Game Gun Runner Punches Derby Ticket in Risen Star

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Gun Runner holds on to win the Risen Star Stakes on Saturday at Fair Grounds. (Photo by Lou Hodges Jr./ Hodges Photography)

Backstretch talk of Gun Runner being an improving 3-year-old proved true Feb. 20 as he opened his 2016 season with a smooth victory in the $400,000 Veterans Ford Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds.

After winning his first two career starts, Gun Runner closed out 2015 with a fourth-place finish in a deep edition of the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on Nov. 28 at Churchill Downs. In his 3-year-old season debut in the Risen Star under Florent Geroux, Gun Runner nailed down his first stakes win.

“He’s a very nice horse. We’re very lucky to have him,” winning trainer Steve Asmussen said. “I thought Florent gave him a beautiful trip with how the track was playing. He’s shown talent the whole time and it's definitely good to see him in the winner’s circle in a race like this.”

Winchell Thoroughbreds’ and Three Chimneys Farm’s Gun Runner tracked inside in fourth through a half-mile in :46.38 set by longshot Candy My Boy. After improving position inside on the turn, Geroux angled Gun Runner off the rail after six furlongs in 1:11.33 and the son of Candy Ride put away Candy My Boy in early stretch then held off a late rally from Forevamo to register a half-length win.

Co-owner Ron Winchell said the victory had him dreaming of the Kentucky Derby after Gun Runner moved to the top of the Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying points list. He added that Gun Runner will be pointed to the Louisiana Derby on March 26 at Fair Grounds.

“He’s a very nice horse. I’ve really liked him since the first time I was on his back a few weeks ago working in the morning,” said Geroux after picking up his fourth win on the card. “He’s super athletic. I was very confident. I wanted to make sure I saved some ground. Earlier I got beat [with Rachel Alexandra Stakes favorite Stageplay] and was stuck going wide the whole way. It looked like the track was playing a little bit more inside favoring. I kept him down there until I asked him to go and he ran a great race.”

Lecomte Stakes winner Mo Tom rallied to finish third with Candy My Boy holding fourth. Gun Runner completed the 1 1/16-mile race in 1:43.94 on a fast track, which was more than a second faster than the Rachel Alexandra Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, which was completed in 1:45.24 earlier on the card.

Favorite Airoforce finished second to last in the 11-horse field and never threatened in his first start since winning the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. Airoforce bumped with Gun Runner early, raced three or four wide in the first turn, and never threatened.

The Risen Star awards the top four finishers qualifying points (50-20-10-5) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.

A stakes winner at Delta Downs last year, Brittlyn Stables’ Forevamo earned his first graded-stakes placing. Mo Tom was checked hard near the three-sixteenths pole when Bistraya drifted in front of him.

“It was really good until we got kind of wiped out,” said Mo Tom’s rider, Corey Lanerie. “Someone came from the outside and I lost all my momentum. I hope he’s alright. I definitely thought he was the best horse today. He galloped out so good. I think if that didn’t happen, I would have caught him in the last couple jumps.”

Gun Runner paid $12.20, $7, and $4.80 across the board. Forevamo returned $33 to place and $12.20 to show while Mo Tom paid $3 to show.

Bred in Kentucky by Besilu Stables, Gun Runner is the first starter out of the Grade 2-winning Giant’s Causeway mare Quiet Giant, a half-sister (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam.

For an Equibase chart, click here.

GUN RUNNER (center, burgundy and white silks) CHARGES OFF

Photo By Alexander Barkoff /Hodges Photography

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