When it comes to shopping for young Thoroughbred prospects, trainer Keith Desormeaux and his team have a saying – “don’t buy pedigree, make pedigree”. Like so many of his recent stars, Night Ops’ bloodlines might not jump off the page, but the connections believe he has what it takes to be competitive in Saturday’s Grade III $200,000 Lecomte Stakes at the Fair Grounds.
Owned by Desormeaux, Big Chief Racing, Rocker O Ranch and Madaket Stables, the son of Warrior’s Reward was a bargain acquisition from the Fasig-Tipton October Sale in 2017 and was bought for only $5,000. Over the past few years, Desormeaux has developed a reputation for annexing reasonably priced stock and developing them into competitive runners that can win at a high level. Horses like Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Texas Red (a $17,000 purchase) and two-time graded stakes winner My Boy Jack (a $20,000 purchase) come to mind.
“I don’t want to be influenced by a horse’s page,” Desormeaux said. “It’s the horse first, and if it looks like pedigree that we can afford, then I’m all in. I’ve applied myself over the years in trying to figure out the ingredients and the necessary qualifications for a horse to reach a high level while at the same time, not have to spend so much money. I’m not the first one to do all this. Families on the bottom side that might be stagnant but we focus on the athlete, not on the page. We don’t buy pedigree, we make pedigree. I don’t mean to sound overconfident or cocky, but it’s just what we try to do.”
As far as Night Ops is concerned, he is still in search of his first career victory, but running maidens in big races like this is not foreign territory for Desormeaux. In 2017, he sent then maiden Sonneteer to the Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park where he finished second at odds of 112-1.
“Sonneteer got us to the Derby and now he’s at a half-million in earnings so it wasn’t like we did something crazy,” Desormeaux said. “We’re all engrossed with Derby fever, it’s what my owners and I play this game for. This is a time of the year to find out what you have. He’s shown some talent. Sometimes you got push them a little bit and that’s what we’re doing here. We’re going to see what he’s got.”
In five career starts, Night Ops has been up against some nice horses including fellow Lecomte competitors Plus Que Parfait and Admire. He was a recent second to the latter over a sloppy main track at Churchill Downs in November.
“Obviously you can see that he has talent on form, but if you handicap his opponents he’s been up against some nice ones,” Desormeaux said. “We ran a very strong closing second to Admire so that makes us legit. On the physical aspect, he should get stronger and better as the distances increase. He seems confident in his abilities and very sound so we’re taking a chance with him.”
Desormeaux gave a brief update on graded stakes winner My Boy Jack, who ran third in last year’s Grade II Louisiana Derby Presented by Twinspires.com and last raced in the Grade I Belmont Derby Invitational in July.
“He had some small bone chips removed from his ankle,” Desormeaux said. “He had plenty of time to recoup. We’re pretty excited about him this year.”
Night Ops will be guided by jockey Edgar Morales, who piloted the colt in his most recent effort. He is the second foal out of the Kitalpha broodmare Bear All. Night Ops was bred in Kentucky by Aschinger Bloodstock Holdings and was consigned by War Horse Place when being purchased.