Epicenter, With Familiar Connections, Impressive Gun Runner Winner

Racing for the same trainer and owner that campaigned Gun Runner to a Horse of the Year campaign in 2017, Winchell Thoroughbreds Epicenter, trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, raced to a 6 1/2-length victory in Sunday’s inaugural running of the $100,000 Gun Runner Stakes at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, La.

The Gun Runner is an official qualifying points race for the Kentucky Derby, awarding 10-4-2-1 to the top four finishers. The race is named after Gun Runner, who first came to prominence at Fair Grounds, where he won the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes and G2 Louisiana Derby in 2016. While he finished third in the G1 Kentucky Derby, Gun Runner would race consistently throughout his 3-year-old season and was nearly perfect at 4 and 5, winning six of his seven final career starts, including the G1 Breeders’ Cup Classic and G1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes. As a sire, Gun Runner has gotten off to an historic start in 2021, setting a record for progeny earnings from his first crop of foals.

Epicenter, the 5-2 second choice ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr., paid $7.80 for the win after covering 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.19. Tejano Twist finished second, with Surfer Dude third in the field of seven 2-year-olds. Rocket Dawg, the 4-5 favorite from the barn of Brad Cox, was never a factor, after being unsettled and rank in the early portion of the race.

A son of Not This Time out of Silent Candy, by Candy Ride, Epicenter was winning for the second time in three starts. He ran sixth in his debut at Churchill Downs last September, then broke his maiden by 3 1/2 lengths at the Louisville, Ky., track next out on Nov. 13.

In the Gun Runner, Epicenter sat just off the early pace behind Surfer Dude, who set fractions of :24.41, :47.76 and 1:12.57 for the first six furlongs. Epicenter took command in the stretch, passing the mile marker in 1:37.63 and drew off in the final sixteenth of a mile.

“We love his tactical speed, his ability to put himself in position to do well and Brian did a great job with him today to let the speed go on, and change sides,” Asmussen assistant Scott Blasi said. “He’s still lightly raced, still learning, but hopefully there are some big things to come.”

“I walked down in the paddock and Scott (Blasi) told me how much they liked him,” said Hernandez. “I remember watching him (Epicenter) run at Churchill. Same sort of scenario as today. I was actually on Surfer Dude (that day) and he was outside me. Going into the turn you could tell he traveled so good and he was much the best that day. Going off of that race he looked like he had a lot of ability and he showed it today. Any time you get a horse that has tactical speed, especially here (at Fair Grounds), that helps a lot. That’s the nice thing about him, you know, for only his third race, he put himself in position and all I had to do was be a quiet passenger and let him do his thing.”

Epicenter was bred in Kentucky by Westwind Farms and was purchased as a yearling for $260,000.

The next Fair Grounds points race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby is the Lecomte (G3) on Saturday, January 22.

The post Epicenter, With Familiar Connections, Impressive Gun Runner Winner appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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