By Laura Pugh
The Risen Star Stakes is officially in the books, and so is Gun Runner, who earned 50 points with the win. The effort has landed him atop the Kentucky Derby Leader Board, with Nyquist and Mohaymen trailing by 20 and 26 points, respectively.
2016 RISEN STAR STAKES
The Risen Star represented Gun Runner’s first start back since a fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes back on November 28, 2015. It also moves Gun Runner’s record up to three wins in as many tries over a dry track. However, despite the fact that Gun Runner crossed the wire first, there are those who believe that he was not the best horse in the race.
Mo Tom, the winner of the Le Comte Stakes earlier in the meet, was in the middle of making his bid when he had to steady sharply after running up on the heels of the fading Bristraya. In the wake of this fact, there are many that believe that Mo Tom wins if he isn’t forced to lose his momentum.
There is some validity to those thoughts seeing as Mo Tom did finish a fast-closing third, completing his final sixteenth of a mile (1/2-furlong) in a shade under six seconds. However, one cannot completely discount the effort by Gun Runner. This was his first race in 12 weeks, going around two turns, over a track that has one of the longest stretches in the country. Despite this, Gun Runner made a huge move from the half-mile pole to the mile marker, making up five and a half lengths. He did get leg weary late, but was able to hold off Forvamo and Mo Tom
Gun Runner’s tactical speed and big middle move is what put him in position to win. It was so decisive that the amount of ground left for his opponents to close was simply too much, despite him finishing his final sixteenth in an average time of 6.89 seconds. What people are missing is that the horses that finished directly behind him already had a start under their belts, giving them a fitness edge. That edge showed tremendously as they continued to make up ground as Gun Runner grew slightly leg weary in the final stages. Growing weary late was expected since the Risen Star was his first race in 12 weeks. One can anticipate a great amount of improvement now that Gun Runner has a stiff test under his belt.
What is also encouraging about Gun Runner’s performance was the numbers he was awarded. Equibase gave the son of Candy Ride a speed figure of 106, while Beyer assigned the effort a 90 and Brisnet gave him a 97. Currently, the fastest figures for three-year-old males going over the main track at distances over a mile are 110 (Equibase), 95 (Beyer), and 100 (Brisnet). As can be seen, Gun Runner’s numbers compare quite favorably.
After analyzing the Risen Star, I believe it to be an overstatement to say the trouble encountered by Mo Tom cost him the win. It definitely cost him a placing and he definitely was one of the best horses in the race, but taking everything into consideration, it isn’t a foregone conclusion that he was the best.
Gun Runner won vs. horses that had a decisive fitness advantage, while managing to run one of the best rated races of 2016 within his age group. It is highly likely that Gun Runner will improve off of this effort, as it looked like it put some much needed bottom into him. If that happens, and he does moves forward, then people betting against him next out will be in for a rude awakening.