Road to the 2023 Kentucky Derby – The Gun Runner Stakes – By Eric Solomon

Last year, the Fair Grounds added the Gun Runner Stakes to bolster their local road to the Kentucky Derby series. They were rewarded when Epicenter used that race to launch his highly successful three year old season, which included four graded stakes wins (Risen Star, Louisiana Derby. Jim Dandy, and Travers), along with second place finishes in the  Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. 

At this point, there doesn’t appear to be anyone quite as promising entered in the second running of this race. However, there are seven runners signed on in an evenly matched contest that will likely push the winner forward into graded stakes company soon. 

Later on in the week, I’ll wrap up this race, as well as the Los Alamitos Futurity and the Remington Springboard Mile, which were both run prior to the Christmas holiday. 

Fair Grounds, Monday 12/26/22, Race 11: The $100K Gun Runner Stakes

20 Total Derby points (10/4/3/2/1)


1 – Hayes Strike (7-2 ML, 150-1 Circa): This son of Connect will wrap up his two year old campaign with his seventh start. He’s one of three runners installed as co-second choices at 7-2 on the morning line, and he’s probably the most accomplished runner, in terms of dirt performance, in this field. He’s coming off his best career race when he finished a fast closing third in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill last month. Prior to that, he finished second in the Grade 3 Street Sense Stakes in the slop, on the same course. He is definitely trending in the right direction, but this looks like another race where he’s not going to get a ton of pace to run at. I liked the way he finished his last race though under similar circumstances. Brian Hernandez was aboard when he broke his maiden at Ellis and he is reunited with him today.

2 – Jace’s Road (3-1 ML, 175-1 Circa): The tepid morning line favorite is a pricy son of Quality Road, who is coming back after a disastrous afternoon where he finished a distant 8th in the Street Sense Stakes as the post time favorite. He tossed the rider while loading and appeared to want no part of the very sloppy course that rainy afternoon at Churchill. Prior to that, he was a debut winner at Ellis and the 3rd place finisher in the Iroquois Stakes, where he stayed on well after attending a solid pace in his first route race. He appears to be the lone speed in this race today, which makes him a major threat. Florent Geroux rides this course very well, and the fact that he’s trained by Brad Cox, should ensure that he’ll be the favorite at post time. On the flip side, the dam did her best work sprinting on the turf, so I do wonder about how hard he’ll be running late. 

3 – Determinedly (7-2 ML, 125-1 Circa): Like Hayes Strike, Determinedly will also be making his seventh start of his two year old season today. However, it took him six tries to break his maiden, so this will be the first time that he faces winners on the main track. He’ll also be routing on the main track for the first time today. He did, however, compete at this 1 mile and 1/16 distance three times on the turf. He debuted on the dirt at Churchill, before going to the turf in New York. His second place finish in his second career start was good enough for Mark Casse to enter him in the With Anticipation Stakes at the end of the Saratoga meet. He was a game 4th that day and was 4th again when back with maidens at Aqueduct in September. Casse shipped him to Keeneland where he brought him back to the dirt. He faced a Bob Baffert monster, Arabian Knight, on the Breeders’ Cup undercard at the beginning of November. He followed that effort up with a dominating win on the Stars of Tomorrow card at the end of the Churchill meet. Luis Saez is in to ride this son of Cairo Prince for the second time today. His dam is another mare that was best when sprinting, so I have the same concern about how well he’ll be finishing in the final furlong of this race. 

4 – Old Alliance (10-1 ML, 250-1 Circa): He’ll be making his third career start today after finishing a very distant third behind Giant Mischief and Arabian Lion in an optional claiming/allowance race on the Breeders’ Cup Friday undercard at Keeneland. He was a handy winner in his debut at Laurel, beating a modest maiden special weight field when going seven furlongs. He’ll be making his first start in stakes company and his first start at two turns today. Trainer Michael Stidham has been off to a hot start at this meet, winning with 6 of his first 19 starters. While he may be better suited for longer distances on dirt than some of the others here, he hasn’t shown evidence yet that he’s fast enough to win this race. 

5 – Mazing Mark (10-1 ML): This son of freshman sire Mo Town is the only stakes winner on dirt in the field, breaking his maiden in the Jean Laffite Futurity at Delta Downs last month. He saved ground every step of the way that evening and was able to pass the 8-5 favorite with a late surge in the stretch. He didn’t have the best of trips in his other dirt start, which came in maiden special weight company at Keeneland. The top two finishers in that race did come back to run well in their next starts. I could see him moving forward again here, however, the concern for this one will be his ability to run without raceday Lasix, which was permitted in his last start at Delta. 

6 – Raise Cain (8-1 ML, 250-1 Circa): He had the misfortune of running into the highly touted, Loggins, in his debut at Churchill in September. He was a nonfactor that afternoon, but he showed serious improvement when dominating a respectable maiden field at Keeneland in his second start. That effort was good enough for him to be considered for stakes company, when he cut back in distance for the Bowman Mill Stakes at Keeneland. While the dam’s other foals to race haven’t been anything special, he does appear to have the most ability of that lot. His third place finish last out, which wasn’t very good visually or on paper, is upgraded by the fact that the winner, Super Chow, came back to win again in the Inaugural Stakes at Tampa in his next try. I do feel that six furlongs is not going to be his best distance, and there are some definite route influences in his pedigree. Of the three longer prices, he’s the most palatable for me. 

7 – Andthewinneris (7-2 ML, 200-1 Circa): He’s the only graded stakes winner in the field, overcoming the 12 hole to win the Grade 2 Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland in October. He came back to finish 7th, just under four lengths behind Victoria Road in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf last month. Wayne Catalano brings him back to the main track for the first time since finishing a distant third in the Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill in July. Progeny of Oscar Performance have only won three times on dirt, all of which have been at Churchill Downs in sprints. Oscar Performance never raced on any surface other than turf, winning multiple Grade 1 races on the lawn. His dam broke her maiden at 4 and ½ furlongs on debut on the main track, but spent most of her time on turf as well. This is a reasonable time for Catalano to try the dirt with him, but I think I’d need better than his 7-2 morning line price to back him in this spot. 



The Verdict: 2-6-1

I don’t have a strong opinion in this race, and if I’m playing the multi-race wagers in this sequence, this would likely be a spread race to me. I ended up endorsing the favorite, Jace’s Road, strictly because I think he can steal this race on the front end. I assume the value is going to be subpar, while looking at the connections. I’d also be paying close attention to him pre-race, making sure that he’s acting better than what we saw last time out at Churchill. 

Raise Cain is the longer priced horse that is most appealing to me here. While I thought he was on the dull side last out, I think he wants to go longer than six furlongs and he did run into a talented horse that is very well-suited to that distance. Hayes Strike closed into a slower pace last out in Grade 2 company at Churchill. While I don’t think that race came up nearly as strong as it has in past years, I do think that field is more talented than this group. If his odds float up off his 7-2 morning line figure, I’d be more inclined to take a shot with him. 

From a futures wagering standpoint, I haven’t seen anything on the track up to this point from this group that would lead me to believe we’re looking at a Derby winner today.


We’ll have coverage of every North American Derby Points Race, along with plenty of coverage leading up to the 149th Kentucky Derby on May 6th, 2023. Current futures odds from Circa or Caesars-William Hill will be provided as they are available. Feel free to reach out on Twitter @EricSolomon718.

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