Epicenter wins the Gun Runner (Photo by Lou Hodges Jr./Hodges Photography)
North County wins the Untapable Stakes (Photo by Lou Hodges Jr./Hodges Photography)
Sunday’s inaugural running of the $98,000 Gun Runner S. was going to be a memorable occasion for connections of the race’s namesake, the 2017 Horse of the Year who is now a record-breaking freshman sire. But the result turned out to be especially satisfying for Gun Runner's co-owner, Winchell Thoroughbreds, and trainer Steve Asmussen, after they sent out Epicenter to a resounding victory.
Epicenter was also completing a points-race double at Fair Grounds for his young sire, Not This Time. While Epicenter banked 10 points toward the Kentucky Derby (G1), the filly North County – a daughter of Not This Time – earned 10 Kentucky Oaks (G1) points in the companion Untapable S.
Gun Runner S.
Breaking from the rail in the Gun Runner, Epicenter let Surfer Dude dash ahead to set the pace. Jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. then guided Epicenter into the advantageous outside spot, where he pressed Surfer Dude down the backstretch and rounding the far turn. Surfer Dude tried to hang tough, but Epicenter was too strong as they straightened for home.
Epicenter shook free and drew off to dominate by 6 1/2 lengths. The 2.90-1 second choice completed 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.19 and returned $7.80 to win.
The 4.60-1 Tejano Twist rallied for a clear second, worth four Derby points. Surfer Dude salvaged third (two points) by a head from the closing Kevin’s Folly, who received one point for fourth. Next came Rich Strike; 4-5 favorite Rocket Dawg, who pulled too hard early and tired to a distant sixth; and Waita Minute Hayes.
Epicenter, an impressive maiden winner Nov. 13 at Churchill Downs, improved his record to 3-2-0-0, $130,639. The dark bay was sixth in his Sept. 18 unveiling beneath the Twin Spires. In hindsight, Asmussen didn’t believe he was fit enough for that seven-furlong sprint. Epicenter showed speed before retreating that day, but he was relentless over a mile next time, and easily passed his two-turn (and stakes) test here.
Bred by Westwind Farms in Kentucky, Epicenter was purchased for $260,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. His dam, the Grade 3-placed stakes scorer Silent Candy, has a Gun Runner connection herself. They share the same sire, Candy Ride.
Earlier, Rebecca Hillen, Stonecrest Farm, and Bruno De Julio’s North County got up by a neck to remain perfect from three starts in the $97,000 Untapable. Trained by Brendan Walsh and piloted by Adam Beschizza, the 3.90-1 chance ran down Fannie and Freddie in a final time of 1:43.17 for the mile and 70 yards.
The 8-1 Fannie and Freddie stalked early leader Shotgun Hottie (a daughter of Gun Runner
) in second much of the way. Making a good-looking move into the stretch, Fannie and Freddie surged clear and appeared to have the race in her grasp.
But North County, who had been in striking range, began to wind up on the outside and finished with a flourish. Fannie and Freddie had to settle for four points as the runner-up. Cocktail Moments, the 3-5 favorite after a scintillating debut at Churchill Downs, churned on for third, good for two points. Shotgun Hottie took home one point in fourth.
Feeling Happy wound up fifth. Jessamine (G2) winner California Angel
wasn’t as effective on dirt, briefly improving position but ultimately trailing in last of the six. Alittleloveandluck and Implosion were scratched.
North County herself started out on turf, romping by four lengths on Sept. 27 at Indiana Grand. The dark bay was intended to stay on that surface at Keeneland, but her Oct. 30 allowance was transferred to the main track, and she swept to a two-length victory. With this successful stakes debut on the Kentucky Oaks trail, she has bankrolled $132,000.
Bred by Shadow Pond Stable in Kentucky, North County is out of the stakes-winning City Zip mare Northern Netti. She was sold for $45,000 as a Fasig-Tipton October yearling, exported to Europe, and bought by Walsh for €121,800 at Arqana’s Breeze Up Sale.