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front runner

or front-run·ner, front·run·ner

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noun
  1. a person who leads in any competition.
  2. an entrant in a race who breaks to the front immediately and establishes the pace for the field.
  3. an entrant in a race who performs well only when ahead of the field.
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Origin of front runner

An Americanism dating back to 1935–40
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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