The Gun Runner Stakes: A Pivotal Derby Prep Showdown Unveiling the Week’s Epicenter

The Exciting Inaugural Gun Runner Stakes at Fair Grounds

There is a captivating aura surrounding Steve Asmussen’s entry, Epicenter, as it assumes the role of the 5/2 favorite for the first-ever running of the 1 1/16-mile Gun Runner Stakes at Fair Grounds. Having recently triumphed in a maiden special weight race at Churchill Downs, Epicenter’s standout performance has garnered the attention of racing enthusiasts. However, the question remains: can this promising colt follow in the hoofprints of the illustrious Gun Runner, one of Asmussen’s most accomplished horses? As the excitement builds, one thing is certain – the Gun Runner Stakes offers a chance to accumulate 10-4-2-1 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, making it a pivotal event in Fair Grounds’ Derby prep season.

The Unmissable Untapable Stakes

In addition to the Gun Runner Stakes, Fair Grounds features another thrilling race on its Sunday program – the Untapable Stakes. With the same 10-4-2-1 qualifying points up for grabs, this 1 1/16-mile race for fillies provides an enticing parallel to its counterpart. Both races bear the names of Asmussen trainees owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds, one of his esteemed clients. Gun Runner, who claimed the title of 2017 Horse of the Year, left an indelible mark on the racing world with five consecutive Grade 1 victories. As for Untapable, she carved out her own legacy by capturing nine wins, including the coveted Breeders’ Cup Distaff and 2014 Kentucky Oaks. These two remarkable horses are a testament to the remarkable success of the Winchell program, and Asmussen considers himself fortunate to be associated with such an impressive endeavor.

A Star-Studded Card at Fair Grounds

The Gun Runner Stakes and the Untapable Stakes serve as the highlights among the six stakes races featured on Fair Grounds’ action-packed card. Notably, the final Pick 5 wager of the day is the All Stakes Pick 5, guaranteeing a substantial pool of $100,000.

Epicenter: Catching the Spotlight in the Gun Runner Stakes

Race 11 at Fair Grounds is where the much-anticipated Gun Runner Stakes unfolds. This exhilarating contest showcases seven colts and geldings, five of whom emerge as victors from their previous outings. Among these triumphant competitors is Epicenter, a talented colt sired by Not This Time. In a noteworthy display of skill, Epicenter dominated a Churchill Downs November maiden special weight, finishing 3 ½ lengths ahead of his rivals. Impressively, his Equibase Speed Figure of 97 surpassed his debut performance of 79 in a maiden special weight race at Churchill Downs in September.

Steve Asmussen, Epicenter’s trainer, speaks highly of his charge, acknowledging his potential and commendable training progress. Asmussen attributes the slight uncertainty surrounding Epicenter’s first race to the unavailability of Churchill’s backstretch for training, which led to the majority of fall 2-year-olds being trained at Turfway Park on synthetic tracks. Nonetheless, Epicenter’s debut showcased his abilities, although fatigue hindered an even greater performance. However, Asmussen’s confidence has only grown with Epicenter’s impressive training and subsequent victory, further solidifying his belief in the colt’s prospects.

One of Epicenter’s previous competitors, Surfer Dude, also merits attention in the Gun Runner Stakes. This Curlin-sired colt struggled to secure his maiden win until his triumph last month at Churchill Downs. With an impressive record of hitting the board in four out of five races, Surfer Dude is determined to seize victory in this highly-anticipated event.

Other Contenders: Tejano Twist and Rocket Dawg

In addition to the favorites, Tejano Twist and Rocket Dawg enter the Gun Runner Stakes with high aspirations. Tejano Twist, co-second favorite at 3/1, boasts an impressive résumé, having achieved a 3-3-0 record in eight career races. Notably, he claimed victory in the Lively Shively Stakes at Churchill Downs in his most recent outing. Trainer Bret Calhoun is eager to test Tejano Twist’s mettle over two turns, recognizing the perfect opportunity this race presents to evaluate the gelding’s stamina and potential for future Kentucky Derby races.

Similarly, Rocket Dawg, trained by Brad Cox, faces the challenge of two turns for the first time in this race. The Classic Empire colt established his credentials with a superb maiden-breaking performance at Churchill Downs last month, outclassing 10 rivals with a commanding 5 ½-length victory. Among those 10 competitors, four went on to secure victories in their subsequent races. Although Rocket Dawg lacks the experience of some of his fellow contenders, Cox views this race as an opportunity for the young colt to display his exceptional talent on a grand stage.

Contenders in the Gun Runner Stakes at Fair Grounds

  • Epicenter, 5/2 (Brian Hernandez Jr./Steve Asmussen)
  • Waita Minute Hayes, 8/1 (Ashley Broussard/Ricky Courville)
  • Rocket Dawg, 3/1 (Florent Geroux/Brad Cox)
  • Surfer Dude, 5/1 (Reylu Gutierrez/Dallas Stewart)
  • Kevin’s Folly, 8/1 (James Graham/Tom Amoss)
  • Tejano Twist, 3/1 (Joe Rocco/Bret Calhoun)
  • Rich Strike, 15/1 (Sonny Leon/Eric Reed)

A Test of Talent and Experience

While Rocket Dawg showcases immense potential, trainer Brad Cox acknowledges that he faces an uphill battle in terms of experience. The majority of his competitors boast multiple starts, with Tejano Twist standing out with eight races under his belt. Despite the challenges that lie ahead, Cox hopes that Rocket Dawg’s natural talent will compensate for his relative lack of experience.

In Conclusion

The inaugural Gun Runner Stakes promises to be a thrilling affair, with Epicenter capturing the attention as the favorite following an impressive maiden victory. Supported by a strong field of contenders, including the experienced Tejano Twist and the talented Rocket Dawg, this race will undoubtedly test the mettle of these promising colts and geldings. As the horses thunder down the stretch at Fair Grounds, racing enthusiasts will witness the birth of a new chapter in the sport of horse racing.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. How can I watch the Gun Runner Stakes and the Untapable Stakes?

You can catch the action of the Gun Runner Stakes and the Untapable Stakes by tuning in to the designated broadcasting network or by streaming the races online through authorized platforms. Check with the respective race organizers or your local racing channel for more information.

2. What are the Kentucky Derby qualifying points?

Kentucky Derby qualifying points are awarded to the top four finishers in select prep races leading up to the Kentucky Derby. The points accumulated determine the eligibility of horses to participate in the revered Kentucky Derby, one of the most prestigious events in horse racing.

3. What is the significance of the Gun Runner Stakes and the Untapable Stakes for the Winchell program?

The Winchell program, in collaboration with trainer Steve Asmussen, has bred and owned exceptional racehorses over the years. The Gun Runner and Untapable Stakes are named after two of their most successful horses, symbolizing the program’s achievements and contributions to the sport of horse racing.

4. How do jockeys and trainers prepare for races like the Gun Runner Stakes?

Jockeys and trainers meticulously study the form and past performances of their respective horses and their competitors. They analyze the track conditions, evaluate the race strategy, and ensure that their horses are in peak physical condition. Training sessions, discussions with owners, and collaboration with the entire team help formulate the optimal plan for success.

5. What are some future races that contenders in the Gun Runner Stakes may aim for?

Depending on their performance and individual racing goals, successful contenders in the Gun Runner Stakes may target future races such as the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes, or various other graded stakes races. The path to these races often involves participating in additional prep races to accumulate the necessary qualifying points and enhance their racing credentials.

Doug I. Jones

Doug I. Jones

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