Sunday, April 07, 2024

Sierra Leone stamped himself as a top Kentucky Derby (G1) contender and became the newest Grade 1 winner for Gun Runner with his authoritative victory in Saturday’s $1 million Blue Grass S. (G1) at Keeneland.

Sierra Leone is Gun Runner’s eighth Grade 1 winner lifetime and one of his sire’s three graded winners to date in 2024. A top-five sire on the General Sire list, Gun Runner is dominating this year’s Fourth-Crop list with over $4.3 million in progeny earnings.

Sierra Leone, who won the Risen Star S. (G2) in his start prior the Blue Grass, had the outside post in the field of 10 going 1 1/8-miles on Saturday. He was allowed to drop out to the back of the field as Top Conor set a half-mile pace of :46.48.

Going into the final turn, Sierra Leone began to advance between horses then swung five-wide coming into the stretch. He hit his best stride with a furlong to run, powering past the leaders to win going away by nearly two lengths.

The final time on the fast track was 1:50.08.

“He didn’t break the sharpest, but it actually gave me time to get over and save some ground into the first turn,” said jockey Tyler Gaffalione. “He took the dirt just fine. Down the backside he got into a great rhythm. From the five-eighths pole on, he was moving like a winner. I was able to save some ground into the second turn, pop him out, and he just has so much talent.”

Now with three wins in four starts, with a nose loss in the Remsen S. (G2) his only blemish, Sierra Leone has earned $918,000. He is owned by the partnership of Peter M. Brant, Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, Westerberg and Brook T. Smith, who purchased the colt for a record $2.3 million at the 2022 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Select Yearlings sale.

The Blue Grass win also earned Sierra Leone 100 points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby Challenge series, guaranteeing his spot in the starting gate in Louisville.

“[T]here’s such good chemistry with Tyler and Sierra Leone his last two starts,” added trainer Chad Brown, looking ahead to the first Saturday in May. “You can see he wants to lean in a little bit, but it’s never too bad. He’s still polishing off his experience and his skills, and I just think a mile-and-a-quarter won’t be a problem going forward. We’re looking forward to it.”

Sierra Leone was bred in Kentucky by Debby Oxley. The dark bay’s dam Heavenly Love, herself a Grade 1 winner, had a full sister to Sierra Leone in February.