Catching My Eye: Cox firster, Asmussen’s Guns A’blazing, Double DeVaux at Fair Grounds

January 30th, 2024

A handful of runs on Saturday, Jan. 27 at Fair Grounds Race Course caught my eye. Topping the list was a debut three-year-old out of the Brad Cox barn who had been an early nominee for the Louisiana Derby (G2). Two sons of Gun Runner impressed, as did the Cherie DeVaux daily double of a pair four-year-olds moving forward and looking ready to take on tougher.  

Just a Touch

There’s taking money, and then there’s taking money, and Just a Touch took money ahead of winning race 2 on Saturday. The son of Justify trained by Brad Cox opened at 1-9, closed at 1-2, and won like an odds-on favorite should.

But here’s the thing – this was a nice field. It didn’t make sense that this horse would get hit so hard relative to his company. Asmussen had a $1.7 million colt named Gun Party, the first foal (by Gun Runner) out of Carina Mia. Brendan Walsh had a first-timer with strong siblings. Norm Casse’s debut entry came in with very sharp works. Greg Foley had two deserving the market’s attention: Bango’s full brother Evan on Earth and a sharp-working son of Mitole named Silver Halo.

Silver Halo broke as sharp as can be, looked dangerous on the lead at 9-1, but just couldn't withstand the pressure from the monster we witnessed named Just a Touch. Watching that winner pass outside Silver Halo in the turn you realized the towering physical presence of this bay colt out of the Tapit mare Touching Beauty. And you understood why this three-year-old took money.

Just a Touch earned a 97 Brisnet Speed figure. Connections had already nominated him for the Louisiana Derby, and so the question at hand: what’s next?

The dam’s side sends mixed signals. Touching Beauty had success sprinting, as did her mama, Victory Road, but both won stakes at up to a mile. Touching Beauty has produced four other winners. One was a stakes-placed sprinter on the main track; the other three won routing on turf, but they were not very fast. 

I wouldn’t be shocked to see Just a Touch in the Black Gold S. on March 2, a three-year-old turf route, similar to what Cox did with Wonderful Justice last year. But whoever bet 10 grand on this guy Saturday surely is wondering if it’s too late to win a Derby Prep. I expect to see him stretching out in a Risen Star (G2) undercard allowance next, and then on to a 100-point final Derby prep, possibly the Louisiana Derby.

Gun Party ran well in here, too. At that purchase price, and out of Carina Mia, winner of the Acorn (G1) and Golden Rod (G2), surely he’ll be stretching out in the next race. Gun Party moved well late and galloped out even with Just a Touch, despite the four-length margin of defeat.

Gun Pilot the next Gunite?

True to what we have come to expect from a Gun Runner, Gun Pilot kicked off his four-year-old campaign taking a strong step forward to run his fastest Brisnet Speed figure to date with a 97. 

In a six-furlong, second-level allowance sprint, the chestnut colt stalked outside Saint Selby, who has been experiencing a nice formful streak of late, and took over with a furlong to go. Stablemate Powerful lost a length steadying into the turn, but came on nicely late to finish second. 

Gun Pilot flirted with the Derby trail last year, making a quick exit after getting trounced in the Rebel (G2). I expect to see Asmussen continue to enter Gun Pilot in sprints or longer one-turn races. Could be this year’s Gunite…or at least in that ballpark.

Foxfire and Pyrenees

DeVaux won back-to-back on Saturday’s card, saddling Foxfire in the sixth race and Pyrenees in the seventh. While Pyrenees backed up his maiden route win by beating a decent allowance field, he had a perfect trip against a small field. Still, the Into Mischief colt moved forward to earn a 95 Speed rating from Brisnet (and a 112 Late Pace figure).

Of the two efforts, Foxfire’s intrigued me more. Going six furlongs, the four-year-old daughter of Empire Maker beat seven fillies by over six lengths and extended that distance in the gallop out. 

Most impressive was her move in the turn. When taking pressure in midpack from Imma Madi Tue at a pivotal point in the race, Foxfire accelerated as soon as her rider asked. Moving around the bend like her tail was on fire, the lightly-raced filly threaded the needle through two forward foes at the three-sixteenths pole. 

With just two runs under her belt, it was a nice way to start her four-year-old campaign, which I imagine carries forward to attempting two turns. But Foxfire absolutely proved she has the goods as a sprint-closer specialist.