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Aaron previews the 2022 Gun Runner Stakes from Fair Grounds, then gives his top picks & long shots from this prep race for the 2023 Kentucky Derby (G1). The Brad Cox trainee Jace’s Road visits New Orleans with a chance to go gate to wire, but can someone else stop him? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
Monday marks the beginning of the Fair Grounds Road to the Kentucky Derby, the $100,000 Gun Runner S. Last year’s inaugural running launched Epicenter to the forefront, while the fifth-placer was an unheralded longshot named Rich Strike. They would go on to fight out the finish of the Kentucky Derby, with the 80-1 Rich Strike stunning the more accomplished Epicenter at Churchill Downs.
The entrants in Monday’s Gun Runner will try to keep the fledgling race’s momentum going. An intriguing field of seven will square off in the 1 1/16-mile test, and the top five garner points, respectively, on the 10-4-3-2-1 scale.Hayes Strike, with five points in his account, has plenty of experience in dirt stakes at Churchill Downs. Fourth in the Sept. 17 Iroquois (G3), the Road to the Kentucky Derby opener, he was subsequently second in the Street Sense (G3), and most recently third in the Nov. 26 Kentucky Jockey Club (G2). But the Ken McPeek trainee needs to improve to win at this level. Brian Hernandez Jr. rides the closer who’s drawn the rail.Iroquois third Jace’s Road is the other contender with a scoring race under his belt. A smart debut winner at Ellis Park for Brad Cox, the $510,000 yearling ran far below his best in the Street Sense. If you toss out his eighth in the slop that day, Jace’s Road has rebound potential with Florent Geroux back aboard.
Determinedly, who just broke his maiden in the style of a budding star, could be the one to beat. Although he needed six starts to achieve that first win, the Mark Casse juvenile was learning through a few turf routes before putting it all together back on the dirt. Determinedly turned the corner when second to highly-regarded Arabian Knight on the Breeders’ Cup undercard at Keeneland, then romped by 7 1/2 lengths on the “Stars of Tomorrow II” program at Churchill. If he maintains that seven-furlong brilliance while stretching back out to two turns, Determinedly would be tough to deny with Luis Saez.
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Andthewinneris will try to transfer his game from turf to dirt for trainer Wayne Catalano. From the first crop of multiple Grade 1-winning turfiste Oscar Performance, the well-named colt has the class if he takes to the surface. He’s the only entrant with a victory at this distance, in the Oct. 9 Bourbon (G2) at Keeneland, and he’s the only one who competed in a Breeders’ Cup race, rallying for seventh in the Juvenile Turf (G1). Andthewinneris also beat Determinedly when they were third and fourth, respectively, in the Aug. 31 With Anticipation (G3) at Saratoga. The question is whether his lone dirt start – a distant third in the July 4 Bashford Manor S. at Churchill – is a true indication of his aptitude.
Raise Cain and Old Alliance are nicely-bred types stepping up from sprints for the first time. The Ben Colebrook-trained Raise Cain comes off a pair of outings at Keeneland, where he graduated by 5 1/4 lengths and then got up for third in the Bowman Mill S. Old Alliance, who wired his debut at Laurel, was a remote third in a Keeneland allowance behind Giant Mischief and Arabian Lion.
Mazing Mark scored his first win in the Nov. 12 Jean Lafitte S. at Delta Downs, making him the lone dirt stakes winner in the field.
Considering how much Epicenter achieved after dominating the 2021 Gun Runner, the bar is set pretty high for Monday’s winner to follow suit. Epicenter nearly swept the entire Fair Grounds series, just missing in the Lecomte (G3) before rolling in the Risen Star (G2) and setting a new track record in the Louisiana Derby (G2). Runner-up in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness (G1), Epicenter turned the Jim Dandy (G2)/Travers (G1) double at Saratoga to state his case as the top three-year-old male.
The Gun Runner is the 11th race (post time 6 p.m. ET) on a stakes-laden day after Christmas at Fair Grounds.
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