Bobby Zen

Track Phantom was one of the last yearlings that the L and N Racing crew looked at ahead of the 2022 Keeneland September Sale. The Quality Road colt from the Taylor Made consignment stayed at the forefront of their minds and they took home the yearling, who was the second foal out of 2017 GII Raven Run S. winner Miss Sunset (Into Mischief), for $500,000.

“We just fell in love with him,” recalled Michael Levinson, the racing manager and one of the four partners that make up L &N Racing. “He was probably an inch or two on the shorter side, but we thought if he grows up a little bit, he had the scope and he looked fast. Obviously all those things kind of worked out, but you didn’t know at the time that the Quality Road out of an Into Mischief mare who had won as a sprinter was going to be able to go two turns and do it pretty easily.”

Not only has he done it easily, but he’s done it impressively enough to be the 3-1 morning-line favorite going into this weekend’s GII Louisiana Derby. Trained by Steve Asmussen, two-time stakes winner Track Phantom is coming in off a narrow runner-up performance to Sierra Leone (Gun Runner) in the GII Risen Star. The speed-centric sophomore has drawn the widest post in Saturday’s contest as 12 colts vie for points on the road to the GI Kentucky Derby.

The L and N Racing partnership–which is comprised of Levinson, his father Lee, his brother Andy and their family friend Don Nelson–has made the trip for Track Phantom’s last two races at Fair Grounds and the Tulsa-based group will be on hand once again for Saturday’s contest.

“Everybody is really excited,” Levinson said. “We think we have a legit Derby contender. Obviously that could change Saturday, but we’re confident he’s going to run. Steve just sent me a video of him [Thursday] morning and he looks fantastic.”

Track Phantom battles Sierra Leone in the GII Risen Star | Hodges Photography

Levinson said that what has impressed him most about the flashy bay’s career thus far is how he seems to improve in each of his starts.

Track Phantom was third in his debut last October at Churchill Downs and then a close second to fellow Louisiana Derby entrant Real Men Violin (Mendelssohn) a few weeks later. He took control early and won going away in his first try going two turns on Nov 25. From there it was on to the Fair Grounds, where he reeled off front-running wins in the Gun Runner S. and GIII Lecomte S.

His biggest competition came over a sloppy track in the GII Risen Star, where he again took the lead early but was nailed in the final strides by Sierra Leone, the $2.3 million Chad Brown trainee owned by the partnership of Coolmore, Brook Smith and Peter Brant.

Levinson didn’t mind running second. He knew the track conditions were working against his colt.

“I was at the races all day and was noticing just how sticky the track had gotten,” he recalled. “From even two races before ours until the time of our race, the sun had gone down, it was cold, and I think the track was just really heavy. Everybody is saying the pace was slow, but I just think that track had gotten really, really slow there at the end. I think in the last six races, they all came from the back. But Track Phantom got out in front and he almost held on to win and got run down by the Derby favorite. That’s nothing to be upset about. You want to win, but I thought his run was brilliant.”

Levinson added that he believes Track Phantom’s front-running style sets him apart from many of the top colts pointing for the first Saturday in May.

“I think he’s a special horse this year with the fact that if you look at a lot of the contenders, they all want to run from off the pace,” he explained. “He’s really one of the only speed horses. Steve has always really liked this colt and he just seems to get better each race. The plan is to win the Louisiana Derby and then take a shot at the Kentucky Derby.”

L and N Racing has been to the Derby once before. In an instance of what some would call beginner’s luck, Lookin at Lee (Lookin at Lucky) was the first horse their operation bought at public auction and he not only got to the Kentucky Derby in 2017, but overcame the dreaded one hole and put in a strong runner-up performance to Always Dreaming.

Seven years later, the partners in L and N Racing are far from amateur owners and they’ve had their share of bad luck as they now hope to get to their second Kentucky Derby. They understand not only how difficult it can be to find that Grade I-level horse, but also how quickly those dreams can come crashing down.

It was only a month ago that they lost their stable star Echo Zulu (Gun Runner). Campaigned in partnership with Winchell Thoroughbreds, the 2021 champion 2-year-old filly and four-time Grade I winner was training up for the Breeders’ Cup last fall at Santa Anita when she suffered two broken left front sesamoids. Three months later, the talented 5-year-old sustained an injury in her stall and was euthanized.

Levinson leads future champion Echo Zulu into the winner’s circle after her 2021 GI Spinaway S. victory | Sarah Andrew

“She is everything to us,” Levinson reflected. “I mean, she was a brilliant filly. I have a wall in my office of all of her graded stakes wins and those will be left up for as long as I’m alive. She deserved a better ending. It’s just so tough and it’s hard to put into words.”

Echo Zulu has left a lasting impact on every aspect of L and N Racing’s operation, even when it comes to their buying strategies at the sale.

“We’re up to about 50-50 between colts and fillies now,” Levinson reported. “God rest her soul, Echo Zulu made us more comfortable with the fillies and honestly she’s probably the reason that we have Track Phantom right now. She was one of those horses that gives you the confidence to go out and make a financial risk on a horse like Track Phantom and some of the other ones we’ve bought.”

A growing number of partnerships is another aspect of L and N’s strategy that has changed in recent years so that they can increase their budget at the sales.

“We’d rather buy quality over quantity at this point, so we’re trying to limit what we’re buying,” Levinson explained. “We really like to focus on pedigrees at the sale, buying graded stakes-type horses and if we happen to ever get lucky with one of them, hopefully they can make a stallion.”

At last year’s Keeneland September Sale, L and N Racing came home with four yearlings, including a $500,000 Into Mischief half-brother to MSW Mr. Buff (Friend Or Foe). The Authentic filly who was the least expensive purchase among the quartet–bought for $300,000–recently received a big pedigree update when her brother Newgate (Into Mischief) won the GI Santa Anita H.

Hot Springs native and successful Oaklawn-based owner Jerry Caroom is a partner on that Authentic filly and is also in on Track Phantom. Track Phantom’s ownership group also includes Clark Brewster, another Levinson family friend from Tulsa, and the colt’s breeder, Breeze Easy LLC.

“The ownership group is a lot of fun,” said Levinson. “We’re very close to all these people and we’d just love to see everybody at the Derby for the first Saturday in May and get to take a shot and see if we could win it.”

Levinson knows a lot can happen in the next six weeks, so for now he plans on enjoying every moment of the weekend and soaking in the highs of the sport as they come.

“We love the animals and we love everything about this sport, but it’s a game where if you’re not prepared for disappointment, you shouldn’t be in it,” he said. “If you win one out of every ten times, you’re doing okay. It’s that 10 or 15% of the time when you do win that keeps you coming back.”

The post “We’re confident he’s going to run,” L & N Racing’s Track Phantom Headlines Louisiana Derby appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions.

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