03/27/2016 12:15PM

Road to the Derby: Louisiana Derby

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Lou Hodges/Fair Grounds
Gun Runner earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 91 for this victory in the Louisiana Derby

Grade 2, $1 million Louisiana Derby; 1 1/8 miles; Fair Grounds; March 26, 2016
(100 Derby qualifying points for a win, 40 for second, 20 for third, 10 for fourth)

Winner: Gun Runner, by Candy Ride

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Jockey: Florent Geroux

Owner: Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC and Three Chimneys Farm

Beyer Speed Figure: 91

GUN RUNNER followed up his victory in last month’s Risen Star with a 4 1/2-length victory in this race, which brought his career record to four wins in five starts. Again in this race, Gun Runner showed the ability to sit close to the pace and have instant acceleration when needed, both of which will be assets in the inevitable bulky field for the May 7 Kentucky Derby, which will be his next start.

I’m a big fan of this colt for those reasons, but my enthusiasm is tempered because he’s yet to run fast compared to some of the other leading Derby contenders; the Rebel, Fountain of Youth, Tampa Bay Derby, San Felipe, Southwest, Lewis, and Holy Bull winners all got faster figs. Gun Runner got a Beyer Figure of 90 in the Risen Star. This was one point better. And the fig is rock solid. A moderate group of older horses earlier on the card went exactly one second faster for 1 1/8 miles in the New Orleans Handicap. No one is confusing the winner of that race, S’maverlous, with California Chrome.

But Gun Runner is lightly raced, with five starts overall and just two this year, so he’s certainly got plenty of room to improve, and many, many horses in races everywhere, every day do their best third start off a layoff. I expect him to run his best race yet in the Kentucky Derby. I’m just not convinced right now that his best is going to be good enough in the current prospective field.

In the Louisiana Derby, Gun Runner broke well from the inside and went into the first turn hugging the rail, in third, right behind front-runner CANDY MY BOY and inside DAZZLING GEM. He stayed in that spot all the way down the backstretch, but when a seam developed between Candy My Boy and Dazzling Gem three furlongs out, he quickly accelerated to secure an attacking position outside Candy My Boy. He put away Candy My Boy in upper stretch and quickly opened daylight on his rivals, swapped over to his left lead a sixteenth out, but had the race in control.

TOM’S READY, who was second, raced near the back of the pack while three paths wide on the first turn, split horses on the far turn and advanced, had to sit a bit in some traffic a quarter-mile out, followed Gun Runner into the lane and got clear racing room in upper stretch, but lost ground to Gun Runner through the lane and swapped over to his left lead about 50 yards from the wire.

Dazzling Gem, who was third, went into the first turn in second, just outside of Candy My Boy, while under a bit of restraint. He stayed in that spot down the backstretch, came out just enough with three furlongs to go to allow Gun Runner a spot to get out, took a couple of solid bumps from FOREVAMO in upper stretch, but kept to his task and just held on to third from hard-luck MO TOM.

Mo Tom, who finished fourth, lacked early speed per usual and was last early, moved a bit closer nearing the far turn while saving ground, continued to advance without urging, was guided inside for the stretch run, started what looked like a strong rally, but ran up on the heels of the fading Candy My Boy and checked, then a few strides later almost came to a complete stop inside Candy My Boy. He somehow regathered himself and made a belated bid, though the cause was lost. The trouble was significant, and he deserved a better fate, but he has now run seven times and has a career-best Beyer of 88.

Forevamo, who was fifth, broke from the outside and went into the first turn in the second flight of horses, about three paths wide. He remained wide down the backstretch, could not drop in, was caught four to five paths wide on the far turn, bumped a couple of times with Dazzling Gem in upper stretch, and lacked a sufficient rally.

Candy My Boy, who was sixth, had the most speed leaving the gate and led into the first turn. He continued to lead to the far turn, was engaged by Gun Runner midway on the turn, then began to yield in upper stretch, becoming the bane of Mo Tom.

GREENPOINTCRUSADER, who was seventh, was outrun during the early going and was near the back of the pack, along the rail, into the first turn. He was angled off the rail midway down the backstretch to move outside horses, went into the far turn about four paths wide, was completely outrun at that point when the late runners began their rally, then passed a couple tired rivals in the lane. In my analysis of his last race, the Holy Bull, I theorized that he was a one-run, one-turn horse, and that he was not going to improve with more distance. I was stunned he was the second choice in the Louisiana Derby. This effort was further evidence he’s not cut out for these longer races right now.

CONQUEST WINDYCITY, who was eighth, was very green through the lane the first time, repeatedly swapping leads, and was in front of only Mo Tom into the first turn. He dropped back to last entering the far turn, and never showed any spark at any point.

UNCLE WALTER, who was ninth, was forwardly placed between horses into the first turn, tried to rally three  to four paths wide on the far turn, was even with Dazzling Gem and Forevamo a quarter-mile out, but faded.

BATTERY, who finished last of 10, was climbing early, seemingly resenting the spray of dirt in his face. He saved ground while mid-pack into the backstretch, was in a good spot heading into the far turn, but gave way readily beginning with three furlongs to go in a poor effort.