The first of the major Kentucky Derby prep races on the calendar is the Louisiana Derby, so it makes sense that the winner of that race becomes the first confirmed North American-based starter for the Kentucky Derby. That horse, in pretty impressive fashion, is Gun Runner. Now, with six weeks off between races, the connections need to focus on keeping the horse healthy and fresh and ready to have his best day at Churchill Downs.
Last race: Gun Runner faced a deep and reasonably-talented field in the Louisiana Derby. He moved smoothly to the rail from the start, settling just off the pace. He comfortably bided his time behind modest fractions, saving himself for his opportunity to spring. That opportunity came, and he took the lead entering the stretch. He wandered around the stretch like a drunken sailor - a sign of an inexperienced horse - and his jockey worked hard to keep him moving forward and to keep his mind on his task. He kept adding to his lead despite the issues and wound up winning by almost five lengths. It was an impressive effort, and it hinted at what more could be possible if he gets his act together and learns to race more professionally.
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Prior experience: Gun Runner broke his maiden at a mile at Churchill Downs in his first try back in September. That was proof that he likes the Churchill surface, which will obviously be valuable for his next start. Then he won an allowance at Keeneland before making his stakes debut in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill at the end of November. In that race he took the lead at the top of the stretch but ran out of gas and was ultimately passed by three other current Derby contenders. That was the end of his two year old season. He reappeared in late February, winning the Risen Star at Fair Grounds, which is the key prep for the Louisiana Derby. Again he was at the lead at the top of the stretch. He had to work hard to hold on, but he did.
Trainer: Steve Asmussen knows how to win races. In 2008 he set a single-season record with 622 wins - an astronomical number when you think of the logistics behind that. The next year he broke his own record. He was named the nation's top trainer both years. Overall he has 7,260 wins and has won more than 20 percent of his starts. Two of those wins have come in Triple Crown races - he won the Preakness in 2007 with Curlin and again in 2009 with Rachel Alexandra. He has also finished second twice and third twice in Triple Crown races. In 2014 Asmussen was at the center of a scandal after PETA released some hidden videos that they alleged showed some serious violations in Asmussen's barns. He ultimately was cleared of those allegations, though. His eligibility for the racing hall of fame was suspended in 2014 when the videos appeared, but he is again eligible this summer.
Jockey: Florent Geroux was born in France and is the son of a French jockey and trainer. He started racing in France and made multiple attempts to establish himself in the U.S. before winding up in Chicago in 2010. It was a slow start, but he has recently been on a meteoric rise. He was the 96th ranked jockey in the country by earnings in 2013. He climbed to 35th the next year and 13th last year. Now he sits fourth. He does not have a Triple Crown win, but he has won three Breeders' Cup races, including two last year.
Breeding: Gun Runner is a son of Candy Ride, and Argentinean stallion best known for winning the 2003 Pacific Classic at the same mile and a quarter distance as the Kentucky Derby, and posting the highest Beyer speed rating of the year in the process. As a stallion he has had some success and is a reasonable asset to this horse's bloodlines. His damsire is Giant's Causeway, an American-bred horse who dominated European racing and was named world horse of the year in 2000. He has been named North America's top sire three times and provides plenty of stamina influence. The breeding, then, is certainly solid enough for this task.
Odds: Gun Runner won't be a Kentucky Derby favorite, but he is solidly in the strong second tier of runners. He opened at 15/1 in the final Kentucky Derby futures pool. BetOnline lists him at +1200.
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