06/18/2016 8:23PM

Gun Runner dominates Matt Winn Stakes

Coady Photography
Gun Runner, ridden by Florent Geroux, is headed to the $1 million Haskell at Monmouth Park after his 5 1/4-length win in the Matt Winn.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – As training angles go, Steve Asmussen has the race-after-Derby move down pat. A week after Creator rebounded from a 13th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby to score an upset in the Belmont Stakes, Asmussen’s other Derby starter, third-place finisher Gun Runner, returned as an easy winner in Saturday evening’s Grade 3, $100,000 Matt Winn Stakes on the Stephen Foster undercard.

Although Creator’s win in the Belmont was somewhat of a surprise, Gun Runner’s was not. Favored at 1-10 against an unaccomplished graded stakes field, Creator sped straight to the lead under regular rider Florent Geroux, and after a brief bid from eventual runner-up Gray Sky to pull within a half- length  on the far turn, drew away to a 5 1/4-length victory.

The winner, a 3-year-old son of Candy Ride co-owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds, Three Chimneys Farm, and breeder Besilu Stables, raced 1 1/16 miles on a glib strip in a 1:41.12, just .08 of a second off the track record set by Successful Dan in May 2014. His splits were 47.73 seconds for a half-mile and 1:11.66 for six furlongs.

Geroux said he remained confident on Gun Runner even when his early lead diminished on the turn.

 “As soon as I cut him loose he was much the best,” he said.

In taking the Matt Winn, Gun Runner recorded his third stakes win, following victories in the Grade 2 Risen Star and Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds earlier in the year.

Gray Sky tired late but still finished a half-length in front of third-place Texas Chrome, who was followed across the wire by Virtual Machine, Yo Carm, and Cutacorner in the six-horse field. Unbridled Outlaw, the second program favorite, was scratched.

As he noted before the race, Asmussen reiterated the next target for Gun Runner is the Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on July 31, a race that will provide a much more challenging test.

“I do think he is of the highest quality,” Asmussen said. “That was only his seventh lifetime race, and he’s faster now than he’s ever been.”

Gun Runner, who paid $2.20 to win, $2.10 to place, and $2.10 to show, was so heavily backed that Churchill Downs had to pay out of its own pocket to meet the minimum payoffs of $2.10 to place and show. This amount, called a minus pool, was $895 to place, and more than $31,000 to show.