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Homeracing

Kentucky Derby Report (2/24): Bullish on Gun Runner

Profile Picture: James Scully

February 24th, 2016

Gun Runner’s athleticism showed in Saturday’s Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds. Making his first start since November, the colt sliced between rivals on the first turn and created space for himself on the far turn after accelerating into a tight position. He utilized a nice turn of foot to grab a clear lead by midstretch and held on late.

At this point in the game, it’s all about moving forward and Gun Runner returned to the races in fine fettle, improving upon a fourth in his stakes debut, the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2). And it’s natural to expect further progress; Gun Runner could be a formidable presence come the first Saturday in May.

Risen Star

Gun Runner was away in good order in the 1 1/16-mile race but found himself in cramped quarters entering the clubhouse turn, one path off the rail and about a half-length behind Forevamo to his inside. Jockey Florent Geroux deftly guided his mount into a more favorable position while rounding the bend, advancing slightly and angling between rivals toward the rail, and Gun Runner entered the backstretch one spot better than Forevamo, saving ground while stalking the pacesetter in fourth.

Candy My Boy sped forward at the break and showed the way through solid opening splits of :22.95 and :46.38. Gun Runner trailed by about five lengths entering the far turn but quickly eliminated the deficit while altering path to avoid a tiring rival, reaching the head of the stretch on even terms.

I thought a lightly-raced Gun Runner moved too soon in the November 28 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs, turning for home in front after seizing an early lead on the far turn, and he tired late against steep competition that evening. The race helped lay a foundation and Gun Runner continued to gain valuable seasoning in the Risen Star.

He still got weary in the latter stages of the Risen Star, with a commanding midstretch advantage dwindling to a half-length by the finish line, but the chestnut son of Candy Ride performed at a higher level while finishing gamely. And I loved the move he offered on the far turn – the push-button ability to corner is something to covet from Kentucky Derby contenders.

Mo Tom serves as a counter-example – the confirmed closer doesn’t corner well, essentially holding his position at the tail of the field through the far turn before unleashing a torrential finishing kick entering the straightaway. And his late move was compromised by a tiring rival in the Risen Star, forcing him to check hard while still far back in upper stretch.

There’s always a chance Mo Tom will leave himself too much to do. In both a Lecomte (G3) victory and Risen Star third, Mo Tom displayed eye-catching stretch rallies, but he’ll need to make up ground on the far turn at Churchill Downs to have any chance of replicating the late-running theatrics of past winners like Orb.

Gun Runner registered a career-best 97 BRIS Speed rating in the Risen Star and his Speed numbers have increased in all four starts. And I don’t believe we’ve seen the best of the Steve Asmussen trainee by any means. His sire, Candy Ride, provides some speed to the top of a stamina-laced female family.

The Kentucky-bred chestnut hails from the Grade 2-winning Giant’s Causeway mare Quiet Giant, who made all 12 of her career starts at two turns. She’s a half-sister to 2005 Horse of the Year and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner Saint Liam. Gun Runner wasn’t bred to be a precocious 2-year-old; added maturity should only benefit him.

Gun Runner will try to keep moving forward in his final prep, the $1 million TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds on March 26.

Forevamo finished up nicely for second, a length better than the troubled Mo Tom in a career-best effort. The Al Stall-trained Uncle Mo colt was exiting a runner-up to the front-running Candy My Boy in a January 18 allowance at Fair Grounds. Forevamo captured the October 24 Jean Lafitte at Delta Downs in his stakes bow, but the late runner was never a factor when sixth in the Delta Jackpot (G3).

Let’s see whether Forevamo can back up an encouraging performance next time.

Lecomte runner-up Tom’s Ready never fired in a dull seventh-place effort and Lecomte third-placer Uncle Walter, the 8-1 fourth choice, wound up retreating to last among 11 runners. Subsequent Sam F. Davis (G3) winner Destin finished behind both horses in the Lecomte.

However, Airoforce proved to be the biggest disappointment, failing to handle his first start on a fast track as the 8-5 favorite. Winner of the grassy Bourbon (G3) and a rallying neck second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), Airoforce relished a sloppy track in the Kentucky Jockey Club, easily defeating runner-up Mor Spirit as well as Mo Tom and Gun Runner, but connections mentioned a return to turf following his 10th in the Risen Star.

However, the possibility remains for the wet track he relishes on Kentucky Derby Day and the American Turf (G2) on the Kentucky Oaks undercard is available under dry conditions. As a turf horse, Airoforce figures to relish Polytrack in the April 2 Spiral (G2) at Turfway, which offers 50 points to the winner as well as a nice payday, so connections could tentatively keep him on the Derby trail while using a turf race the same weekend as the more probable objective.

Upcoming

Mohaymen made short work of a six-horse field when opening 2016 in a paceless Holy Bull (G2) and only five were entered against him in Saturday’s $400,000 Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park. And two of them – Awesome Banner and Fellowship – have the same connections, with owner Fred Brei (Jacks or Better Farm) mentioning the possibility of redirecting Awesome Banner to the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) on March 12.

Small fields are the norm so far in Kentucky Derby preps at Aqueduct, Gulfstream, Santa Anita and Tampa – only Fair Grounds and Oaklawn Park have been able to offer decent field sizes this year.

Top 10

1)      Mohaymen – He’s displayed an excellent finishing kick winning all four career starts; Tapit colt faces another small collection of rivals Fountain of Youth

2)      Mor Spirit – Confirmed his status when opening 2016 with a comfortable victory in Robert Lewis (G3) but refused to train as planned recently; March 12 San Felipe (G2) remains a target

3)      Brody’s Cause – Grade 1-winning juvenile is bred to show more at longer distances; looking forward to his return in March 12 Tampa Bay Derby

4)      Gun Runner – Returned firing in Risen Star & easy to envision well-bred colt as a serious contender this spring

5)      Exaggerator – San Vicente (G2) runner-up provided a good tightener & he’ll receive a pair of two-turn preps, with the San Felipe up next

6)      Greenpointcrusader – Juvenile Grade 1 winner showed more speed than expected finishing second in Holy Bull; April 9 Wood Memorial (G1) is a logical final prep

7)      Destin – Todd Pletcher trainee posted a nice score in Sam F. Davis, registering a 100 BRIS Speed rating, the only triple-digit number from a two-turn prep race this year

8)      Danzing Candy – Impressive maiden and allowance winner will try stakes rivals in San Felipe

9)      Nyquist – Unbeaten 2-year-old champ returned with an outstanding performance at 7f but doubting his chances at 1 ¼ miles off only a single two-turn prep this year

10)   Zulu – Opened racing career with a pair of sharp wins on off tracks at Gulfstream; the Fountain of Youth represents a litmus test for Bernardini colt

Archive

Here are my previous Kentucky Derby Reports:

February 17: Nyquist returns a stylish winner

February 10: Baffert remains in the spotlight with Mor Spirit

February 3: Mohaymen justifies star billing

January 20: Stakes-experience proves valuable

January 13: Sham winner doesn’t run fast but plenty of time remains

January 7: January brings a sense of anticipation

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