With Steve Asmussen announced as the one of the latest to enter the Racing Hall of Fame this summer, how about the first and foremost contender he has for the Derby– Gun Runner.

Career Highlights

  • Two-time G2 winner
  • Winner of the Louisiana Derby (II) at 9 furlongs

Basics

  • Sire: Candy Ride [ARG] (Ride the Rails)
  • Dam: Quiet Giant (Giant’s Causeway)
  • Trainer: Steve Asmussen (Rachel Alexandra, Curlin, Untapable)
  • Jockey: Florent Geroux
  • Owned by: Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC & Three Chimneys Farm
  • Record: 5:4-0-0
  • Earnings: $906,920
  • Best speed figures: 91 Beyer, 100 BRIS Figure***, 106 Equibase

The Details

Background: Steve Asmussen has knocked on the door of a Kentucky Derby win a couple of times: in 2012, Nehro was passed in the stretch to be second to Animal Kingdom, and most painfully, his outstanding pupil Curlin could not clear traffic to do better than third behind Street Sense in 2007. This year he is on his 14th and 15th try, with Kentucky Derby points leader Gun Runner representing a strong case to win. Asmussen has found good fortune in the past with Winchell Thoroughbreds’ trainees, winning the Kentucky Oaks two years ago with the unbelievable Untapable and the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (I) with Tapiture. With up-and-coming jockey Florent Geroux in the irons, Gun Runner could be his next success story.

Prep Schedule: An impressive 4-for-5 in his career– the blemish occurring in a sloppy running of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (II)– Gun Runner appears to be getting good with maturity and experience.

His maiden win came on his first try, coming from just behind the pace in a 1-mile test at Churchill Downs in September, scoring by 3/4 length. Shipping to Keeneland next out, Gun Runner showed a cool head waiting to move in a 1 1/16 mile allowance race on October 17, moving in the stretch to win easily by 2 lengths. Elevated to stakes status in his juvenile bow, he encountered a messy sloppy surface in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (II) at Churchill, where he made the lead at the top of the stretch but faltered to fourth, beaten some three lengths by future stakes winners Airoforce, Mor Spirit, and Mo Tom.

Gun Runner debuted with style as a three-year-old, rallying on the rail to sneak by the rest to win the Risen Star Stakes (II) at Fair Grounds by 1 1/2 lengths in late February, then returned in late March to win the 9-furlong Louisiana Derby (II) even more easily by 4 1/2 lengths.

Pedigree: With sire Candy Ride [ARG] throwing top Derby contenders nearly every year at stud, it’s no surprise to see Gun Runner continuing that tradition and showing promise early as many Storm Cat dam line progeny often do. The Candy Ride-Storm Cat line cross has yielded G1 winners Shared Belief, Sidney’s Candy, and Capt. Candyman Can. He is line-bred to Fappiano, Blushing Groom [FR] and Lyphard.

Undefeated and a champion miler in his native Argentina, Candy Ride [ARG] has been a quiet but serious success as a North American sire, producing juvenile champion Shared Belief as well as graded stakes winners Sidney’s Candy, Twirling Candy, Kettle Corn, Candy Boy, and more. His American-bred sire Ride the Rails was Grade 1 placed in the Florida Derby and offers a tie to the influential Fappiano through Cryptoclearance. Alablue (Blue Larkspur) is mentioned on both his top and bottom, a filly who won the Test, Acorn, and Alabama Stakes before being the second dam of Santa Anita Derby winner Boldnesian through her Spinaway Stakes winning daughter Alanesian (Polynesian).

Dam Quiet Giant was a stakes winner at 3 and 4, winning the Molly Pitcher Stakes (II) in her final start. A daughter of leading sire Giant’s Causeway (Storm Cat), Quiet Giant has had two foals of racing age and both were winners. Out of G2-placed Quiet Dance (Quiet American), she is a half sister to Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam.

Estimated TrueNicks Rating: A Variant 3.77

Dosage Index: 1.25

Running Style: Off the pace

Pros: Undefeated on fast dirt, Gun Runner has been on an improving path speed figures-wise and looks to keep getting better with more distance. Tactically, he is even more interesting as a horse with successful pacestalking strategy.

Cons: There hasn’t been a Louisiana Derby-Kentucky Derby winner since Grindstone in the early ’90s, and far and few winners of both in total, namely because the less competitive horses will usually target that prep. It is also questionable as to who Gun Runner managed to beat in the Fair Grounds prep races, as favored Mo Tom failed to materialize in both. Louisiana Derby third-place horse Dazzling Gem, a promising maiden winner, mustered a 4th in the Arkansas Derby (I). It is also of possible concern that he hasn’t had a start since late March.

Final Word: Despite the Louisiana Derby factor, I believe Gun Runner to be a leading contender who will likely offer excellent odds. His pedigree is telling of a distance horse, and in the Louisiana Derby (II) he put in an easy win that gave him the highest Brisnet last-race figure of any Kentucky Derby contender. I question how good a rider Florent Geroux is on dirt, but he has made some good moves with the horse in his past two starts, so that’s not hard to overlook. The horse has also dealt with a couple traffic issues and hasn’t shown any hesitation with new challenges. He’s a top 5 horse to use, and one worth considering for the win.

*** – As of 4/27, Brisnet elected to change Gun Runner’s top Bris figure of 104 to a 100. This is doubly important to note because this causes him to lose his spot as the top rated Brisnet horse by speed figure, giving that honor to Exaggerator, who has a 102. Read the press release about the decision here.

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