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Sierra Leone Targets Risen Star for 3-Year-Old Debut

The $2.3 million 3-year-old colt Sierra Leone  could be a Kentucky Derby (G1) prospect along the lines of Zandon   for trainer Chad Brown and the similarities may increase in the coming weeks.

Zandon started his 3-year-old campaign in 2022 with a third in the Risen Star Stakes (G2) at Fair Grounds Race Course and Slots, followed by a win in the Blue Grass Stakes (G1) and a third in the Run for the Roses.

Now Brown is planning a similar route to Louisville on the first Saturday in May for Sierra Leone, the Remsen Stakes (G2) runner-up.

Brown said he is targeting the Feb. 17 Risen Star at Fair Grounds as the 3-year-old son of Gun Runner  ‘s 2024 debut and then will use wither the April 6 Blue Grass at
Keeneland or Wood Memorial Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct Racetrack as a final prep for the $5 million May 4 opening leg of the Triple Crown.

“I like the mile-and-an-eighth distance of the Risen Star for him,” Brown said. “I like the longer stretch and the track plays more fair than Gulfstream Park, which maybe favors speed horses and has a shorter stretch.”

Owned by Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, Westerberg, Rocket Ship Racing, and Peter Brant, Sierra Leone will stay at the 1 1/8-mile distance by opting for the Blue Grass or Wood afterwards.

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“It’s one race at a time and it will be between the Blue Grass and the Wood. We’ll see how it goes,” the four-time Eclipse Award winner and 2023 finalist said. 

Bred by Debby Oxley in Kentucky, Sierra Leone has already put in three four-furlong breezes at the Payson Park Training Center since the Dec. 2 Remsen.

“He’s doing fine,” Brown said. “If anything, the challenging thing is keeping him on the ground. He’s ahead of schedule but I don’t want to run this particular horse at Gulfstream and I don’t want to ship him back to New York.”

After winning his Nov. 4 debut at Aqueduct, Sierra Leone returned in the Remsen and rallied from 10th and last in the nine-furlong grade 2 stakes and took the lead in mid-stretch, only to have pacesetting Dornoch  battle back and prevail by a nose.

“I was very pleased with the effort but disappointed with the result that he gave up the lead late,” Brown said about the Remsen. “But for a lightly raced horse that still needs some experience, he gave a very good performance, especially considering he was the only horse on the card that closed ground. It was a pretty good indicator that he at least deserves to be on the Triple Crown trail.”

Out of the Malibu Moon mare Heavenly Love , Sierra Leone was consigned by Gainesway and sold for a sale-topping $2.3 million at Fasig-Tipton’s The Saratoga Sale in 2022.

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