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Magic recaps Epicenter romping in Sunday’s inaugural 2021 Gun Runner Stakes at Fair Grounds, a Kentucky Derby (G1) prep race awarding 10 points to the winner. Magic also discusses where the top finishers will run next, including his projected path for Epicenter to make the Kentucky Derby gate.
The press release, courtesy of Fair Grounds:
Victories in the 2016 Risen Star (G2) and Louisiana Derby (G2) put Gun Runner on a path towards nearly $16 million in career earnings on the track and leading first crop sire honors off of it. On Sunday at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, Epicenter took another step towards a potentially brighter future for the same connections with an authoritative 6 ½ length victory in the inaugural $100,000 Gun Runner Stakes, earning 10 Kentucky Derby points along the way.
The Gun Runner was just one of six stakes run on the post-Christmas, 13-race “Road to the Derby Kickoff Day” card.
“To be able to win the inaugural running of the Gun Runner today is special for us,” Steve Asmussen’s assistant trainer Scott Blasi said. “Gun Runner had his start and a number of breakout performances here at the Fair Grounds, and to see what he has done in the stallion barn has been historical, he’s the leading two-year-old juvenile stallion in the world. To be able to win this race for the Winchell family is very special.”
Sent off as the 2.90-1 second choice despite morning-line favoritism, Epicenter broke alertly from post position one under Brian Hernandez, Jr. He settled just off the flank of the pacesetting Surfer Dude (10.30-1) through even early fractions of 24.41 and 47.76. Still in hand entering the turn, he took over right at the quarter pole, and extended his margin of victory down to the wire. Earning 4 Derby points, Tejano Twist (4.60-1), who made a run at the leader at the 3 1/16ths pole, evened out a bit late, while remaining two lengths clear of the pacesetting Surfer Dude (2 Derby points), who held the show spot. Kevin’s Folly earned 1 Derby point for finishing fourth. Epicenter, a 2-year-old son of Not This Time stopped the clock in 1:44.19 for the 1 1/16 miles. A bit rank early, Rocket Dawg finished a distant sixth as the .80-1 favorite.
“I walked down in the paddock and Scott (Blasi) told me how much they liked him,” said Hernandez, Jr., who won three on the day. “I remember watching him (Epicenter) run at Churchill. Same sort of scenario as today. I was actually on Surfer Dude (that day) and he was outside me. Going into the turn you could tell he traveled so good and he was much the best that day. Going off of that race he looked like he had a lot of ability and he showed it today. Any time you get a horse that has tactical speed, especially here (at Fair Grounds), that helps a lot. That’s the nice thing about him, you know, for only his third race, he put himself in position and all I had to do was be a quiet passenger and let him do his thing.”
A tired sixth on debut over seven furlongs at Churchill on September 18, Epicenter bounced back with a huge performance over a one-turn mile seven weeks later in his follow-up start, pressing the pace and drawing out to win by 3 ½ lengths with a huge gallop out over a Louisville strip that was not kind to forward horses on the day. With the Gun Runner win, Epicenter now sports a 3-2-0-1 record with earnings of $130,639.
“We love his tactical speed, his ability to put himself in position to do well and Brian did a great job with him today to let the speed go on, and change sides,” Blasi said. “He’s still lightly raced, still learning, but hopefully there are some big things to come.”
The next Fair Grounds points race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby is the Lecomte (G3) on Saturday, January 22.
Trainer Bret Calhoun was pleased with the effort of runner-up Tejano Twist, who was making his two-turn debut in career start number nine off a victory in the Lively Shively Stakes at Churchill.
“We thought he handled it very well,” Calhoun said “At the end of the day his true calling against better competition might have to be as a closing sprinter. I think he handled that fine. I just don’t really envision him running against top horses at 1 ¼ miles. He handled his first test well, but the horse that beat him had one start and we had our chance off the turn and he drew off from him. I’ll talk to the owner (Tom Durant) and we’ll go from there. Overall, very happy with the horse, ran great. He passed that two-turn test.”
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