ASMUSSEN HAS A BIG SHOT IN HASKELL
When the horses go to post for the Haskell Invitational on July 31 one Thoroughbred trainer in particular looks to have a big shot, and he is bringing more than just a .22 pistol.
Newly elected Hall of Fame conditioner Steve Asmussen brings in one of his top three-year olds to the million dollar mile and an eighth race. Gun Runner has had a sparkling career to date with five wins and a third place finish in seven lifetime starts. The third place finish came in this year’s Kentucky Derby. That very game effort came on the heels of some impressive wins at the Fair Grounds in the Risen Star Stakes and Louisiana Derby.
The gutsy run on the first Saturday in May should have solidified this son of Candy Ride as a big shooter in the three-year old division. To further add to his credentials, Gun Runner followed his fight in the Derby with a huge win in the Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs on June 18. Breaking alertly and taking complete command at the top of the stretch, Gun Runner shot down the lane and proved he is of very high caliber in a dominating victory.
“The Matt Winn was the perfect bridge for us to the Haskell,” says Asmussen. “We thought he ran well in the Kentucky Derby but knew he needs to get better. The Winn came six weeks after the Derby and still gave us plenty of time to get him ready for the trip to Monmouth Park. He ran extremely well in the race and showed what kind of class he has.”
Despite his success before the Kentucky Derby, Gun Runner has been a bit under the radar of some. Owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC., the speedy colt has always been overshadowed despite winning races at three different tracks (Churchill Downs, Fair Grounds, Keeneland). In leading every step of the way in the Winn, this grandson of Giant’s Causeway should have proven his worth.
“I think the Matt Winn was the first time in his career he went off as the favorite,” jokes Asmussen. “He really is a nice horse and he has ben working well after a performance that should put him in consideration with the best of his division.”
The Haskell will be a tough assignment for Gun Runner and he will probably not be the favorite here either. Kentucky Derby champ and once beaten Nyquist is shipping in for the race to highlight what should be a salty field. Eight time winning trainer Bob Baffert will be sending American Freedom and Bluegrass Stakes winner Brody’s Cause will also likely participate.
“It is a great race to be in for sure,” says Asmussen of the mile and an eighth Haskell. “We have loved his work at Saratoga and we are excited for this opportunity.”
Asmussen has won the Haskell once before with Rachel Alexandra in 2009. The race normally sets up well for speed horses and that could give the hall of famer and his front runner a big shot. Rachel turned in the second fastest time (1:47.21) since it was made a race for three-year olds only in 1981, so the conditioner knows how to maximize the fast turn of foot. For those wondering, Gun Runner fired a bullet in the Matt Winn with a final time of 1:41.12 in the mile and a sixteenth.
“I think Gun Runner is the best he has ever been right now,” says Asmussen. “It’s a true blessing to have a horse like him.”