By winning the Risen Star Stakes and the Louisiana Derby, Gun Runner vaulted to the top of the Kentucky Derby points standings, which determine the horses who will participate in the Run to the Roses on May 7.
The Louisiana Derby win March 26, worth 100 points, gave Gun Runner 151 for a 51-point lead over Lani and an 81-point margin over Mohaymen, considered a favorite to win the Kentucky Derby.
Gun Runner, trained by Steve Asmussen, remains in the lead. Nyquist, who earned 100 points for winning the Florida Derby on Saturday, is now second with 130, with Lani slipping to third. Twenty horses are selected to run in the Kentucky Derby.
“I believed in this horse from his first professional race,” Asmussen said of Gun Runner’s maiden win at Churchill Downs on Sept. 11 over one mile. “He has great athletic ability.”
Asmussen also credited the Fair Grounds, where Gun Runner trains, as being instrumental in the colt’s development.
“It’s just a great course and facility to train and develop horses,” he said. “He trained all winter, and you see the results.”
Dallas Stewart, who trains Tom’s Ready, agreed. Tom’s Ready is 10th in the Kentucky Derby standings — one of four horses in the top 20 who train and race regularly at the Fair Grounds. Tom Amoss-trained Mo Tom, like Tom’s Ready owned by Tom and Gayle Benson, is 12th. Forevamo — trained by another local, Al Stall — is 18th.
“There are a lot of trainers down there,” Stewart said of Churchill Downs. “They know the track is safe. If the horse can run, you’re going to be able to progress, and hopefully he gets better, stays healthy and gets up to the bigger races — the Kentucky Derby.”
Trainers often say their horses like the course at the Fair Grounds.
“It’s not that coarse, gritty sand,” Stewart said. “They call it ‘sugar sand.’ It’s river sand, and it’s not so abrasive. A lot of tracks have that hard, abrasive sand — pebbly sand that’s coarse. Belmont is like that. They call it the Big Sandy. But Churchill has a composition more like the Fair Grounds’.”
Trainers filled the maximum 1,830 stalls at the Fair Grounds this meet, and racing director Jason Boulet said the track received more than 3,500 applications because of the reputation of the race course for training and safety.
Thirty-five races, including the Lecomte, Risen Star and Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds, are used to gain points in the Kentucky Derby standings. The Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and Santa Anita Derby are Saturday. The sweepstakes end April 16 with the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn and the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland.
The four horses who competed in big races at the Fair Grounds are expected to be among the 20 in the Kentucky Derby. The race’s post positions and morning-line odds will be announced May 4.
Stewart already is training at Churchill Downs with Tom’s Ready, who gained 40 of his 44 points by finishing second in the Louisiana Derby.
“We shipped out of New Orleans on (March) 29th,” he said. “We’re in like Flint. We’ll have a workout Thursday and continue training.”