May 26, 2024

Epicenter bids for sentimental victory in Gun Runner; California Angel to dirt for Untapable

Epicenter breaks his maiden at Churchill Downs (Coady Photography)

The Fair Grounds Road to the Kentucky Derby gets off to its earliest-ever start Dec. 26 in the $100,000 Gun Runner S., a new stepping stone to the traditional New Orleans series of the Lecomte (G3), Risen Star (G2), and Louisiana Derby (G2). The companion $100,000 Untapable S. serves the same purpose for fillies on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks. Each is worth points on the 10-4-2-1 scale.

Gun Runner S. – Race 11 (6:06 p.m. ET)

Sharp Churchill Downs maiden winner Epicenter would be the sentimental choice, as he shares connections – Winchell Thoroughbreds and trainer Steve Asmussen – with the race’s namesake. The son of Not This Time showed bright speed going a one-turn mile, and figures to be prominent from the rail as he stretches out to 1 1/16 miles.

The other principals are likewise coming off Churchill wins. Tejano Twist got up as the 6-5 favorite in the Nov. 27 Lively Shively on the Stars of Tomorrow II card. The most experienced member of the field, and admirably consistent with an 8-3-3-0 mark, the Bret Calhoun pupil will be racing beyond 6 1/2 furlongs for the first time.

The Brad Cox-trained Rocket Dawg stormed from off the pace in a 5 1/2-length debut romp Nov. 19. The Classic Empire colt should appreciate a route of ground. Surfer Dude, who was third to Epicenter two back, came back to score Nov. 28 for Dallas Stewart. The son of Curlin and Grade 1-winning millionaire Tiz Miz Sue is bred to improve with maturity.

The lone entrant proven around two turns is Waita Minute Hayes. First past the post in all three dirt starts, the Tiznow colt was demoted to second for interference in the Jean Laffitte S. at Delta Downs. Hopeful (G1) third Kevin’s Folly was most recently third in a Stars of Tomorrow II allowance, while Rich Strike was third in a similar event at Keeneland.

Untapable S. – Race 10 (5:35 p.m. ET)

Jessamine (G2) winner California Angel reverts to the main track after a troubled 11th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1), where she was beaten four lengths. The daughter of California Chrome was third in her lone dirt attempt, but that came in a six-furlong sprint. The mile and 70 yards here will play more to her strengths, and trainer George Leonard is taking her blinkers off.

Cocktail Moments, the flashiest of the maiden winners, rates as a major threat. The Ken McPeek filly demolished the field in her seven-furlong unveiling on Stars of Tomorrow II, sweeping from far back and drawing off by 9 1/2 lengths. By Uncle Mo and out of Canadian champion River Maid, Cocktail Moments has potential star quality.

North County brings a 2-for-2 mark into her stakes debut. The Brendan Walsh trainee graduated on the Indiana Downs turf before capturing a Keeneland allowance that was transferred to the sloppy main track.

Shot Gun Hottie, by leading freshman sire Gun Runner, won in her third try at Churchill, but first around two turns. The same profile applies to Fannie and Freddie, who broke her maiden convincingly over this oval going 1 1/16 miles for Al Stall. Alittleloveandluck prevailed in a photo in a Gulfstream Park maiden for Florida-breds on Tapeta. Feeling Happy, a debut winner versus Shot Gun Hottie and Implosion in a Churchill sprint, has since placed second and third in allowances. Implosion is cross-entered to Monday’s Letellier Memorial.

See also the preview of the four undercard stakes on the blockbuster program.