Sunday, February 18, 2024

Gun Runner’s Sierra Leone came from well off the pace to run down Track Phantom in the final strides of Saturday’s $400,000 Risen Star S. (G2) over a very sloppy Fair Grounds racetrack.

The Risen Star victory earned Sierra Leone 50 points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby challenge, giving him 55 overall points, which currently tops the list. The top 20 horses are assured a starting spot in the May 4th Kentucky Derby (G1).

Sierra Leone, well off the pace in ninth through the first five furlongs of the 1 1/8 mile race, began to work his way forward between horses around the final turn. With a wall of horses in front of him, he came extremely wide turning for home. Sierra Leone caught Track Phantom, who led from the start, in the final sixteenth to win by a half-length in 1:52.13.

“Given the track conditions and slow pace and that he hasn’t run since the Remsen (Dec. 2, when he was second by a nose), I thought he showed a lot to run down a pretty good horse who was in form and fit and didn’t have to ship,” said trainer Chad Brown. “I wasn’t sure if he’d reel him in–not because we’re not good enough–but that was a tall order. So this proved a lot to me today.”

Sierra Leone has won two of three starts and earned $336,750 for the team of Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, Westerberg, Brook T. Smith  and Peter M. Brant. The dark bay colt was bred by Debby Oxley and sold to his owners for $2.3 million at the 2022 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Yearling sale.

Pedigree Notes from the TDN

Sierra Leone is one of 27 stakes winners and 20 graded winners from the first three crops to the races for Gun Runner. Heavenly Love, victorious in the 2017 Alcibiades S. (G1), is a daughter of Darling My Darling, who won the Doubledogdare S. and Raven Run S. at Keeneland and also placed in the Frizette S. (G1) and Matron S. (G1). Darling My Darling is also the dam of 2016 Santa Ynez S. (G2) winner Forever Darling. Heavenly Love produced a full sister to Sierra Leone Feb. 11.