A Horse of a Lifetime: Gun Runner Stands Tall in Pegasus

Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC and Three Chimneys Farm’s Gun Runner (Candy Ride {Arg}–Quiet Giant, by Giant’s Causeway) had absolutely nothing to prove heading into Saturday’s $16-million GI Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park. Crowned a most deserving Horse of the Year and champion older male dirt horse at Thursday night’s Eclipse Awards, he had earned Beyer Speed Figures north of 110 in ths last six races he contested on these shores, beginning with his victory in the 2016 GI Clark H. up to and including his 2 1/4-length defeat of Collected (City Zip) and fellow champion West Coast (Flatter) in November’s GI Breeders’ Cup Classic. One could quietly assume that he would also have earned a lofty number for his runner-up effort in the G1 Dubai World Cup behind inaugural Pegasus winner Arrogate (Unbridled’s Song).

Pegged at 4-5 on the morning line, Gun Runner opened at 7-5, something of a vote of no confidence given that he drew gate 10 with a short run to the first turn at the nine-furlong trip, not to mention the presence of those that filled the four of the next five placings behind him at Del Mar 11 weeks ago. The slick chestnut touched 4-5 at one point during the latter stages of the betting and the tote read even money when the field of 12 loaded the gate about 10 minutes later than the advertised post time. Ultimately, those that took the 11-10 about the favorite were left feeling they received good value for their betting dollar, as Gun Runner never looked a loser at any point of the race, reporting home two lengths clear of West Coast, with Gunnevera (Dialed In) a mile further back in third.

Despite the apparent poor draw, Gun Runner and Florent Geroux figured to be able to work out a good trip, assuming a clean break. The 5-year-old showed in his victories in the GI Stephen Foster H. and in the Classic that he could set a strong pace and still keep finding, but arguably more importantly, had demonstrated a rating gear in taking out the GI Whitney S. and the GI Woodward S. at Saratoga last summer.

It appeared that the latter tactic would win out, with the likes of Collected and the outstanding GI Cigar Mile H. winner Sharp Azteca (Freud) drawn underneath him, but when the latter was not aggressively ridden away from the machine by Irad Ortiz, Jr., Gun Runner was easily able to slide across the face of the field and into a two-path trip, the best possible outcome to make use of his high cruising speed.

With Collected hustled away from there by Mike Smith, he was able to secure the lead, but had to go reasonably hard through an opening quarter in :23.41. Gun Runner lobbed along under an easy hold from Geroux while West Coast got the best trip inside from fourth. Sharp Azteca was set a hopeless task, racing in the breeze three and four wide, while late runners and horses for the course like Gunnevera and Fear the Cowboy (Cowboy Cal) bided their time in the rear, hoping that their classier rivals might come back to them late.

Gun Runner raced full of run into the far turn, appearing to have Collected whenever he wanted, and with three-eighths of a mile, Geroux released the hand brakes and the chalk looked ready to blow the race open, especially with Javier Castellano hard at work atop the rallying West Coast. Still confidently ridden, Gun Runner turned them in and led clear into the final eighth of a mile.

As is his wont, he hopped off onto his incorrect lead when cracked left-handed inside the final eighth of a mile, but there was no quit in him and he remained clear to the wire, then galloped out well in front. West Coast stamped himself as the future king of the hill while pulling better than 10 lengths clear of some good horses.

“I’m so impressed for him to come through like he did today, to overcome the draw. I’m just so proud of the horse. What a dream come true,” said winning trainer Steve Asmussen. “He has improved with every opportunity. Even when he didn’t have success, he moved forward from it. So pleased to be in his presence. This memory will be with us forever. To be able to share it with my family, just a wonderful ownership group. What a special horse.

Asmussen continued, “It’s the cherry on the top, this one. This race, the world’s richest horse race after him being named Horse of the Year on Thursday night. For him to be able to go out on top and go back to his next career with everybody feeling the way that we have, and it’s built up to this point. I’m just so proud of the whole team and happy for them. How much love that this team and Florent have for this horse is just a beautiful thing. You’re rooting him on. But when he broke like he did and got in the position that he did, we felt wonderful about it.”

And so a brilliant career at the races gives way to another in the breeding shed at Three Chimneys. Winner of the GII Risen Star S. and GII Louisiana Derby, Gun Runner was third in the GI Kentucky Derby and was runner-up in the GI Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile before walloping his elders in the Clark. His 2017 campaign commenced with a towering success in the GIII Razorback H. and might have won the World Cup but for one of the great performances in recent history. Gun Runner retires with 12 wins and five minor placings from 19 starts for earnings of $15,988,500.

What They Said:

“Turning for home I thought Gun Runner might be a little empty but his tank is so big and he just kept going. He’s just a great horse. He just kept on running. I was proud of my horse [West Coast]. He just keeps getting better. I can’t really complain. We just got beat by a really good horse. He was tested the whole way around there. It was a good horse race. I just came up a little short.” –trainer Bob Baffert

The one good thing about this race is I won’t have to deal with [Gun Runner] anymore; he’s retired and I think my horse is really gonna step out and become a top, top horse.” –Javier Castellano, jockey, West Coast

“I’m so happy and so proud for my horse. The horses that beat him were both champions. I don’t think many people thought he had a chance to win but he showed he’s a very good horse and he ran a big race.” –Antonio Sano, trainer, Gunnevera

Pedigree Notes:

Gun Runner is one of 12 Grade I winners for his outstanding Lane’s End-based stallion, five of which are out of Storm Cat-line mares. Another, ‘TDN Rising Star’ Mastery has a second dam by the former legendary stallion. Gun Runner’s dam won the 2011 GII Molly Pitcher S. for the Estate of Edward Evans and was purchased by Ben Leon’s Besilu Stable for $3 million at that year’s Keeneland November Sale. Gun Runner is her first foal. A daughter of SW & GSP Quiet Dance (Quiet American), Quiet Giant is a half-sister to 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam (Saint Ballado)–himself the sire of HOTY Havre de Grace from his lone crop to race–SW Dance Quietly (A.P. Indy), GSW Congressionalhonor (Forestry), MGISP Miss Besilu (Medaglia d’Oro), GSP American Dance (A.P. Indy) and SP Funtastic (More Than Ready). Another of Quiet Dance’s daughters, Quiet Now (Tiznow), is the dam of GSW Lull (War Front). Gun Runner’s third dam was a half-sister to Irish champion Minstrella. Quiet Giant, now 11 years old, is the dam of a 3-year-old Tapit filly that Mandy Pope’s Whisper Hill Farm bought for $1.4 million at Keeneland September in 2016. The mare is represented by a 2-year-old Tapit filly and her 2017 produce is a full-brother to Candy Ride. She was not bred last year.

Saturday, Gulfstream Park
PEGASUS WORLD CUP INVITATIONAL S.-GI, $16,300,000, GP, 1-27, 4yo/up, 1 1/8m, 1:47.41, ft.
1–GUN RUNNER, 124, h, 5, by Candy Ride (Arg)
1st Dam: Quiet Giant (GSW, $405,389), by Giant’s Causeway
2nd Dam: Quiet Dance, by Quiet American
3rd Dam: Misty Dancer, by Lyphard
O-Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC & Three Chimneys Farm;
B-Besilu Stables LLC (KY); T-Steven M. Asmussen; J-Florent
Geroux. $7,000,000. Lifetime Record: Horse of the Year & Ch.
Older Dirt Male-US, G1SP-UAE, 19-12-3-2, $15,988,500. Werk
Nick Rating: A+++. *Triple Plus*. Click for the
eNicks report & 5-cross pedigree.2–West Coast, 124, c, 4, Flatter–Caressing, by Honour and
Glory. ($425,000 Ylg ’15 KEESEP). O-Gary & Mary West; B-CFP
Thoroughbreds LLC (KY); T-Bob Baffert. $1,600,000.3–Gunnevera, 124, c, 4, Dialed In–Unbridled Rage, by
Unbridled. ($16,000 Ylg ’15 KEESEP). O-Margoth &
Gallo Stables; B-Brandywine Farm & Stephen Upchurch (KY);
T-Antonio Sano. $1,300,000.
Margins: 2HF, 10 3/4, HF. Odds: 1.10, 3.70, 13.70.
Also Ran: Fear the Cowboy, Seeking the Soul, Stellar Wind, Collected, Sharp Azteca, Giant Expectations, War Story, Singing Bullet, Toast of New York. Scratched: Game Over, Giuseppe the Great. Click for the Equibase.com chart, the TJCIS.com PPs or the free Equineline.com catalogue-style pedigree. VIDEO, sponsored by Fasig-Tipton.