Will Gun Runner Win Again in the Louisiana Derby?

J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

It's finally here! The $1,000,000 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby (gr. II) at Fair Grounds on March 26th is the first Kentucky Derby prep race to offer 100 qualification points to the winner, meaning that at long last, we've reached the homestretch of the Kentucky Derby trail! The Louisiana Derby has drawn a high-quality field of eleven and promises to be a great race to handicap--let's get started!

#HorseJockeyTrainerLast race
1Gun RunnerFlorent GerouxSteve Asmussen1st Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
2GreenpointcrusaderJohn VelazquezDominick Schettino2nd Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
3BatteryJavier CastellanoTodd Pletcher1st Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
4Conquest WindycityJoe Rocco, Jr.Mark Casse1st Allowance (VIDEO)
5Candy My BoyFrancisco TorresRoger Brueggemann4th Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
6Mo TomCorey LanerieTom Amoss3rd Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
7Tom’s ReadyBrian Hernandez, Jr.Dallas Stewart7th Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
8Uncle WalterRobby AlbaradoMike Maker11th Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
9Dazzling GemShaun BridgmohanBrad Cox1st Allowance (VIDEO)
10ZapperiniJulien LeparouxGregory Foley5th Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
11ForevamoColby HernandezAlbert Stall, Jr.2nd Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)

It's not every day that the morning line favorite in a race is coming off a loss to the morning line second choice, but such is the case in the Louisiana Derby, in which Mo Tom has been made the 5-2 favorite over 3-1 shot Gun Runner despite finishing behind Gun Runner in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) at Fair Grounds last month.

Of course, a strong case can be made for Mo Tom to turn the tables on Gun Runner. In the Risen Star, Mo Tom was rallying strongly when he had to check hard off the heels of a tiring runner. Despite losing all his momentum and suffering a cut on his leg, Mo Tom re-rallied strongly in the final furlong to finish third, beaten just 1 ½ lengths. If not for the traffic incident, I think Mo Tom might have won the race, and with the benefit of an extra sixteenth of a mile in the Louisiana Derby, he might have a better chance to reel in the leaders this time around.

But while Mo Tom should run well in the Louisiana Derby, I'm actually confident that Gun Runner can maintain his advantage. For one thing, it's worth noting that up until he had to check, Mo Tom had gotten a perfect trip in the Risen Star, saving ground on both turns while settling far behind a fast pace. Even if a similarly quick pace unfolds in the Louisiana Derby, I think there's a strong possibility that Mo Tom will be kept outside of horses on Saturday to avoid another traffic issue, which could cause him to concede several lengths of ground compared to Gun Runner, who has drawn the rail in the Louisiana Derby.

Additionally, in the Risen Star Stakes, Gun Runner actually didn't get the best of trips--he broke slowly and was in tight quarters early on before rallying up the rail to settle a couple of lengths behind a fast pace. He then moved strongly into the fast pace on the far turn, which might have been premature, but despite his early move to take the lead, Gun Runner stayed on well through the long Fair Grounds homestretch to prevail by a half-length over the late-running Forevamo, with Mo Tom another length behind.

Given that this was Gun Runner's first start off a layoff, I thought it was an excellent performance, particularly since he might have moved too soon. Since the Risen Star, Gun Runner has continued to train very well, highlighted by a bullet five-furlong work in 1:00 3/5 on March 14th. I think he's ready to take a step forward in the Louisiana Derby, and he is my selection to win.

Another horse that deserves a lot of respect is Greenpointcrusader, winner of the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) over a sloppy track last fall. His form on fast tracks hasn't been quite as impressive, but he did run well in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) on January 30th, adjusting his running style to help set a slow pace before staying on strongly in the homestretch to finish second behind Kentucky Derby favorite Mohaymen. He's coming off a bit of a layoff, having not run in two months, but he's been breezing steadily since the Holy Bull and must be respected based on the company that he's kept in his last three races. I think he had a strong chance to split Gun Runner and Mo Tom to finish in the exacta, and I wouldn't be surprised if he wins.

The wildcard in the Louisiana Derby is Battery, a son of Bernardini trained by Todd Pletcher. After breaking his maiden by 3 ¼ lengths on November 21st at Gulfstream Park West, Battery finished second to the highly-regarded Cherry Wine in an 8.5-furlong Gulfstream allowance race, then stretched out to nine furlongs and won a similar race by two lengths after tracking modest early fractions. The Louisiana Derby will be a big step up in class, but Battery strikes me as a steadily improving, very talented colt with a big chance to finish in the trifecta. Additionally, you can never count out Todd Pletcher in the Louisiana Derby-since 2010, he's won the race twice with Mission Impazible and Revolutionary, and his colts Intense Holiday and Stanford finished second in 2014 and 2015.

Forevamo, who came charging late to finish second in the Risen Star, should be finishing well again on Saturday. However, like Mo Tom, he benefited from the fast pace that day, and even with the extra distance, he could find it tough to catch Gun Runner.

If you're looking for a live longshot, Tom's Ready could be the one. Two starts back, he led past the eighth pole in the LeComte Stakes (gr. III) before finishing second to Mo Tom, and while he failed to fire when seventh in the Risen Star, he also got a very wide trip over a track that might have been favorable to horses racing on the inside. If you judge him from his previous form, he looks like a contender to hit the board at a nice price.

I'd also like to mention Dazzling Gem, an unbeaten son of Misremembered that has won two straight races at Oaklawn Park, including an 8.5-furlong allowance race on February 13th. While he raced a bit greenly in the latter race, he seems to have a lot of talent and should be forwardly placed in a race that doesn't have a lot of speed on paper. He's already beaten some very nice horses, including Gray Sky, Madtap, and American Pioneer, and I'm excited to see how he performs in the Louisiana Derby. I think he has the potential to be a very good horse.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Louisiana Derby?


To help simplify the process of choosing and keeping track of everyone's prime horse selections in our 2016 Road to the Kentucky Derby Handicapping Challenge, I would like to ask everyone to please submit their prime choice each week by leaving a special comment on the official blog page for the contest. This will greatly reduce the chances of any prime horse selections getting overlooked, and will also make it simpler to double-check the standings. Thanks, and enjoy the racing!


J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website http://www.theturfboard.com/.

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