Before Saturday’s $1 million Louisiana Derby (GII) Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Gun Runner had done everything a good horse on the Triple Crown trail could do to earn respect. He’d won three of his four career starts, including the Risen Star Stakes (GII) in his last out, and carried some top connections in trainer Steve Asmussen and hot jockey Florent Geroux. Yet for some reason, the colt was not considered a legitimate threat for the first Saturday in May.
So, when he left the gate for the Louisiana Derby, the well-bred son of Candy Ride wasn’t even the public’s favorite. In fact, he wasn’t even second choice. In the 10-runner field, Gun Runner was installed the public’s third choice at nearly 4-1.
It’s a good thing horses can’t read the tote board… or know when they don’t get a sufficient amount of respect.
In his most difficult task to date, Gun Runner broke alertly from his innermost post position under Geroux and comfortably stalked the early pace set by Candy My Boy while saving ground along the rail, swung out for clear running room at the top of the stretch and took command in deep stretch to win the Louisiana Derby by a widening 4 1/2 lengths. The striking chestnut stopped the clock in a final time of 1:51.06 over a fast main track and finally earned some well-deserved respect.
“He is so easy to manage and has so many gears,” Geroux said. “He settles really nicely and when you ask him to go he has a nice turn of foot. It’s great (to have a Derby horse). I was in the Derby last year (with Stanford), but my horse was scratched. Hopefully, we can make a nice run the first Saturday in May.”
Gun Runner returned $9.80, $5.60 and $3.60, while runner-up Tom’s Ready returned $24 and $12.40 at odds of 30-1. Dazzling Gem, who was another 1 1/4 lengths back in third at 8-1, returned $5.80. The exacta was good for $187 and the trifecta paid $966.90.
The 2-1 favorite Mo Tom, who had a troubled-filled trip in the Risen Star and finished third that day, encountered more traffic issues in the stretch run of the Louisiana Derby and checked sharply along the rail at least twice before crossing the wire in fourth place. He was followed by Forevamo, Candy My Boy, Greenpointcrusader, Conquest Windy, Uncle Walter and Battery to complete the final order of finish. Zapperini was scratched.
Asmussen didn’t say whether or not Gun Runner would race again before the Kentucky Derby, but with the 100 points earned from the Louisiana Derby victory the colt is assured a spot in the starting gate with a division-leading total of 151 points. Mo Tom, however, will likely need another shot to earn points, which may include a jockey switch from Corey Lanerie to someone else. Trainer Tom Amoss wasn’t thrilled with the colt’s second trouble-filled trip in a row.
“It was a good race, but the pace didn’t set up the same this time,” Amoss said. “I really thought he ran a prepared race and a great race, I was just puzzled as to why Corey went down to the rail. I just hope he didn’t hurt my horse. I am surprised. There were other choices and I don’t understand why he did what he did. Watching this was like going to the schoolyard and watching your kid get beat up by another kid. It’s so hard to watch something like that with all the preparation we do. We will make sure he’s okay before we make any other decisions.”
With the $600,000 winner’s share of Saturday’s purse, Gun Runner has now banked $906,920 and his record stands at 5-4-0-0. His only off-the-board performance was a fourth-place finish in Churchill’s Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (GII) over a sloppy track.