Gun Runner draws rail for Louisiana Derby

A field of 11, including the first four finishers from the Risen Star Stakes last month at Fair Grounds, was entered Saturday for the $1 million Louisiana Derby on March 26 at Fair Grounds.

The Risen Star’s top four –Gun Runner Forevamo, Mo Tom and Candy My Boy – all are back for the Louisiana Derby, the first 1 1/8-mile race for these 3-year-olds. Mo Tom, the winner of the Lecomte Stakes on Jan. 16 at Fair Grounds and badly compromised by midstretch trouble when third in the Risen Star, was installed by linemaker Mike Diliberto as the 5-2 morning-line favorite. Mo Tom is trained by New Orleans native Tom Amoss and is owned by Gayle Benson’s GMB Racing. Benson is the wife of another New Orleans native, Tom Benson, who owns the NFL’s New Orleans Saints and the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans.

Mo Tom landed post 6 and will be ridden again by Florida-based Corey Lanerie. “I’m very happy with the draw,” said Amoss.

Gun Runner, fourth behind third-place Mo Tom in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last November but the Risen Star winner in his 3-year-old debut, is saddled from post 1, a tricky spot but one that the compact, athletic Gun Runner and leading Fair Grounds jockey Florent Geroux should be able, with luck, to handle.

“Great if we win,” trainer Steve Asmussen texted when asked his thoughts on breaking from the rail.

Gun Runner is listed as the 3-1 second choice on the morning line, with Florida shipper Greenpointcrusader the 7-2 third choice.

From the rail out, the field, with jockeys: Gun Runner (Geroux), Greenpointcrusader (John Velazquez), Battery (Javier Castellano), Conquest Windycity (Joe Rocco Jr.), Candy My Boy (Francisco Torres), Mo Tom (Lanerie), Tom’s Ready (Brian Hernandez Jr.), Uncle Walter (Robby Albarado), Dazzling Gem (Shaun Bridgmohan), Zapperini (Julien Leparoux), and Forevamo (Colby Hernandez).

“It’s very solid,” Dallas Stewart, the trainer of Tom’s Ready, said of the Louisiana Derby. “You’ll see two or three horses in this field in the Kentucky Derby.”

Greenpointcrusader, the field’s lone Grade 1 winner, finished second to Derby favorite Mohaymen in his only start this year, the Jan. 30 Holy Bull Stakes. He and Battery, a Todd Pletcher-trained allowance winner, ship this week from Florida.

Two entrants, Conquest Windycity and Dazzling Gem, both first-level allowance winners in their most recent start, will be shipped by van from Oaklawn Park. Dazzling Gem’s participation hinges on a workout Monday, said trainer Brad Cox, who has nursed Dazzling Gem back to full health, he believes, after the colt developed an abscess in his left front hoof.

“If he works good Monday, comes out of it good Tuesday, we plan to run,” Cox said.

The foot problem cost Dazzling Gem five days of training, but Dazzling Gem, 2 for 2 in his career, pleased Cox with a bullet five-furlong work in 1:00.60 last Tuesday.

“He had an awesome work, well in hand and doing it the right way, and to look at the horse, he has great muscle tone, he’s fit, happy, and training well,” said Cox.

Dazzling Gem was fitted with front glue-on shoes after popping his abscess and will wear them for the foreseeable future.

Forevamo had a breakout race in the Risen Star, steadily eating into Gun Runner’s lead in the last furlong in the best performance of his career. He’s done well since that race, trainer Al Stall said, and Stall isn’t concerned with drawing post 11. “A mile and an eighth, it doesn’t matter,” he said.

Mo Tom worked on March 5 and again on March 13, but Amoss as of Saturday was leaning toward not working Mo Tom again before the Louisiana Derby. Mo Tom galloped out a strong six furlongs in the March 13 workout, and Amoss believes he’s plenty fit, and that he won’t become too keyed up just galloping into the race.

Candy My Boy set a fast pace in the Risen Star and is likely to be on the lead again in the Louisiana Derby.

No clear favorite among eight in Oaks

There are eight other stakes, three graded, on a marathon 15-race card that begins at 12:30 p.m. Central and isn’t scheduled to wrap up until 7:25.

The Grade 2, $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks drew eight 3-year-old fillies, and might have no defined favorite. Stageplay convincingly won the Silverbulletday Stakes on Jan. 16 at Fair Grounds in her 3-year-old debut, and bettors probably will be somewhat willing to forgive her fifth-place finish as the 3-5 favorite last month in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes, since Stageplay was caught wide both turns on a track that appeared biased toward horses racing along the rail. The Rachel Alexandra winner, Venus Valentine, raced last that day behind a heated pace, never left the fence, scored a 74-1 upset, and is back for another try in the Fair Grounds Oaks, but probably will be a longshot again.

Land Over Sea, who has been chasing mighty Songbird in California, could vie with Stageplay for favoritism, and along with Street Fancy is one of two entrants based at Santa Anita. Steve Asmussen trains Stageplay and has a second filly, Adore, entered in the Oaks. Midnight On Oconee contested the hot Rachel Alexandra pace while racing well off the rail, did well to hold second, and can be a major player in the local Oaks if that race didn’t knock her out. Northwest Tale and Dream Dance round out the field.

There are 10 entrants in the New Orleans Handicap, which came up fairly light for a Grade 2 with a $400,000 purse. Five American older dirt-route horses are in Dubai for the $10 million World Cup, the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap was run March 13, and the trickle-down effect is felt in races like the New Orleans Handicap: The race lured no entrants other than Majestic Harbor that have won a race for older horses above the Grade 3 level.

International Star, co-highweighted at 119 with Eagle, impressed in the Louisiana Stakes in January but ran poorly last month in the Mineshaft, but is back in the New Orleans Handicap field. Majestic Harbor, perhaps benefiting from the March 20 bias, nipped Eagle in the Mineshaft, and Eagle will break from post 10 trying to turn the tables.

The Grade 2, $300,000 Mervin Muniz Memorial attracted a deeper field, and the race’s defending champion, 124-pound highweight Chocolate Ride, has several worthy rivals, including World Approval, Roman Approval, Take the Stand, Closing Bell, and Can’thelpbelieving.

Tom Franklin is a senior contributor at US Racing.
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