American Icon, McLaren Vale hot prospects for Gun Runner
Crowning his record-setting season as a freshman sire, Gun Runner closed out 2021 strong with seven new winners between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. We’ll focus on the four most promising prospects who could join the 2022 Kentucky Derby (G1) trail.
The 6-5 favorite in his Dec. 26 debut at Gulfstream Park, American Icon ran right up to expectations in an 8 1/2-length tour de force. The Todd Pletcher trainee sped to the early lead from the outside post 8, rattled off fractions of :22.75 and :45.75, and simply drew off.
American Icon was three lengths clear passing the six-furlong mark in 1:10.51, and he extended his margin while finishing seven furlongs in 1:23.26. Especially appealing was how he attacked the homestretch, reaching out with intent as soon as Luis Saez set him down.
Campaigned by WinStar Farm and Siena Farm, American Icon was purchased for $400,000 as a Fasig-Tipton yearling. His dam, the stakes-placed Sky America, is a full sister to Grade 1-placed stakes winner Third Dawn. American Icon sports a fascinating pedigree pattern of inbreeding to both Storm Cat and Quiet American (himself intensely inbred to the immortal Dr. Fager).
From the immediate family of 2018 Triple Crown champion Justify, McLaren Vale showed a terrific attitude in his Dec. 31 debut for Bob Baffert. The even-money favorite was the slowest of the four-horse field to leave the Santa Anita gate, but had the natural speed to get to the front in an opening quarter in :22.25.
In a psychologically challenging spot between rivals, McLaren Vale beat off his rail foe before the half in :45.38. Then he withstood prolonged pressure on his outside flank from B Dawk, who appeared to head him into the stretch. That’s exactly when McLaren Vale was a little green cornering for home, but he quickly got organized for John Velazquez, and found another gear to edge away by a length.
Hence his final time for 6 1/2 furlongs (1:17.81) doesn’t tell the whole story. As a May 14 foal with plenty of scope, McLaren Vale did well to win sprinting first time out, in a testing set-up. The $625,000 Keeneland September yearling is entitled to move forward for his ownership consortium of Golconda, Madaket, SF Racing et al.
McLaren Vale is out of Magical Weekend, a half-sister to Justify’s dam, Broodmare of the Year Stage Magic. Magical Weekend, by Any Given Saturday and out of a Pulpit mare, is closely inbred to A.P. Indy. This is also the family of last year’s Santa Anita Oaks (G2) heroine, Soothsay.
Later on the same Dec. 31 card at Santa Anita, fellow Baffert pupil Flying Drummer finally broke his maiden in his fourth try. The 4-5 favorite was anchored last of the compact field early by Velazquez, advanced into second behind a tearaway longshot on the backstretch, and blew past to win in hand by 5 1/2 lengths. The race fell apart in his wake, with a gap of 12 lengths to third, as Flying Drummer negotiated the mile in 1:38.74.
An $850,000 OBS April juvenile, the Michael Lund Petersen colorbearer just missed by a head in his six-furlong unveiling Aug. 7 at Del Mar. Flying Drummer stretched out to a mile Aug. 27 and proved no match for the improving Oviatt Class. Pitched into the Oct. 1 American Pharoah (G1), Flying Drummer faded to a distant fifth behind presumptive champion stablemate Corniche, the next-out Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner. Freshening, and lowering his sights back to maiden company, worked well here.
Flying Drummer was produced by the Grade 2-placed stakes victress Salamera, a Successful Appeal mare from the family of Grade 1-placed stakes veterans Piedi Bianchi and Outadore.
The Dec. 26 victory by Cyberknife at Fair Grounds was officially his first, although the Brad Cox colt was unlucky not to be a winner already. As discussed in a previous installment of our Gun Runner series, Cyberknife was disqualified for interference in his Sept. 25 premiere at Churchill Downs. Back beneath the Twin Spires on Nov. 5, he came up a half-length shy as the 2-5 favorite.
Cyberknife justified 1-2 favoritism in this third start, but his first attempt over a route of ground. Taking a strong hold for Florent Geroux when stalking moderate splits of :24.18 and :48.13, the Gold Square runner struck the front by the six-furlong mark in 1:12.94. Cyberknife spurted to a daylight lead in the stretch, only to have the rival he’d easily passed – Jeeper – re-emerge late. Whether it was a case of losing concentration and idling, or tiring, Cyberknife held on by a diminishing half-length. His time for 1 1/16 miles (1:44.90) was a bit slower than Epicenter’s convincing performance two races earlier, in the Gun Runner S. (1:44.19).
Bred by Ken and Sarah Ramsey and sold for $400,000 as a yearling at Fasig-Tipton, Cyberknife is out of six-time stakes winner and multiple Grade 3-placed Awesome Flower. The daughter of Flower Alley was a triple-surface threat, with wins on dirt, turf, and all-weather, suggesting that Cyberknife could have a wealth of options. This is the further family of 2009 Dubai World Cup (G1) conqueror Well Armed.
Trigger Happy best of rest
Gun Runner’s other three winners in the final week of 2021 were Trigger Happy, who aired by 9 1/4 lengths Dec. 27 at Hawthorne; Booze Runner, successful Dec. 27 at Turf Paradise; and Runninsonofagun on Dec. 31 at Aqueduct, where he was claimed for $40,000 by John T. Toscano Jr.
Trigger Happy, trained by Larry Rivelli for Patricia’s Hope, wheeled back Jan. 7 at Tampa Bay Downs. That was the same allowance expected to feature highly-regarded Emmanuel, who scratched. Mark Casse’s Golden Glider won in his absence, with Trigger Happy a couple of lengths back in third.