Will Nash Triumph in the Gun Runner Stakes?

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

It's too early to have definitive feelings about the most likely winner of the 2024 Kentucky Derby (G1), but I believe a colt entered in Saturday's $100,000 Gun Runner S. at Fair Grounds has to be part of the conversation.

I'm thinking of #6 Nash (7-5), a Godolphin homebred conditioned by two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox. The beautifully bred son of Medaglia d'Oro out of the three-time graded stakes-winning Malibu Moon mare Sara Louise has the pedigree to shine over classic distances and has shown flashes of significant talent during his brief career.

I thought Nash ran quite well in his debut sprinting six furlongs at Keeneland. Favored to win against 10 rivals, Nash tracked the early pace before staying on for second place behind Booth, who won by 5 1/4 lengths in a fast time. Nash pulled four lengths clear of the third-place finisher and earned encouraging Beyer and Brisnet speed figures even in defeat.

But Nash elevated his game to a new level when stretching out around two turns for a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight at Churchill Downs. After carving out the pace, Nash powered clear under a hand ride from jockey Florent Geroux to dominate by 10 1/4 lengths, earning identical 97 Beyer and Brisnet speed figures. On both scales, he's the fastest horse entered in the Gun Runner field.

What impressed me most about Nash's maiden victory is how fast he finished. He ran the fourth quarter-mile in a strong :24.40 and the final sixteenth (while gearing down) in :06.34. That adds up to five-sixteenths of a mile in :30.74, an excellent closing fraction for a dirt route, especially coming from a lightly raced two-year-old.

Trained Brad Cox has been winning Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifiers left and right in recent years. In fact, he and Geroux teamed up to win the 2022 Gun Runner with Jace's Road. Brisnet stats indicate Geroux and Cox have won at a 25% rate teaming up together over the last two months, and I'm confident they'll continue their hot streak with Nash this Saturday.

Speaking of Nash—and let's go off on a tangent for a moment—the runner-up in his maiden victory was Justifreak, who is entered in Saturday's fifth race at Fair Grounds, a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight. He's listed at 7-2 on the morning line and doesn't appear to be facing any budding superstars, so I believe Justifreak has a strong chance to break his maiden. If those 7-2 odds hold up, I'll be eager to place a win bet.

Getting back to the Gun Runner, I'm thinking #8 Track Phantom (7-2) is the most likely runner-up. He started his career with a pair of top-three finishes in one-mile maiden special weights at Churchill Downs, and it turns out he was facing strong competition. The winners of those one-turn contests were Stronghold, future runner-up in the Bob Hope (G3) and Los Alamitos Futurity (G2), and Real Men Violin, who went on to finish second in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2).

When Track Phantom stretched out around two turns for a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight at Churchill Downs last month, he turned in a sharp performance, vying for command through slow fractions before pulling clear to beat next-out winner Lat Long by 4 3/4 lengths. Track Phantom has the tactical speed to be involved from the start in the Gun Runner and brings sharp Beyer and Brisnet speed figures to the table, so a cold Nash/Track Phantom exacta seems like a probable outcome.

Two other contenders have caught my eye for the minor awards. #2 Catching Freedom (5-1) easily won his debut racing one mile at Churchill Downs over a next-out winner, then ran into a ton of traffic trouble when finishing fourth in a $100,000 allowance optional claimer racing 1 1/16 miles at Churchill. Catching Freedom was beaten only 2 1/4 lengths, and I'd argue he might have won with a clear trip. Don't count this Brad Cox trainee out of the mix for a top-three finish.

#4 Neat (12-1) also offers appeal, in part because he's yet to race on dirt and there's at least a small chance he'll run out of his skin while switching surfaces. The son of Florida Derby (G1) winner Constitution has won maiden and allowance races on grass by daylight margins over next-out winners, and it's worth noting his trainer (Rob Atras) has gone 3-for-3 at Fair Grounds this meet.


1st: Nash
2nd: Track Phantom
3rd: Catching Freedom
4th: Neat

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Gun Runner?


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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, 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.

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