Sierra Leone Chases Down Track Phantom To Steal Risen Star

Sierra Leone | Hodges

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Trainer Chad Brown has been down this road a time or two.

In 2013, Normandy Invasion (Tapit) made his 3-year-old debut in the GII Risen Star S., having dropped a nose decision in Aqueduct's GII Remsen S. three months previously. Sent off the 3-2 favorite, the Fox Hill runner ran on nicely to finish fifth. Just two years ago, Zandon (Upstart)–also beaten by the barest margin in the Remsen–shipped up from Florida and also came with a stretch rally to round out the trifecta as a 7-2 chance.

'TDN Rising Star' Sierra Leone (Gun Runner) is very much cut from the same cloth as those two–long-striding colts who save their best for last–and with that in mind, Brown opted to send the $2.3-million Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale-topper from 2022 up to the Big Easy from the Sunshine State.

The rationale? The nine-furlong distance of the Risen Star combined with a stretch run of over two furlongs would suit his charge better than the oft speed-favoring surface at Gulfstream Park, not to mention its comparatively short run home. Sierra Leone–who had last year's Remsen in the bag until he didn't–ensured that the plan came together swimmingly Saturday, virtually clinching a berth in the GI Kentucky Derby with a half-length defeat of Track Phantom (Quality Road), earning 50 points in the process.

To succeed, Sierra Leone would have to overcome not only an 11-week absence, but also the race-fit Track Phantom, who entered the Risen Star undefeated in three runs around two turns, including the Dec. 23 Gun Runner S. and GIII Lecomte S. Jan. 20. The 3-1 second choice behind the 27-10 and first-time-blinkered Sierra Leone, Track Phantom was sent immediately to the front by Joel Rosario and set a modest tempo over a strip that began the program listed as sloppy and never appeared to dry out. Sierra Leone, ridden for the first time by Tyler Gaffalione, settled about four from the rear and at a distinct tactical disadvantage, as Track Phantom lobbed them along through fractions of :24.32 and :49.67.

Sierra Leone was in a good rhythm, but still behind midfield past six furlongs in 1:14.74, but when he was asked to pick up the bridle in earnest, the response was near-instantaneous. Fanned out extremely wide into the lane, Sierra Leone was forced to take some evasive action around a wayward Catching Freedom (Constitution) outside the eighth pole, but he was able to sustain the long run he'd been asked to make and gathered up Track Phantom in the waning strides to take it by a half-length.

“Given the track conditions and slow pace and that he hasn't run since the Remsen, 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 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.”

Added Gaffalione: “The blinkers really helped him focus today. He broke alertly and we hoped going into this race there would be more speed. He got a comfortable trip up the backside and relaxed for me. When he took the lead in the stretch, I could feel beneath me he is only going to want to go longer after this. You always keep dreaming of the big races like the Derby and horses like this help you keep the dream alive.”

Zandon moved on to the GI Toyota Blue Grass–in which he duly obliged–as his final Derby prep, and the plan will be the same for Sierra Leone, Brown indicated.

Pedigree Notes:

Sierra Leone is one of 27 stakes winners and 20 graded winners from the first three crops to the races for Three Chimneys' Gun Runner and the daughters of the late Malibu Moon are now responsible for 82 SWs, 26 at the graded or group level.

Heavenly Love, victorious in the 2017 GI Darley Alcibiades S., is a daughter of Darling My Darling, a $300,000 Keeneland September purchase by John Oxley in 1998 who won the Doubledogdare S. and Raven Run S. in Lexington while also placing in the GI Frizette S. and GI Matron S. Darling My Darling is also the dam of 2016 GII Santa Ynez S. winner Forever Darling (Congrats), whose son Forever Young (Jpn) (Real Steel {Jpn}) is arguably  top 3-year-old dirt horse in Japan and is scheduled to run in next weekend's G3 Saudi Derby for trainer Yoshito Yahagi. Sierra Leone's Grade I-winning third dam also produced Japanese Horse of the Year Zenno Rob Roy (Jpn) (Sunday Silence).

Heavenly Love foaled a colt by Nyquist in 2022 and produced a full-sister to Sierra Leone Feb. 11.

Saturday, Fair Grounds
RISEN STAR S.-GII, $400,000, Fair Grounds, 2-17, 3yo, 1 1/8m, 1:52.13, sy.
1–SIERRA LEONE, 122, c, 3, by Gun Runner
1st Dam: Heavenly Love (GISW, $346,200), by Malibu Moon
2nd Dam: Darling My Darling, by Deputy Minister
3rd Dam: Roamin Rachel, by Mining
1ST BLACK TYPE WIN, 1ST GRADED STAKES WIN. 'TDN Rising
Star'. ($2,300,000 Ylg '22 FTSAUG). O-Mrs. John Magnier,
Michael B. Tabor, Derrick  Smith, Westerberg, Brook T. Smith
and Peter M. Brant; B-Debby M. Oxley (KY); T-Chad C. Brown;
J-Tyler Gaffalione. $240,000. Lifetime Record: 3-2-1-0,
$336,750. Werk Nick Rating: A+++. *Triple Plus*
Click for the eNicks report & 5-cross pedigree.
Click for the free Equineline.com catalogue-style pedigree.
2–Track Phantom, 122, c, 3, Quality Road–Miss Sunset, by Into
Mischief. ($500,000 Ylg '22 KEESEP). O-L and N Racing LLC,
Clark O. Brewster, Jerry Caroom and Breeze Easy, LLC;
B-Breeze Easy, LLC (KY); T-Steven M. Asmussen. $80,000.
3–Catching Freedom, 122, c, 3, Constitution–Catch My Drift, by
Pioneerof the Nile. 1ST GRADED BLACK TYPE. ($575,000 Ylg
'22 KEESEP). O-Albaugh Family Stables LLC; B-WinStar Farm,
LLC (KY); T-Brad H. Cox. $40,000.
Margins: HF, 1 1/4, 1 3/4. Odds: 2.70, 3.00, 5.70.
Also Ran: Resilience, Honor Marie, Awesome Ruta, Hall of Fame, Real Men Violin, Moonlight, Tizzy Indy, Cardinale, Bee Dancer.
Click for the Equibase.com chart and the TJCIS.com PPs. VIDEO, sponsored by FanDuel TV.

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