck and won the Goodwood Nursery.
Richard Ten Broeck continued on in racing, his obituary in the San Francisco Call referred to him as a “landmark of the turf.” He was one of the first Americans to regularly send horses to race in England, and even spent 30 years there.. In 1889 he came back to the states and settled down in San Mateo, California. He died at the age of 81 on August 1, 1892 and the San Francisco Call wrote of him, “Here was the noblest Roman of them all, he lives in crowds and clubs and died at last in his old age forsaken and alone, but with no taint of dishonor to his name.”
Hall of Fame racehorse Ten Broeck was named in honor of Richard, and was a part of the 1877 “Great Match Race” which is immortalized outside of Pimlico Race Course. It was a three horse race between Ten Broeck, Tom Ochiltree and Parole. The US Congress shut down for the day for the Congressmen to attend the race. Parole would go on to win with Ten Broeck finishing second.
Ten Broeck also had a very publicized four mile match race against undefeated California super start Mollie McCarty. The race was huge in 1878, and even inspired a folk song called “Molly and Tenbrooks.”
It is 2016 now and besides the Fairgrounds race, Lecomte’s name is nearly forgotten 160 years later. But in the 1850s, there was no denying he was one of the best horses in the country. With the help of both Lexington and Richard Ten Broeck he will always have a huge spot in Antebellum racing lore.