After receiving Horse of the Year accolades a couple days earlier, Gun Runner departed the stage with one final grandiose performance in Saturday’s $16 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) at Gulfstream Park. The bright chestnut seized command on the far turn and rolled home to a 2 ½-length decision in the world’s richest race, notching a fifth consecutive Grade 1 victory in his swan song.
Owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm, the 5-year-old son of Candy Ride boosted his career earnings to $15,988,500 with the $7 million first-place prize and Gun Runner will head to stud this year at Three Chimneys Farm near Versailles, Kentucky with a 19-12-3-2 career record.
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen did a masterful job orchestrating Gun Runner transformation – a Horse of the Year campaign wasn’t on anybody’s radar following a runner-up finish in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) — and Florent Geroux was up for the last 16 starts.
Gun Runner notched his first Grade 1 tally when concluding his sophomore season in the Clark H. (G1) at Churchill Downs and opened 2017 with a convincing win in the Razorback (G3) at Oaklawn Park. He sustained his only setback last season in the Dubai World Cup (G1) in late March, posting a commendable second to Arrogate.
The colt thrashed rivals when returning from a freshening in the June 17 Stephen Foster (G1) at Churchill Downs and established himself as the horse to beat in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) by dominating a pair of prestigious Grade 1 events at Saratoga, taking the Whitney by 5 ¼ lengths and Woodward by 10.
Gun Runner sped forward to lead wire-to-wire in the November 4 Classic at Del Mar, cementing Horse of the Year honors with a 2 ¼-length triumph.
Favored at even-money in the 12-horse Pegasus, Gun Runner was hustled from a disadvantageous outside post (10) and settled into second behind Collected entering the first turn. The pacesetter established opening splits in :23.41 and :46.61 with Gun Runner tracking about a length back in second. West Coast, 7-2 choice, was racing about another length back in fourth as the field made its way down the backstretch.
Gun Runner advanced to overhaul Collected entering the far turn, edging away to a one-length advantage after three-quarters in 1:10.21, but West Coast remained a danger as he accelerated into contention nearing the completion of the bend.
The top two quickly separated themselves from the pack but West Coast could get no closer than a length before losing his momentum in the final furlong.
After shrugging off his challenger by midstretch, Gun Runner streaked home to another magnificent win and completed the 1 1/8-mile distance in a strong 1:47.41.
West Coast wound up 10 ¾ lengths better than the 13-1 Gunnevera, who got up late to edge 74-1 Fear the Cowboy by a half-length for third.
Seeking the Soul came next in fifth and was followed by Stellar Wind, Collected, Sharp Azteca, Giant Expectations, War Story, Singing Bullet and Toast of New York under the wire. Giuseppe the Great and Game Over failed to draw in from the also-eligible list.
Bred in Kentucky by Besilu Stables, Gun Runner hails from a regal female family. He’s the first foal out of the Grade 2-winning Giant’s Causeway mare Quiet Giant, a daughter of the stakes-winning Quiet Dance. That makes Quiet Giant a half-sister to Horse of the Year and sire Saint Liam and two other stakes winners, and another half-sibling produced Grade 1 queen Buster’s Ready.
Trainer Steve Asmussen: “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.
“He has qualities we all wish we had. He doesn’t have to have success to move forward. He never doubts himself. With the success he had this year you try to do exactly the same thing over. He knows what’s up. And how cool and collected he was and laid down and waited for the day. And the 10 post. We’re not capable of dealing with it and he is. We’re just blessed to be in his presence and he just drags us along with him.
“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.”
Jockey Florent Geroux: “This feeling is hard to describe, it’s a dream come true. We wanted the horse to prove that the Breeder’s Cup and all of last year was not a fluke and the horse was there, in only one word, the horse was unbeatable.”
Bob Baffert, trainer of runner-up West Coast and seventh-place Collected: “West Coast, he came with a huge run. I was proud of both of the horses. West Coast, 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. 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.”