Gun Runner, Land Over Sea post big wins at Fair Grounds ahead of major engagements

Profile Picture: James Scully

March 27th, 2016

The Louisiana Derby (G2) played out just like the Risen Star (G2) on February 20, with Gun Runner utilizing a lethal turn of foot leaving the far turn to put rivals away. But after holding on by a diminishing half-length margin last time, Gun Runner left no doubt to his superiority on Saturday, drawing away in the final furlong to a convincing 4 1/2-length victory.

It’s on to the Kentucky Derby for the Steve Asmussen-trained son of Candy Ride but I sense a deep divide between how he’s viewed.

Critics will knock how fast he finished, with the colt completing the final eighth of a mile in 12.94 seconds, and Gun Runner’s final time was nearly a second slower than New Orleans H. (G2) upsetter S’maverlous, a former veteran of the claiming ranks making his stakes debut. The same criticism surfaced following the Risen Star, with Gun Runner leaving the Louisiana Derby starting gate as the 9-2 third choice in the wagering, and doubters will continue to play against versus steeper competition at Churchill Downs.

But others have a much rosier outlook, labeling Gun Runner as a rapidly-improving sophomore with more to offer. The chestnut was making only his second outing of the season, and fifth overall start in the Louisiana Derby and it’s easy to appreciate his athleticism, with jockey Florent Geroux using push-button control to extricate himself from tight spots. The Kentucky Derby is often won on the far turn and that’s where Gun Runner shines – a projected 20-horse field should be no obstacle and if he corners as well at Churchill Downs, potentially seizing the lead in upper stretch, Gun Runner will be in a prime position to sustain the lead.

It would be foolish to completely dismiss Gun Runner, who registered an outstanding 104 BRIS Speed rating in the Louisiana Derby. The six-week layoff until the May 7 Kentucky Derby remains a concern, but I’m viewing him a serious contender.

However, I’ll be surprised to see any other Louisiana Derby contestants make a significant impact.

Runner-up Tom’s Ready turned in an improved performance, but the More Than Ready colt must still find form to challenge against deeper competition. Third-placer Dazzling Gem is a promising colt who could make some noise later this season, but he was unraced at 2 and lacks the necessary foundation.

Mo Tom experienced another troubled trip finishing fourth but part of it is how own doing; the dedicated closer doesn't begin to pass horses until the conclusion of the turn, waiting until the stretch to offer his best stride, and that's an issue in big fields as he can leave himself too much to do. Greenpointcrusader, whose only wins have come at one turn, recorded a one-paced seventh stretching out to 1 1/8 miles and appears better suited to middle distances at this stage of his career.

The Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) also featured a smashing winner, Land Over Sea, who relished the class relief after squaring off against Songbird in five straight starts, including a pair of non-threatening seconds in her two previous starts this year.

Land Over Sea will head to the Kentucky Oaks (G1) with momentum off the 4 1/2-length victory, but she’ll once again face her nemesis, Songbird, who appears in a class by herself presently. And this year’s 3-year-old filly crop is deep, with Cathryn Sophia, Rachel’s Valentina and a couple of other well-regarded runners pointing toward the Run for the Lillies.

Land Over Sea remains eligible to pick up the pieces for a minor award next time, but she wasn’t facing the stiffest company at Fair Grounds and must still prove she belongs among the upper echelon of her division.

Gun Runner & Land Over Sea photos courtesy of Lou Hodges Jr./Hodges Photography