GUN RUNNER HEAVILY FAVORED FOR MONDAY’S RAZORBACK
HOT SPRINGS, AR (Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017) – Oaklawn General Manager Eric Jackson said he was kicking around ideas a couple of years ago to strengthen the track’s two-turn stakes program for older horses when he zeroed in on the Razorback Handicap. Jackson said he was thinking of a hefty purse hike.
Racing secretary Pat Pope had an idea, too. He wanted to move the 1 1/16 Razorback up approximately a month on the calendar to give horses an attractive steppingstone from Arkansas to the $10 million Dubai World Cup (G1), run this year March 25 at Meydan Racecourse.
Mission accomplished? Maybe.
One horse entered in Monday’s $500,000 Razorback (G3) is eying a trip to the Middle East and that’s Gun Runner, the overwhelming 4-5 program favorite for his scheduled 4-year-old debut.
Probable post time for the Razorback, the seventh of 10 races, is 4:09 p.m. (Central). Racing begins at 1:05 p.m.
Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, Gun Runner’s eye-catching resume includes a victory against older horses in the $500,000 Clark Handicap (G1) Nov. 25 at Churchill Downs in his last start, a victory in the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) last March and a third-place finish in the $2 million Kentucky Derby (G1) last May.
After a heavyweight matchup with California Chrome and Arrogate ($12 million Pegasus World Cup) was scrubbed last month following an outbreak of equine herpes at Fair Grounds, Gun Runner, a career winner of $2,037,800, was re-routed to Oaklawn to prep for a possible trip to the desert.
“The only downside to it was we would have liked to have run (in Florida) to assess how he was doing as a 4-year-old and make the decision then as to whether to go to Dubai,” said David Fiske, manager for Winchell Thoroughbreds, which co-owns the Candy Ride colt with Three Chimneys Farm. “It would have given us a little more latitude. If he’d run well against Arrogate and California Chrome, and California Chrome retires, you’d think he and Arrogate would be the two best older horses in the country and you could go to Dubai with some confidence. As far as the timeframe, that was really the only disappointment of it.”
Fiske said the Razorback, previously worth $350,000, was the “next most attractive race on the calendar” for Gun Runner, who was based this winter at Fair Grounds before shipping to Oaklawn earlier this month.
The Razorback also gives Gun Runner’s connections more time to ponder a trip to the Middle East, Fiske said.
Regular rider Florent Geroux is scheduled to ride Gun Runner, who, after being assigned top weight of 122 pounds, drew the rail.
Also entered in the Razorback from the rail out: Domain’s Rap, Ramon Vazquez to ride, 117 pounds, 6-1 on the morning line; Blue Tone, Jose Ortiz, 116, 9-2; Smack Smack, Shane Laviolette, 115, 10-1; Hawaakom, Miguel Mena, 115, 10-1; Chief of Staff, Walter De La Cruz, 111, 20-1; Dazzling Gem, Robby Albarado, 115, 8-1; and Goats Town, Chris Landeros, 110, 20-1.
Trainer Brad Cox said Sunday morning that Dazzling Gem will be scratched and remain at Fair Grounds to run in the $125,000 Mineshaft Handicap (G3) Feb. 25.
Gun Runner has a series of fast workouts leading up to his 4-year-old debut, including a sparkling 5-furlong bullet drill (:59.80) Monday morning.
“The trepidation I have is the weather,” Fiske said. “His two worst races have been on an off track. That would be my greatest concern. I think his work the other day was pretty … I think he’s ready.”
Blue Tone ships in from Southern California for trainer Bob Hess Jr. off a front-running 1 ¼-length victory in the $200,000 San Gabriel Stakes (G3) on a sloppy track Jan. 7 at Santa Anita. Hess said the purse was a major reason why Blue Tone is in the Razorback, adding he believes the 8-year-old Birdstone gelding will like the surface, particularly if it’s wet.
The downside, Hess said, is facing Gun Runner.
“He’s ready to run,” Hess said of Blue Tone. “Gun Runner, obviously, is a huge, huge obstacle, a horse we respect. Hopefully, we can run second to him. That’s all I can say. We’re trying to win, but a second wouldn’t be too shabby, either.”