BOZICH | Why Gun Runner will win Kentucky Derby 142
Nine days before Kentucky Derby 142, it's time to start gathering selections for the big race. One prominent trainer casts a vote for Gun Runner, winner of the Louisiana Derby.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – For the next nine days you will be overwhelmed by stories about lucky colors, equine family trees, million-dollar yearlings and other ways to handicap Kentucky Derby 142.
I intend to keep it simple this year.
My goal is to talk to as many insightful horsemen and handicappers as I can find and ask two simple questions:
Which horse do you like on May 7?
Not because a horse sold for millions. Not because his owner also owns an NFL team. Not because his name is spelled Pharoah instead of Pharaoh.
I started Thursday morning at Churchill Downs. I started with Neil Howard.
Howard, 67, trained Mineshaft, the 2003 Horse of the Year. He trained Summer Squall, 1990 Preakness winner and Derby runner-up. Howard also trains a filly, Dream Dance, who will run in the Kentucky Oaks, a race he won with Secret Status 16 years ago.
Don’t visit Howard’s barn looking for hype. He is as direct as the tax man.
Howard filed his Derby vote for …
“Gun Runner,” Howard said.
There was little hesitation.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Howard said. “Nyquist, Mohaymen, those are good horses. But I like what I’ve seen. I’m thinking Gun Runner.”
Steve Asmussen trains Gun Runner. He won the Louisiana Derby. Gun Runner has the most points (151) of any Derby contender but don’t accuse Howard of making strictly a chalk pick because the colt is no better than the sixth Derby betting choice in one future book.
I asked Howard to make his case.
“I was in New Orleans with him all winter and I was impressed because he was just real workman-like,” Howard said. “Just a real consistent horse who takes care of his business when he’s racing or training.
“He’s a good horse and he looks really good (at Churchill). His races have been real good.
“I’ve heard that the horse had some habits that he had to change and there’s no better trainer to work with that kind of stuff than Steve. When a horse needs to be schooled and settled down and worked with and all that, he knows how to do it.
“I think there might be even more ability there because now he’s channeling all of his energy into racing. Steve does a great job of getting horses to act professionally and do what they need to do. He always makes sure that his horses are finishing.”
Gun Runner fans tout the way the colt has won four of five career starts, including a formidable 4 ½-length victory in the Louisiana Derby over 1 1/8 miles at the Fairgrounds in New Orleans March 26.
The colt also has raced twice at Churchill Downs, where he broke his maiden last Sept. 15.
Gun Runner skeptics note that his Beyer speed figure in the Louisiana Derby was a modest 91 and that the colt faded in the stretch and finished fourth in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs Nov. 28.
They also warn that the last Louisiana Derby winner to win the Kentucky Derby was Grindstone 20 years ago.
But nine days before Derby 142, he is Neil Howard’s selection. I’ll collect other selections before the first Saturday in May.
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