Gun Runner, Donegal Moon potential players in second half of season

Profile Picture: James Scully

June 21st, 2016

The Triple Crown concluded a week earlier but a couple a notable performances kept the 3-year-old division in the spotlight, with Gun Runner easily capturing Saturday’s Matt Win (G3) at Churchill Downs and Donegal Moon posting a sharp score in the Pegasus (G3) at Monmouth Park a day later.

Both winners registered commendable BRIS Speed ratings, with Gun Runner receiving a 100 and Donegal Moon a 101.

The divisional hierarchy is well-established entering the second half of the season. Nyquist is the unquestioned front-runner, posting important wins in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Florida Derby (G1). Exaggerator, who handed Nyquist his first career setback in the Preakness (G1) and also captured the Santa Anita Derby (G1), ranks as a clear second.

But ample opportunities remain for rivals to change the landscape.

Gun Runner crushed overmatched foes in the 1 1/16-mile Matt Winn, rolling to a 5 ¼-decision in wire-to-wire fashion. Winner of the Louisiana Derby (G2) and Risen Star (G2) earlier this season, the Candy Ride colt was making his first start since a respectable third in the Kentucky Derby.

Gun Runner notched the first triple-digit BRIS Late Pace rating of his career (104) and the Matt Winn could serve as a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

Along with Belmont Stakes-winning stablemate Creator, Gun Runner is a prime candidate to take advantage if Nyquist and Exaggerator stumble in upcoming engagements. Trainer Steve Asmussen is pointing Gun Runner to a scheduled match-up against Nyquist in the $1 million Haskell Invitational (G1) on July 31 at Monmouth.

Donegal Moon has more ground to make up than Gun Runner, but the Pegasus served as an encouraging step in that direction. Connections have always been high on the Malibu Moon colt, putting him up against stakes foes in three straight starts following a convincing maiden win at Keeneland last October.

The Todd Pletcher trainee didn’t fire in those starts, and wasn’t much of a factor in the Blue Grass (G1) or Sir Barton after recording a 13 ½-length allowance win in early March, but Donegal Moon may have turned the corner on Sunday, rallying boldly to win going away by 1 ¼ lengths.

He likes Monmouth and Donegal Moon will attempt to keep moving forward while stepping up in class in the Haskell.

There’s still plenty to look forward to in the 3-year-old division.

Photo courtesy of Coady Photography/Churchill Downs