03/26/2016 7:15PM

In tale of two trips, Gun Runner wins Louisiana Derby

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Lou Hodges/Fair Grounds
Gun Runner uses a quick turn of foot to win the Louisiana Derby under Florent Geroux. Meanwhile, Mo Tom (back, on left) comes around pacesetter Candy My Boy after being checked under Corey Lanerie and losing his best chance.

NEW ORLEANS – For Gun Runner and Mo Tom, the Louisiana Derby on Saturday played out like the Risen Star last month. For Gun Runner, it was a joyous sequel. For Mo Tom, another Nightmare on Gentilly Blvd.

Gun Runner ($9.80), making full use of his tactical speed and instant acceleration, completed a sweep of the two biggest Kentucky Derby preps at Fair Grounds by rolling to a 4 1/2-length victory in the Grade 2, $1 million Louisiana Derby, a result that thrilled his trainer, Steve Asmussen.

“It’s extremely exciting,” Asmussen said in the winner’s circle, surrounded by his wife and three sons. “He’s a very athletic horse, handy, with a good temperament, and he stayed on to the wire.”

Mo Tom, who has a powerful late kick, was favored off his rough trip in the Risen Star last month. Once again, he ran into a roadblock while trying to rally in the stretch with jockey Corey Lanerie and wound up fourth, one place worse than the Risen Star, a result that left his trainer, Tom Amoss, fuming.

“Corey’s going to have to explain that ride," Amoss said. "It’s beyond my understanding. He was locked and loaded, so why he chose the most dangerous route is beyond me. I flashed back to all the work we’ve done with him. It’s like being an eyewitness to your kid being beaten up at the playground. He’s got such a fine move. Just go around.”

That was the ecstasy and the agony of the 102nd Louisiana Derby. Gun Runner got a first prize of $600,000, plus 100 points toward a berth in the Kentucky Derby May 7, which will be his next start. Even with the loss, Mo Tom likely has accumulated enough points to also get into the Derby, but Amoss – a native of New Orleans – was denied his first victory in a race he deeply covets.

Gun Runner had an ideal trip under Florent Geroux. He was third, tracking pacesetter Candy My Boy from along the inside through the first six furlongs, then moved in a flash to attack Candy My Boy midway on the far turn.

“He’s super athletic,” Geroux said.

“He’s got a lot of gears,” said Scott Blasi, Asmussen’s top assistant.

Gun Runner put daylight on his rivals in upper stretch and was never threatened through the lane, crossing the line in 1:51.06 for 1 1/8 miles on the fast main track. By comparison, the New Orleans Handicap for older horses earlier in the day was won by the longshot S’maverlous in 1:50.06, exactly one second faster.

The 30-1 shot Tom’s Ready, like Mo Tom owned by Gayle Benson but trained by Dallas Stewart, rallied into second at midstretch and maintained that position, finishing 1 1/4 lengths in front of Dazzling Gem, who beat a fast-closing Mo Tom by a neck for third.

Mo Tom was last the first half-mile of the race, began a strong rally toward the end of the far turn, was taken inside in upper stretch, and twice was forced to steady when caught behind the tiring Candy My Boy.

Forevamo was fifth and was followed, in order, by Candy My Boy, Greenpointcrusader, Conquest Windycity, Uncle Walter, and Battery.

Gun Runner, a 3-year-old colt by Candy Ride, has now won four times in five starts, his lone loss a fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club last fall on a sloppy, sealed track at Churchill Downs. He did win first time out against maidens at Churchill Downs on a fast track.

Asmussen trains Gun Runner for Ron and Joan Winchell’s Winchell Thoroughbreds and the Three Chimneys Farm of Goncalo Torrealba.

“He’s got talent,” Asmussen said. “What I love is how fast he is.”

And, no doubt, he loves Gun Runner’s ability to stay out of trouble.