Track Reports

Fair Grounds Barn Notes: Asmussen Looking for Progress from Gun Runner in Louisiana Derby

Gun Runner, No 6, with jockey Shaun Bridgmohan aboad, drives to the wire to win the Risen Star Stakes (GrII) at the Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans, LA Saturday, February 20, 2016.
Photo By Amanda Hodges Weir / Hodges Photography
Amanda Hodges Weir / Hodges Photography

Trainer Steve Asmussen is in the enviable position of having a talented sophomore colt with feasibly enough Kentucky Derby qualification points to make the field on the First Saturday in May even before his final prep. Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm’s Gun Runner earned 50 points in the Grade II $400,000 Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 20, catapulting him to the top tier on the points leaderboard and allowing his connections to sigh at least a slight bit of relief as they process their Derby dreams.

Training well since his victory, the son of Candy Ride worked a sharp bullet on Mar. 14, negotiating five furlongs with Florent Geroux up. The move was the chestnut charge’s third consecutive five-furlong drill in successive weeks since the Risen Star and looks to set him up well for what will be his second race of the season.

“We’re very excited about the horse that he is and could develop into,” Asmussen said. “This time of year what we’re looking for is steady progress. He’ll have to run better than he did in the Risen Star and I think we’re in position for him to do so.

“Last time Florent worked out a very good trip for him,” Asmussen continued. “For anyone to have success in the Louisiana Derby, they’re going to have to be fit and moving forward.”

To find the rail on Saturday, the talented 3-year-old will not have to travel far. He has drawn the rail within the 11-colt field and has been established as the 3-1 second-choice on the morning line.

Trainer Brad Cox is having a phenomenal 2016 thus far, with successful strings racking up wins at both Oaklawn Park and Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, including striking at 35% at the latter and campaigning one of the more popular horses on the New Orleans grounds in Wentworth Brochu’s Chocolate Ride. Cox could cap a big meet with a victory by improving and lightly raced Dazzling Gem in the Grade II $1,000,000 Louisiana Derby on Mar. 26 – a colt who has come to hand well in a pair of career starts for the conditioner, despite minor recent hoof issues.

“We had planned on running him in the (Grade II $900,000) Rebel (Stakes on Mar. 19) and that was the logical spot after winning his allowance (at Oaklawn Park), but a couple of weeks ago he had a foot abscess and lost four or five days of training,” Cox explained. “We took it day-to-day with him and then worked him back and he was excellent. His work was probably eveN a little more than I was expecting.”

Dazzling Gem won his debut going a two-turn mile at Oaklawn on Jan. 18, defeating well-regarded American Pioneer in the process. He then came back in a first-level allowance over the same Hot Springs track and defeated a field that included another well-thought-of charge in Madtap. His aforementioned work was a bullet five furlongs in 1:00.60 – the best of 40 moves at the distance on Feb. 13. He is expected to work again on Monday, Mar. 21, at Oaklawn.

“There aren’t a lot of options for 3-year-olds who’ve already won two races,” Cox said. “I think he’s a talented horse and I’m not running him in the Louisiana Derby just to run him. We’ll work him Monday and check on him Tuesday and if all is well we will ship down Tuesday to Fair Grounds.

“I really like him and I think he can run with the big boys,” he concluded. “He’s a true mile and an eighth to a mile and a quarter horse and these are hurdles he can jump. I’m not ruling out running him in both the Louisiana and (Grade I $1,000,000) Arkansas Derby (at Oaklawn on Apr. 16) with how the races are this year.”

In 2016, unlike in previous years, the Louisiana Derby is six weeks out from the Kentucky Derby, as opposed to five. The spacing feasibly allows for connections with Derby aspirations to run in all three with equal three-week spacing, if they so choose.

After a productive 2-year-old season that saw her run in four stakes and cross the wire in the top three in three of those, Stoneway Farm’s Dream Dance kicks off her 2016 sophomore campaign in a tough spot, the Grade II $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks, for trainer Neil Howard.

A winner at third asking at Ellis Park in August, the daughter of Afleet Alex was third in the Grade II $150,000 Pocahontas going the Fair Grounds Oaks’ 1 1/16-miles trip in her next start before finishing fifth in the Grade I $400,000 Alcibiades Stakes in the slop and then running arguably her best race when second to fellow New Orleans rival Stageplay in the $84,000 Rags to Riches Stakes on Nov. 1.

“She’s doing really well,” Howard said. “We wanted to give her more time. There was nothing wrong with her, she just wasn’t where we wanted her to be and this is kind of a ‘plan B-plus’ for her. She has plenty of seasoning, but we just weren’t ready with her. Right now she’s just got to get started and after this race we’ll discuss what she’ll be doing.”

A $50,000 Fasig-Tipton purchase, Dream Dance will break from post seven of eight fillies on Saturday and gets the riding services of Brian Hernandez, Jr., who has ridden her in all seven career starts. She was last seen finishing third in the Grade II $200,000 Golden Rod Stakes in the slop – a race in which Stageplay finished second – before being disqualified from purse money.

“She was precocious enough early in her career, but she hit her best stride in November,” Howard continued. “Of course, like every horse, she needed a break after the season, but she’s been training really well for this race. It’s a tough place to get started, but we’re hoping we hit the board and get a good tightener.”

Conquest Stables’ Conquest Windycity put in a local drill for the Grade II $1,000,000 Louisiana Derby on Sunday morning, going a half-mile in 48.80 for trainer Mark Casse. The son of Tiznow breaks from post four in the 11-horse field and will put a two-race winning streak on the line. Brittlyn Stable’s Grade II $400,000 Risen Star Stakes runner-up Forevamo put in his final drill for the Louisiana Derby with a half-mile in 48.40 for trainer Al Stall, Jr. Tom’s Ready worked a smart five furlongs in 1:02 flat for trainer Dallas Stewart and owner G M B Racing, as well, for the meet’s marquee race.

Other graded stakes-bound runners for this weekend on the tab included Mark Breen’s Grade III winner Jessica’s Star, who worked a half-mile in 49 flat for leading trainer Mike Stidham and is slated to run in the Grade II $400,000 New Orleans Handicap. William S. Farish’s homebred Eagle also was on the tab for the New Orleans Handicap, working five furlongs in 1:01.80 for trainer Neil Howard, while Gata Racing Stable’s Mike Maker-trained S’maverlous worked five furlongs in 1:02.60 for the same 1 1/8-miles event.

Source: Fair Grounds Race Course

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