June 12, 2024

Gun Runner facing change in tactics as Stephen Foster favorite

Gun Runner notched his third stakes win at Churchill Downs when rolling to a convincing tally over older horses in the Clark H. (G1) on November 25, 2016 (c) Churchill Downs/Coady Photography

Freshened off a good second to Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup (G1), Gun Runner looms as a towering presence in the $500,000 Stephen Foster H. (G1), the centerpiece of five stakes on Saturday’s Downs After Dark program at Churchill Downs. The talented 4-year-old has displayed high speed in his last three outings, including a smashing wire-to-wire tally in the Clark H. (G1) last November under the Twin Spires, but Gun Runner figures to revert to stalking tactics due to the presence of Bird Song in the innermost post.

Supporters won’t be concerned as Gun Runner has proven tractable, capturing the Louisiana Derby (G2) and recording commendable seconds in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) and Pennsylvania Derby (G2) from just off the pace last year. The Steve Asmussen-trained colt posted outstanding BRIS Speed Ratings of 107 and 112 in his last two U.S. starts and regular rider Florent Geroux will guide the imposing chestnut from post 3.

Bird Song enters in career-best form for Ian Wilkes. The gray 4-year-old registered his first stakes victory in the Fred Hooper (G3) at Gulfstream three starts previously and exits a wire-to-wire tally in the May 5 Alysheba (G2) on the Kentucky Oaks undercard, generating century-topping BRIS Speed numbers both times. The improving colt will break running with Julien Leparoux.

Alysheba runner-up Honorable Duty will try to capitalize upon a projected hot pace. Conditioned by Brendan Walsh, the 5-year-old gelding opened the year with rallying wins in the Mineshaft (G3) and New Orleans (G2) at Fair Grounds and advanced into a menacing position before coming up a little short in the Alysheba. Javier Castellano picks up the mount.

Seven of the eight Foster entrants are graded stakes winners including Breaking Lucky, runner-up in the 2016 Clark. The 5-year-old just missed in the New Orleans two back and lost any chance when experiencing a troubled start in the Alysheba last time. Luis Contreras has the call. Grade 2 victor Stanford invades for Todd Pletcher. Winner of Challenger at Tampa Bay Downs two back, the 5-year-old will try to rebound from a fifth as the favorite in the Charles Town Classic (G2). John Velazquez will be in to ride.

Multiple Grade 3 winner Texas Chrome, second in the Lone Star Park H. (G3) and Steve Sexton Mile (G3) in his last two starts, was a late addition to the Foster field for new trainer Allen Milligan and C.J. McMahon retakes the reins. Grade 3 scorer Mo Tom and multiple listed winner Hawaakom complete the line-up.

Be sure to bet the Stephen Foster H. to back your pick!

Foster field:

The stakes action kicks off with the $100,000 Matt Winn (G3) for 3-year-olds and McCraken will look to regain his winning ways as an expected odds-on favorite.

Winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) and Street Sense as a 2-year-old at Churchill, McCraken extended his record to 4-for-4 when opening 2017 with a victory over Tapwrit in the February 11 Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs. He missed his next scheduled appearance, the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), due to a minor injury and sustained first setback when returning from a two-month freshening with a third in the Blue Grass (G2) at Keeneland.

The Wilkes trainee brought rebound hopes into the Kentucky Derby but McCraken lost all chance when being severely interfered with at the start in an eighth-place effort. Brian Hernandez Jr. has the assignment.

His five rivals include stakes-placed Aquamarine and last-out allowance winners Colonelsdarktemper and Excitations.

Matt Winn field: