Monday’s fantastic 13-race card at Fair Grounds encompasses nine stakes, including the first two scoring races on the New Orleans Road to the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks. The $100,000 Gun Runner S. and $100,000 Untapable S. are worth points to the top five, on the 10-4-3-2-1 scale, on their respective Derby and Oaks leaderboards.
Gun Runner S. – Race 11 (6 p.m. ET)
Last year’s inaugural Gun Runner had a material effect on the Derby trail. Epicenter romped in his stakes debut, presaging his leadership of the 2022 three-year-old male division. Few noticed the fifth-placer in the Gun Runner, Rich Strike, who would go on to stun Epicenter et al as an 80-1 shot in the Kentucky Derby (G1).
Of the seven entrants on Monday, Determinedly brings the flashy appeal. Trained by Mark Casse for John C. Oxley, the gray finally broke through with a devastating maiden win on the Nov. 26 “Stars of Tomorrow II” card at Churchill Downs. He’d been running decently in turf routes, but showed more once reverting to dirt. Determinedly was runner-up to hotshot Arabian Knight at Keeneland prior to his Churchill romp, and his tactical style should help as he steps back up to 1 1/16 miles here.
The two with Derby Road form in the book are Hayes Strike and Jace’s Road. The Ken McPeek-trained Hayes Strike was most recently third in the Nov. 26 Kentucky Jockey Club (G2), but Jace’s Road arguably has more upside for Brad Cox. The dominant Ellis Park debut winner was a solid third in the Sept. 17 Iroquois (G3), leaving Hayes Strike four lengths behind in fourth. They met again in the Oct. 30 Street Sense (G3), where Hayes Strike ran his race in second, and Jace’s Road flopped in eighth on the sloppy track. A fast surface at Fair Grounds could see Jace’s Road right back to his best.
The wild card is Andthewinneris, hero of the Bourbon (G2) on turf who tries his luck on dirt. Although the Wayne Catalano pupil was only third in the July 4 Bashford Manor S. on Churchill’s main, the twin variables of distance and experience could make a difference this time. The son of Oscar Performance has run three fine races over a route of ground on turf – a third in the With Anticipation (G3) (where Determinedly was fourth), a Bourbon victory with a sparkling rally, and a closing seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1). With his late kick, Andthewinneris would appreciate some pace help.
Keeneland maiden winner Raise Cain, third in the Bowman Mill S., stretches out to two turns for the first time. Laurel debut scorer Old Alliance was a remote third in a Keeneland allowance, but the top two were Giant Mischief and Arabian Lion. Although both were overturned as odds-on favorites in the latest Derby preps, Giant Mischief was a commendable second in the Springboard Mile, and Arabian Lion was well below form as the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) trailer.
Rounding out the cast is Mazing Mark, coming off a maiden-breaking win in the Jean Lafitte S. at Delta Downs.
Untapable S. – Race 12 (6:30 p.m. ET)
As the exciting Hoosier Philly enjoys a holiday, her Golden Rod (G2) form will be put to the test in the mile and 70-yard Untapable. Godolphin homebred Pretty Mischievous, third to Hoosier Philly in the Golden Rod, will try to pay her a compliment at Fair Grounds. The Brendan Walsh trainee had won her first two starts around one turn at Churchill. The Golden Rod thus marked her stakes and two-turn debut. The daughter of Into Mischief and Grade 1 vixen Pretty City Dancer is eligible to move forward in this second route attempt.
Most of her opponents are making their first stakes appearances – Vahva, a Gun Runner filly who exits a sharp maiden score at Churchill for Cherie DeVaux; The Alys Look from the Cox barn and Hayunevano, both front-running maiden winners over this track; the Tom Amoss-trained Just Like Magic, by successful freshman sire Good Magic; the Michael Stidham pair of All About Me, runner-up to the talented Batucada in a course-and-distance allowance, and Laurel maiden winner Hang the Moon; Cotton Candy Annie, winner of her past two at Churchill; and Fair Grounds sprint maiden victress Miss Shipman. The only other entrant with stakes experience, aside from Pretty Mischievous, is Two Minute Drill, sixth in Keeneland’s Myrtlewood S. prior to a third in the aforementioned Batucada allowance.