On Dec. 26, 2021, Fair Grounds hosted the inaugural running of the $100,000 Gun Runner Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile qualifier on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. The winner was Epicenter, and the fifth-place finisher was Rich Strike; the following spring, Rich Strike and Epicenter ran 1-2 in the Kentucky Derby.
The second running of the Gun Runner is the highlight of a stakes-packed, post-Christmas Monday card at Fair Grounds. It’s probably too much to ask for the Gun Runner to produce a second Kentucky Derby winner from as many editions… but then again, the race awards Kentucky Derby qualifying points on a 10-4-3-2-1 basis to the top five finishers, and a promising group of seven horses has entered the 2022 Gun Runner.
In handicapping the Gun Runner, I can’t help but recall a colt named War of Will. Conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse, War of Will was beaten in his first four starts on turf before switching to dirt for a maiden special weight on “Stars of Tomorrow II” day at Churchill Downs. War of Will relished the surface switch, dominated his opponents by five lengths, and not long afterward he shipped to Fair Grounds and won the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes and Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
I’m bringing up War of Will because his early racing profile is similar to that of #3 Determinedly (7-2). Under Casse’s care, Determinedly made three of his first four starts on turf, most notably running fourth in the Grade 3 With Anticipation Stakes. But since transitioning back to dirt (the surface over which he debuted back in June), Determinedly has been a different horse.
Indeed, Determinedly ran deceptively well in a maiden special weight on Nov. 5 at Keeneland, finishing second behind runaway winner Arabian Knight. That was a high-profile event on Breeders’ Cup Saturday, and Arabian Knight won in a blazing time establishing his credentials as one of the most exciting young horses in training. For Determinedly to finish second was hardly a discouraging run.
Determinedly subsequently tackled a maiden special weight on Stars of Tomorrow II day at Churchill Downs and produced a victory reminiscent of War of Will, tracking the early pace from third before roaring away to win by 7 1/4 lengths.
If you’re a fan of Brisnet Speed ratings, it’s worth noting Determinedly has earned figures of 94 in each of his last two starts, and those 94 ratings happen to rank as the two highest numbers in the Gun Runner field. Throw in the fact there’s hardly any early speed entered in the Gun Runner, and the tactical speed Determinedly displayed at Churchill suggests he’ll secure a favorable trip setting or stalking a modest tempo on Monday.
There are other reasons to support Determinedly as well. Casse’s horses have been performing well at the current Fair Grounds race meet. Through Dec. 19, they’ve compiled two wins, a second, and a third from four starts. Just as importantly, Determinedly is retaining the services of jockey Luis Saez, who has gone 3-for-7 (43%) teaming up with Casse over the last two months per Brisnet statistics. Throw in the fact Determinedly breezed a fast half-mile in :47.3 on Dec. 10 at Fair Grounds, and the gray colt is an appealing choice to win the Gun Runner.
For second and third place, there are many logical candidates. One of the most appealing is #1 Hayes Strike (7-2), a proven graded stakes competitor who has finished fourth in the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes, second in the Grade 3 Street Sense Stakes, and third in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. The latter effort was noteworthy since Hayes Strike rallied strongly from behind a slow pace to finish only 1 1/4 lengths behind the winner.
#2 Jace’s Road (3-1) can’t be dismissed either. Although he finished far behind Hayes Strike when eighth in the Street Sense, that race took place over a sloppy track, and it’s possible Jace’s Road didn’t care for the conditions. He’d previously finished four lengths ahead of Hayes Strike when third in the Iroquois over fast footing, possibly a more representative indicator of Jace’s Road’s talent.
#7 Andthewinneris (7-2) is bound to draw some support as well, but his best efforts – including an impressive 2 3/4-length romp in the Grade 2 Castle & Key Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland – have come on turf. Andthewinneris has only run once on dirt, finishing third by 12 1/4 lengths in the Bashford Manor Stakes during the spring at Churchill Downs. Andthewinneris is bred to shine on turf and there’s no guarantee he’ll bring his A-game while switching back to dirt in the Gun Runner, stamping the bay colt as a talented but unpredictable wild card.
Ultimately, we’ll keep our betting strategies simple. Bet Determinedly to win and key him on top of exacta and trifecta tickets, depending on how much money you wish to wager.
Wagering Strategy on a $15 Budget
$9 to win on #3 Determinedly
What to say at the betting window: Fair Grounds, 11th race, $9 to win on 3
$3 exacta: 3 with 1,2 ($6)
What to say at the betting window: Fair Grounds, 11th race, $3 exacta 3 with 1,2
Wagering Strategy on a $30 Budget
$14 to win on #3 Determinedly
What to say at the betting window: Fair Grounds, 11th race, $14 to win on 3
$6 exacta: 3 with 1,2 ($12)
What to say at the betting window: Fair Grounds, 11th race, $6 exacta 3 with 1,2
$1 trifecta: 3 with 1,2 with 1,2,7 ($4)
What to say at the betting window: Fair Grounds, 11th race, $1 trifecta 3 with 1,2 with 1,2,7
Good luck and enjoy the Gun Runner Stakes!