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Track Phantom won the 2023 Gun Runner Stakes at Fair Grounds, a 2024 Kentucky Derby (G1) prep race.
Watch the replay & get the Racing Dudes’ expert analysis, then tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
L and N Racing, Clark Brewster, Jerry Caroom, and Breeze Easy’s Track Phantom tended to a hot pace, took control after the first call and never looked back to win the $100,000 Gun Runner on Saturday at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.
The son of Quality Road, trained by Steve Asmussen, earned 10 points towards a spot in the 150th Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve.
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After pressing the speed-and-fade Next Level through the :23.61 first call, Track Phantom made a deft move at the three furlong pole and sustained the momentum to lead through the first half-mile in :46.93. Although he had the 1-2 favorite Nash and Snead in pursuit across Fair Grounds’ long homestretch, the rising star held sway through the wire, stopping the clock at 1:44.42 for 1 1/16 miles. Track Phantom returned $11.80, $5.80, $2.60. Snead paid $8.20, $3.00. Nash returned $2.10 to show.
“It’s impressive that both of his two turn races have been victories, and it was a good field today,” Asmussen said. “I actually thought they went too fast in the middle, you know, 46 4/5 here in a two-turn race, you don’t see horses see it out very often. He’s obviously a very good horse who has some room to physically develop and we have him right where want to be at this stage of his career.”
Named for one of the all-time greats, the initial Gun Runner was won by the Asmussen-trained Epicenter two years ago. That colt would later take down both the Risen Star (G2) and Louisiana Derby (G2) in advance of a runner-up performance in the Kentucky Derby.
“Gun Runner was such a special horse for us,” Asmussen said. “He got started during his 2-year-old, 3-year-old season here, which put him on the map, and the things he went on to do were obviously very special.”
In town to ride just this one race, Christian Torres piloted the juvenile to the 1 3/4 length win over Snead. It was the up-and-coming jockey’s first career Fair Grounds win from just three local mounts.
“He broke sharp for us like we expected,” Torres said. “Going into the first turn I was trying to let the one horse (Next Level) go and save (my horse). On the backside, he kind of relaxed a little bit, but I knew we were going a little bit fast. The way he was traveling, he felt comfortable and he was well in hand. I just waited until we turned for home to really ask him and when he did, he just took off.”
After settling near the back through the opening half mile, Imagine Racing and Margaret Fauber’s Snead made a wide move with intention though the far turn, setting his sights on the leaders, and making quick work of Nash. Trained by Brendan Walsh and guided by Jareth Loveberry, Snead kept coming at Track Phantom but fell short. The son of Nyquist earned 5 points on his road to the Kentucky Derby
“That was a huge one,” Walsh said. “I’m delighted. You’d like to think he’d improve more because he’s that type of horse and that the further he goes the better he’ll get. He ran at that horse again right at the end. I don’t think the pennies dropped with this horse still. He’s so laid back. When things really click with him, who knows (what he could do) if he keeps going the right way.”
Nash stalked the front runners and tried to muster a bid in the homestretch but could never find a run to match strides with the top two. The son of Medaglia d’Oro earned 3 points towards the Run for the Roses.
“I thought he got a good trip,” Cox said. “Sat behind what we thought was a hot pace. Horse on the lead kept going. No excuses that I can see. He was getting passed by a horse on the outside. I don’t know. We’ll see how he comes out of it. Disappointing. We’ll see if we can bounce back. I thought he’d show a little more today.”
Footprint finished in fourth for trainer Ken McPeek to receive 2 points and Track Phantom’s stablemate Risk It earned 1 point for his fifth place finish. Neat and Next Level rounded out the order of finish.
Having broken his maiden last out on Churchill Downs’ “Stars of Tomorrow II” card, the newly-minted stakes winner now boasts a record of 4-2-1-1 with $165,000 in the bank along with a promise note for more.
The Road to the Kentucky Derby through Fair Grounds picks back up on Jan. 20 with the 1 1/8 miles Lecomte (G3). On Feb. 17, the Derby dreamers will be tasked with 1 1/8 miles in the Risen Star presented by Larmarque Ford-Lincoln (G2), and the last New Orleans stop before the first weekend in May comes on March 23 with the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) which is run at 1 3/16 miles.
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