Pedigree Stars: Inaugural Gun Runner attracts Derby prospects

Pedigree Stars: Inaugural Gun Runner attracts Derby prospects
Photo: Scott Serio/Eclipse Sportswire

This year, the Fair Grounds expanded their Kentucky Derby prep race series with the inaugural running of the $100,000 Gun Runner Stakes on Sunday.

The Gun Runner is named in honor of the 2016 Louisiana Derby hero and outstanding young sire. It joins the Lecomte Stakes (G3), Risen Star (G2), and Louisiana Derby (G2) as Kentucky Derby qualifiers at Fair Grounds. The Gun Runner awards Derby points on a scale of 10-4-2-1  to the top four finishers.

Carded as race 11 of 13, the Gun Runner attracted seven colts and geldings to travel 1 1/16 miles over the main track.

Five of the seven won their last start, and three have experience at 1 1/16 miles, although none won.

(Trainer stats compiled from STATS RaceLens.)

Epicenter was installed as the favorite at 5-2, based on a 3 1/2 length maiden score at a mile at Churchill last month. The Steve Asmussen trainee dueled for much of the race with Surfer Dude and tired that one out. For the record, Surfer Dude returned a winner. The son of Not This Time has the pedigree and conformation to enjoy two turns, and Asmussen wins with 21 percent of last-out maiden winners. Win contender.

Brad Cox's Rocket Dawg earned the co-second-favorite status of 3-1 based on his 5 1/2 length debut win at Churchill in November. The son of Classic Empire looked impressive as he circled the field under a hand ride and opened up effortlessly in the seven-furlong event. Four of his ten rivals returned, and two won while the other two hit the board. Cox's debut winners return to win 21% next out. Win contender.

Surfer Dude
found the winner's circle in his fifth start, after previously tiring to third after dueling with Epicenter in his last start. The Dallas Stewart trainee fought hard through the stretch and refused to yield, winning by a head. Two of his ten foes returned to win, and one placed third.

Surfer Dude has one of the best pedigrees in the Gun Runner Stakes. He's by Curlin out of Grade 1 winner Tiz Mis Sue and has classic distance breeding. He's shown Brisnet Speed Rating improvement in his last three starts and posted a pre-race bullet move at the Fair Grounds. Additionally, Stewart's last-out maiden winners return to win 25% next time out. Long shot win contender.

The 3-1 co-second- favorite, Tejano Twist, hopes to make it three victories in a row in the Gun Runner. The  Bret Calhoun gelding is the most experienced in the field, with eight starts, three wins, and three second-place finishes, including a victory in the 6 1/2 furlong Lively Shively Stakes at Churchill in his last start.

He looks good on paper; however, Tejano Twist has a sprinter/miler pedigree and attempts to stretch his speed to two turns in the Game Runner from an outside post. Exotics.

Grade 1-placed Kevin's Folly has finished out of the money once in four starts, and that was a dismal eighth-place finish in the Claiborne Breeders' Futurity (G1). He has no early speed but closed in his last race, an optional claimer, to miss second-place by a head. The Tom Amoss trainee is facing can be counted on to run his race and is a good underneath play at morning line odds of 8-1. Exotics.

Waita Minute Hayes battled through the stretch and won the Jean Lafitte Stakes by 2 1/2 lengths but was disqualified to second place for coming in on rival Kaely's Brother, causing that one to steady. The Ricky Courville trainee was all out to beat a mediocre group and would need to show improvement to beat the top runners. Toss.

Rich Strike
dominated a $30,000 maiden claiming field in his second start by an eye-catching 17 lengths and was snapped up by Eric Reed. Three of his ten rivals returned, one won and the other two placed.

In his next start in a one-mile optional claiming event, the son of Keen Ice bobbled at the start and wound up at the back of the field. He made up ground through the stretch but was green, switching leads late and ducking out when hit with the left-handed whip. Julien Leparoux wisely put the stick away, and an unfocused Rich Strike got back on track late to finish third under a hand ride. Rich Strike has the potential to become a stakes quality colt but needs to mature first. Toss.


Epicenter and Surfer Dude could hook up on the lead.

Waita Minute Hayes has tactical speed and has won from on and off the pace, so it's anyone's guess what Ashley Broussard will do. My wild guess is that they'll track the pace along with Tejano Twist, and Rich Strike could be in the mix.

Rocket Dawg has raced only once, and he may also have tactical speed, leaving Keven's Folly as our confirmed closer.

All of the contenders' Brisnet late-pace speed ratings are closely matched.

Surfer Dude has a gradual speed rating and performance improvement, plus a pre-race bullet work. He has classic breeding, and this is the time of year when those types start maturing. He's worth a good look as a live long-shot winner.

4. Surfer Dude (5-1)

1. Epicenter (5-2)

3. Rocket Dawg (3-1)

6. Tejano Twist (3-1)

Meet Laurie Ross

 HRN Pedigree Analyst 


 Published Author

 Pedigree Research/Consultation/Sales 

 ThoroFan Board Member

 Member – NTWAB

Through hands-on work at barns, I learned valuable lessons about Thoroughbred conformation, gait, and temperament and later worked withThoroughbred rescue/re-train organizations. I have committed my passion for horses to the intensive study of pedigree and breeding theory for the last 20 years. 

I support clients with all aspects of pedigree/breeding analysis, research, sales, catalogue review, and recommendations on claims or private sales. Clients include national leading owners, racing/breeding syndicates, the little guy with one mare, and everyone in between. 10-20% of all proceeds are donated to Thoroughbred rescue & retraining groups. Check out my website, Iron Maidens Thoroughbreds, and the IMTBreds blog.

I welcome your questions regarding pedigree, handicapping, and breeding. If you would like me to cover a specific topic, please contact me. 

Twitter: @IMTBreds
Facebook: IMTBreds
LinkedIn: Laurie Ross

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