Mo Tom and Gun Runner Renew Rivalry in Louisiana Derby

Gun Runner (inside) holds off Forevamo (middle) and Mo Tom (outside) in the Risen Star Stakes.

Gun Runner (inside) holds off Forevamo (middle) and Mo Tom (outside) in the Risen Star Stakes.

Saturday’s $1 million Louisiana Derby (GII) at Fair Grounds is the first Kentucky Derby prep race on American soil to offer 100 points (the UAE Derby in Dubai beats it out as the first by a matter of hours and a few time zones) and, therefore, 11 talented three-year-old colts have been entered to race the 1 1/8 miles in the New Orleans track’s premiere event.

The weather for south Louisiana is calling for mostly sunny skies with a slight chance for showers Saturday, which follows several days of dry weather in the area, so expect a fast track and a firm turf course all day on Saturday.

Risen Star Stakes (GII) winner Gun Runner will lead the field postward after drawing the innermost post position and has been labeled the morning line’s 3-1 second choice. While the inside probably isn’t the most preferred spot for the Steve Asmussen-trained son of Candy Ride, sometimes the good comes with the bad as, now, he can be virtually assured of a good, ground-saving trip. He’s run his best races when he allows the speed to settle in front of him, so it would appear that all jockey Florent Geroux needs to do is get his mount to break cleanly and not get shuffled back.

The only bad race Gun Runner has ever turned in was in last year’s Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (GII) at Churchill Downs, where he gave his only non-winning performance on a sloppy main track, so if the surface does happen to be anything but fast on Saturday he may have extra work cut out for him.

While the Risen Star Stakes worked out well for Gun Runner, the same cannot be said for Mo Tom, who endured a brutal trip under regular jockey Corey Lanerie as one of the race’s favorites. For those who didn’t see it, it’s hard to explain, except to say that his race that day included being pinched off along the rail past the quarter pole, losing momentum and checking and altering course in deep stretch to be defeated by just a length and a half at the wire.

Mo Tom, yet another promising sophomore from the first crop of Uncle Mo, looks like one of the better horses training in the Big Easy and has always had the Louisiana Derby on his radar. He won the LeComte Stakes (GIII) two races back as a prep for the Risen Star and, but for some bad luck, might have been a winner last out. The jury is still out on whether Uncle Mo progeny will handle any distance beyond 8 1/2 furlongs, but few in the division have actually had the opportunity, regardless of pedigree. If Mo Tom can handle it, he looks a solid contender as the morning line favorite.

Greenpointcrusader splashes to victory in the 2015 Champagne Stakes.

Greenpointcrusader splashes to victory in the 2015 Champagne Stakes.

Greenpointcrusader was a hot prospect after winning last year’s Champagne Stakes (GI) at Belmont Park and, though he finished a disappointing seventh as the 7-2 favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI), his effort wasn’t that bad, as he was beaten just 4 ¼ lengths after an extremely wide trip. He was given the winter off to mature a bit and his three-year-old debut produced a strong, yet slightly troubled third to division leader Mohaymen in the Holy Bull Stakes (GIII) at the end of January. He is the only Grade I winner in the field and will have Hall-of-Famer John Velazquez aboard again, so even a slight improvement or swing back toward his juvenile form puts him right there at the wire.

LA Derby FieldForevamo way outran his form and his odds to finish a good second in the Risen Star last out, rallying from well back and nearly getting to the wire in front at odds of more than 40-1. He’s another son of Uncle Mo who may be trying to outrun his pedigree; he’s a half-brother to Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (GI) winner Musical Romance and may be reaching his distance limit, but he was closing well in his last and it looks like like the extra sixteenth of a mile won’t be too much of an issue for him.

Candy My Boy, Tom’s Ready, Zippering and Uncle Walter were also-rans in the Risen Star, but are back looking for better luck and for a chance at some Derby points.

Battery, Conquest Windycity, and Dazzling Gem all enter off allowance/optional claiming wins, finding the Louisiana Derby a soft enough place to attempt a graded stakes for the first time.

The 10th-race feature is expected to leave the gate at 6:12 p.m. EST.

Margaret Ransom
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters, Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.

After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager. She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several race horse retirement organizations, including CARMA.

Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull as her favorite horse of all time. She lives in Pasadena with her longtime beau, Tony, three Australian Shepherds and one Golden Retriever.