Stakes Advance - Eclipse Stakes

Compiled by Robert Yates

Monday’s solar eclipse comes at the perfect time for Gun Pilot.

A candidate to face a more heralded stablemate next weekend, Gun Pilot instead lands in the six-furlong $175,000 Eclipse Stakes at 6 furlongs Sunday at Oaklawn.

Probable post time for the Eclipse, restricted to older horses that haven’t won a stakes race in 2023-2024, is 4:26 p.m. (Central). It goes as the eighth race on a special nine-race program. First post is 12:35 p.m.

Oaklawn’s 2023-2024 season had been scheduled to end May 4, with Sunday originally a dark day. Two racing dates (Sunday and May 5) were added to help offset four cancellations (Jan. 14 and Jan. 19-21) because of winter weather. The Eclipse was subsequently added to the stakes schedule.

Perhaps the biggest beneficiary was Gun Pilot, a homebred for Three Chimneys Farm and Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen who is unbeaten in two starts this year.

Gun Pilot, a son of 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner, opened his 4-year-old campaign with a two-length allowance score Jan. 27 at Fair Grounds and was a sharp 3 ½-length allowance winner March 10 at Oaklawn. Both races were 6 furlongs.

Gun Pilot has been so impressive this year that he was under consideration for the $500,000 G3-Count Fleet Sprint Handicap for older horses at 6 furlongs April 13 at Oaklawn. Asmussen has won the Count Fleet a record five times and will have the overwhelming favorite this year in defending champion Skelly. Gun Pilot had been on the shelf since a fifth-place finish in the $400,000 G1-Woody Stephens Stakes for 3-year-olds at 7 furlongs June 10 at Belmont Park.

“His two races since his freshening have been very impressive,” Asmussen said. “They were both conditioned races. This is obviously the next step up, but one we expect him to handle.”

Gun Pilot, the 2-1 program favorite, is scheduled to break from post 5 under Cristian Torres, Oaklawn’s leading rider this season. Other top contenders in the projected 10-horse field include Oaklawn stakes winner Kavod (3-1), who will be making his first start since being claimed by trainer Mike Maker for $80,000 March 14 at the Fair Grounds, and the speedy Edge to Edge (6-1) for 2015 Oaklawn training champion Chris Hartman. Edge to Edge finished eighth in the 2023 Count Fleet.

The Eclipse Stakes will be run one day before a well-publicized total solar eclipse. Because the path of totality tracks directly over the Hot Springs area, Oaklawn is hosting an Eclipse Festival Monday in the infield. Admission is $20, with children under 12 free. The watch party will feature live music, concessions and attractions for children.