Nash Looking to Score in Gun Runner, Bank Kentucky Derby Points
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Contact: Joe Kristufek/Kevin Kilroy
Cox duo of Nash & Catching Freedom set to take on Asmussen Aces Track Phantom and Risk It on “Road to the Derby Kickoff” Day
New Orleans, La (Dec. 19, 2023) – Off a dominant win in his second career start, the Godolphin homebred Nash has been installed as Mike Diliberto’s 7-5 morning line favorite against seven rivals in Saturday’s $100,000 Gun Runner Stakes. In addition to the $100,000 purse, the Gun Runner will offer 2-year-olds, soon to be three, 10-5-3-2-1 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby 150 presented by Woodford Reserve.
Epicenter, the winner of inaugural Gun Runner two years ago, would later take down both the Risen Star (G2) and Louisiana Derby (G2) in advance of a runner-up performance in the Kentucky Derby.
Brad Cox, who trained Jace’s Road to a Gun Runner score last year, will tighten the girth around Nash. By Medaglia d’Oro out of the multiple stakes winning Malibu Moon mare Sara Louise, Nash has a strong pedigree in his corner.
“This is a good horse, he’s very intelligent, does everything right, a super work horse,” Cox said. “He had a good move (at Fair Grounds) on Friday and we’re looking forward to facing winners for the first time on Saturday.”
Sprinting on debut on October 7 at Keeneland, Nash sat a pocket trip and finished a clear second behind the gate to wire winner Booth. Stretched out to 1 1/16 miles for his follow-up start five weeks later at Churchill Downs, Nash went right to the lead and extended his margin of victory to the wire with every stride, romping up 10 ¼ lengths in front of his closest pursuer. He earned a 97 Brisnet Speed figure for his efforts.
“He’s a good colt–we’ve liked him a lot,” Cox said. “It was a dominant performance (going two turns for the first time). He’s given us confidence. Based off how he works, he appears to have multiple gears. He really has a turn of foot. When the rider calls upon him, he accelerates quickly. We’re still trying to figure him out with only two runs under his belt but he’s a nice talent.”
Florent Geroux will have the return call aboard Nash from post 6.
Albaugh Family Stable’s Catching Freedom, Cox’s other Gun Runner entrant, also merits respect. Despite a compromised start and an extremely wide turn for home over a one-turn mile in his career debut at Churchill on October 1, the son of Constitution rolled home to win by 3 ¾ lengths.
“He’s somewhat of an average workhorse in the morning but he seems to be one that should get better as the distance gets longer,” Cox said. “And he’s a colt that will get better the more he does it, he’ll get a lot from running in the afternoon and the experience that comes from more racing.”
Stretched out to 1 1/16 miles for his follow-up start four weeks later, Catching Freedom once again got the worst of it at the start, and his journey didn’t get any easier from there. Covered up at the rail near the back of the back early, he was stuck in tight between horses on the far turn. Blocked behind a wall of runners, he was forced to check, and by the time he finally shook free, the race was over. His fourth-place finish behind Parchment Party will surely darken his form going into Saturday.
“He’s still learning,” Cox said. “I thought he was very green in his last run. He was kind of leaning in and not responding to where his rider wanted him to go. If he had his mind more on going forward as opposed to leaning in, he could’ve gotten there, but overall, he’s still learning. I’m hopeful that he learned a lot from that race.”
Installed at odds of 5-1 on the morning line, Catching Freedom will leave from post 2 with Corey Lanerie aboard for the first time.
Steve Asmussen, who trained Gun Runner for whom the race was named and won the inaugural edition with Epicenter, has two live runners in the race on Saturday.
It took L and N Racing, Clark Brewster, Jerry Caroom and Breeze Easy’s Track Phantom three tries to break his maiden, but after finishing third then second over the one-turn mile at Churchill, he took his game to a new level in his first route try last time out. In a perfect pressing position early on, he took full command late on the backstretch and drew away to a convincing 4 ¾ length win.
“He has a very high cruising speed and obviously I like the result of his only two-turn race,” Asmussen said. “He did seem to overcome the bias that day, but he was very relaxed down the back side and obviously had plenty left to finish up.”
Christian Torres, who was aboard the Quality Road colt in his first two starts, gets the call on Saturday and the team will leave from the far outside in post 8 as the 7-2 second choice in the morning line.
“He needs to be away from there cleanly,” Asmussen said. “I would rather him not be on the far outside, horses often move to the open area just a bit. It’s way too competitive of a race to give away a step anywhere. He has broke alertly in all of his races, I would expect him to do the same.”
With two graded stakes tries already on the resume, Asmussen’s other runner, the Gun Runner colt Risk It, is the class of the field. A dominant winner on August 19 at Saratoga first out of the box sprinting, Risk It stretched out to a one-turn mile for the Iroquois (G3) four weeks later at Churchill. Sent off as the 1.35-1 favorite, Risk It enjoyed a clear, stalking trip, but he could only manage second behind the 12-1 longshot West Saratoga. Stretched out to two-turns for the first time in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) last out, he was a bit rank early on and was forced to check repeatedly on the backstretch. He found clear sailing on the far turn, but finished a well-beaten fourth behind Honor Marie.
“In the Kentucky Jockey Club they went away from the gates with intention and he was in a really good spot around the first turn,” Asmussen said. “(Tyler Gaffalione) said he was handling nicely but then halfway around the backside he took off. It was his first two-turn run so a little confusion from him most likely. He has trained nicely since, has handled nicely in company and I would be surprised if he was that rank again, mainly with it being his second two-turn race.”
From post 3, Joel Rosario will be aboard Risk It at 5-1 in the morning line.
With a post time of 5:30 p.m. CT, the Gun Runner is scheduled as the 12th and final race on Saturday’s “Road to the Derby Kickoff Day” card. The program also features the Untapable, a points race on the road to the Longines Kentucky Oaks, and six other stakes. First post is noon CT.
Here is the complete field for the Gun Runner from the rail out (with jockey, trainer and morning line odds): 1. Next Level (David Cohen, Keith Desormeaux, 20-1); 2. Catching Freedom (Corey Lanerie, Brad Cox, 5-1); 3. Risk It (Joel Rosario, Steve Asmussen, 5-1); 4. Neat (Rey Gutierrez, Rob Atras, 12-1); 5. Footprint (Brian Hernandez, Jr., Ken McPeek, 20-1); 6. Nash (Florent Geroux, Brad Cox, 7-5); 7. Snead (Jareth Loveberry, Brendan Walsh, 6-1); 8. Track Phantom (Christian Torres, Steve Asmussen, 7-2).
Brendan Walsh, trainer of Snead
“As he goes forward he’s going to continue to put himself in a better early position. I think he’s learning more with each race than anything else. It looks like he stays the distance pretty good so that’s always a big asset going into this time of year.”
“He’s always seemed like a horse that wanted to go long, so we decided to start him on the turf because it would be better experience for him and he’d learn as he goes along. It’s worked pretty good for him up until now and hopefully he’s learning the game and will keep moving forward. He’s still got a long way to go. It’s a piece-by-piece thing. It seems like he’s putting the pieces together. We’ll find out more on Saturday.”
Keith Desormeaux, trainer of Next Level
“He’s always indicated to me that he has this level of talent. Although the numbers don’t back it up–his Beyers are just so-so opposed to a couple of horses in the Gun Runner. The speed figure (in his maiden win) is low because he set a very slow pace. That’s not his fault. He’s not going to go any faster than he has to. But the question is will he be able to finish after he sets a pace of 47 (seconds) or 47 and change, which is two seconds faster than his last race. That’s going to be the question. That’s a conundrum for the gamblers. But he’s always showed class and talent. Physically he looks like a horse that can run all day.”
“Talentwise he’s as good as any (Derby horses) I’ve had (over the years). But we’re going to test his heart. Confidence Game was a little more developed early on, a little more athletic. This is more of a rangier and likely later developing horse, but I can see the talent it’s there. If this horse has some grit, if he has some heart, he’s going to be a really good horse.”
West Omaha, Legadema Look to Pass the Two-Turn Test, Earn Kentucky Oaks Points, in the Untapable
Off a convincing four-length maiden breaker over seven furlongs last out at Churchill Downs, Gary and Mary West’s West Omaha will look to prove her merits over a route of ground against five rivals in Saturday’s Untapable. In addition to the $100,000 purse, the Untapable will offer 2-year-old fillies, soon to be three, 10-5-3-2-1 points on the Road to the Longines Kentucky Oaks.
Installed as Mike Diliberto’s lukewarm 5-2 morning line favorite, the homebred daughter of West Coast ran into all sorts of trouble in her career debut on September 21 at Churchill. Losing several lengths when crowded at the start, she raced in the clear near the back of the pack early on. Five-wide off the far turn, the Brad Cox-trainee rallied off heels and finished strongly to be third (placed 2nd following DQ of the winner), ¾ of a length. Over the same seven-furlong trip in her next start, West Omaha enjoyed a much cleaner start. She made the lead, but despite being pressured every step of the way, she drew off in the end to win by four convincing lengths.
“I think she’ll stretch out based on her pedigree,” Cox said. “And physically she looks able to handle two turns. We like her. She had a good work this past weekend. Hopefully she can get a good trip.”
With Joel Rosario in the saddle, West Omaha will break from post 6.
Unlike her Cox-trained stablemate West Omaha, Full of Run Racing & Madaket Stable’s Alpine Princess already has a two-turn win on her resume. Third in advance of a maiden win in a pair of Saratoga sprints this summer, the daughter of Classic Empire stretched out for the first time in the Alcibiades (G1) at Keeneland. Six-wide on the first turn and four-deep on the backstretch, she would finish a distant seventh of eight.
“She reared up in the gate prior to the start which I think threw her off her game a little bit (in the Alcibiades),” Cox said. “She didn’t break as well as we thought she would the first time going two turns. That was something we had never seen from her and have not seen since. Hopefully she can get a clean trip from the one hole.”
Dropped back down for her subsequent start at Churchill on November 26, Alpine Princess broke from the rail and raced from the pocket on the backstretch. Held up late on the far turn, she split horses at the top of the stretch and proved two lengths better than fellow Untapable starter Sistina Chapel.
“She rebounded after we gave her around seven weeks between her runs,” Cox said. “I thought she responded really well. She’s always been a really good workhorse, that’s a big reason why we took her to Saratoga over the summer. We liked her first time out and she didn’t get away well. She finished up well and was able to get the job done in her second start.”
At the co-second choice at 3-1 in the morning line, Alpine Princess will break from post 1 with Florent Geroux back aboard.
With four graded stakes wins, including their first grade one, and nearly $4 million in purse earnings, it’s already been a banner year for Rigney Racing and trainer Phil Bauer, and they look to end their 2023 on a high note with Untapable contender Legadema.
“We feel like this filly is all quality,” Bauer said. “Early on in the summer we thought this horse would be our Breeders’ Cup horse for the Juvenile Fillies. But we had a couple hiccups and just lost all momentum.”
A $590,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase, this daughter of Arrogate served notice in her November 23 debut at Churchill. Away alertly in the 6 ½ furlong sprint, she went right to the lead with Martin Garcia aboard, swatted away the pace pressers, and held firm for a convincing 2 ¼ length score.
“On Thanksgiving it was just one of those deals,” Bauer said. “The race was put up as an extra, and we were going to work her out of the gate again that weekend, so we thought what’s another half-furlong. If that extra hadn’t been there, she might not have run at the Churchill meet. I thought that day she was good enough. It was just a matter of if she was tight enough. I think this is an extremely big ask for her in this race, but the important thing is stepping stones and getting a good read on her moving forward. We’re trying to keep some of these fillies separated. We could have run two in the sprint but we felt this filly really has a lot of upside so let’s go ahead and try her in here.”
By Arrogate, there is reason to believe Saturday’s two-turn distance won’t be an issue.
“I like horses that have natural pace but the thing that’s nice about this filly is she is very easy to get along with,” Bauer said. “So I think she’ll avoid trouble with her tactical speed, but she’s one that if you reach up and grab her she’ll listen to the rider, so we’re excited to see where she goes from here.”
At the co-second choice at 3-1 in the morning line, Legadema will be reunited with jockey Martin Garcia and the team will leave from post 5.
With a post time of 4 p.m. CT, the Untapable is scheduled as the 9th race on Saturday’s 12-race “Road to the Derby Kickoff Day” card. The program also features the Gun Runner, a points race on the road to the Kentucky Derby 150 presented by Woodford Reserve, and six other stakes. First post is noon CT.
Here is the complete field for the Untapable from the rail out (with jockey, trainer and morning line odds): 1. Alpine Princess (Florent Geroux, Brad Cox, 3-1); 2. Band of Gold (Brian Hernandez, Jr., Ken McPeek, 8-1); 3. Sistina Chapel (Corey Lanerie, Ken McPeek, 5-1); 4. Fibber (Mitchell Murrill, Bret Calhoun, 4-1); 5. Legadema (Martin Garcia., Phil Bauer, 3-1); 6. West Omaha (Joel Rosario, Brad Cox, 5-2).
Upcoming Holiday Live Racing Schedule
Fair Grounds will race live Thursday & Friday (Dec 21-22, 12:45 p.m. CT) and Saturday (“Road to the Derby Kickoff,” noon CT) before taking a Christmas break Sunday, December 24 through Thursday, December 28. Racing will then resume Friday, December 29 and continue through New Year’s Day, Monday, January 1 (all post times 12:45 p.m. CT).
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