The first of the invaders, Gun Runner, has arrived at Monmouth Park for Sunday’s Haskell Invitational.
Gun Runner comes into the Haskell after an impressively sharp win in the Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs. Before that race, Gun Runner finished third in the Kentucky Derby to the 2015 champion juvenile, Nyquist.
Nyquist will also be making the trip to the Jersey Shore to contest the Haskell. This will mark the second time the two colts have met. In the Kentucky Derby, their first and only meeting, both pressed a blazing pace behind Danzing Candy. Gun Runner dueled briefly with Nyquist as they entered the stretch, but could not sustain his rival’s pace.
This time around, Nyquist and Gun Runner will be contesting a shorter distance of one and one eighth miles — compared to the Kentucky Derby’s one and one quarter miles — and the pace will likely be much more sensible.
Gun Runner completed his final preparations for the Haskell with a half mile work, at Saratoga Race Course, in: 49.60 seconds.
Gun Runner has appeared to make the trip in good order, according to Scott Blasi, assistant trainer to Steve Asmussen.
“He looked like he shipped really well,” said Blasi. “His energy is good. The plan is to tack walk him tomorrow (Wednesday) to get him use to his surroundings.
“He will gallop over the track Thursday, Friday and Saturday and probably school in the paddock Friday.”
Should Gun Runner win this coming Sunday, it would mark the first grade one win of his career. A win would also, likely, put Gun Runner in the driver’s seat for divisional honors. However, he will need to overcome a champion, along with the Bob Baffert-trained American Freedom, and the two local defenders, Awesome Slew and Sunny Ridge.
The task is certainly a difficult one. Will Gun Runner be ready?