By Emily Shields, condensed version:
Affable Joe LaCombe has been around some of the best in racing, including his family’s own 1997 Horse of the Year Favorite Trick. Now the San Diego resident is enjoying a newer venture — standing stallions in California — while still managing the racing and breeding strings of Joseph LaCombe Stables.
The stable is named for Joseph LaCombe Sr., who resides in Florida at age 83 and is still in regular communication with his son.
“He still tries to do too much,” the younger LaCombe lamented, “but we talk almost every day and review the horses.”
The elder LaCombe entered the sport by way of a partner at his auditing company, and went to purchase a juvenile son of Phone Trick for $100,000 at the 1997 Ocala Breeders’Sales Company February sale. Turned over to trainer Patrick Byrne, Favorite Trick reeled off eight consecutive victories that season, including the $200,000 Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga and the $427,600 Lane’s End Breeders’ Futurity (gr. II) at Keeneland.
Favorite Trick’s tour de force climaxed in a runaway victory in the $916,000 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) at Hollywood Park. Favorite Trick’s 51⁄2-length romp sealed his dual Eclipse Awards as champion 2-year-old male and Horse of the Year, the first juvenile with that honor since Secretariat in 1972.
Recalling the hype around Favorite Trick brings back fond memories for the younger LaCombe, who reveled in the win streak at the time.
“When you’re in this business, you’re doing jumping jacks just to win two in a row,” he said. “Favorite Trick ended up winning nine in a row, including eight stakes. That kind of stuff rarely happens, especially at such a high level. That’s what sparked my interest level.”
Turned over to trainer Bill Mott, Favorite Trick went on to win his sophomore debut in the $100,000 Swale Stakes (gr. III) and finished third, beaten two heads, in the $500,000 Arkansas Derby (gr. II). After running eighth in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), Favorite Trick won a pair of grade II events, including the $272,250 Keeneland Breeders’ Cup Mile Stakes (gr. IIT) on the grass. He retired with 12 wins from 16 starts and earnings of $1,726,793.
Favorite Trick wasn’t the only LaCombe standout in 1997. The family’s Polished Brass added the $109,200 Sanford Stakes (gr. III) at Saratoga that summer, giving them a clean sweep of the track’s juvenile races open to both sexes. The LaCombes later had homebred Deputy Glitters win the Ohio Derby (gr. II) and Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III) in 2006, but it was Trick’s Pic who brought the operation to California.
Ten multiple stakes-placed, the homebred daughter of Favorite Trick was racing well on the East Coast, but it was felt that the firmer turf in California would suit her better. When trained by Doug O’Neill, Trick’s Pic won the $110,300 Tuzla Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Santa Anita, paving the way for more California-based LaCombe horses.
Another homebred, the Lion Heart son Azul Leon, won a pair of stakes in 2008: the $150,000 Best Pal Stakes (gr. II) and the $106,000 Hollywood Juvenile Championship (gr. III).