HALLENDALE BEACH, Fla.--Bad draw, shmad draw. Those stats about being stuck on the outside at Gulfstream Park had not seen Gun Runner yet.
He showed them. Despite being stuck with post position 10 – and the horrible success rate that comes with it – the 2017 Horse of the Year struck a blow against analytics with a dominant run as the even-money favorite to win the $16.3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on a warm, windy day here Saturday.
“The 10 post? We’re not capable of dealing with it, but he is,” winning trainer Steve Asmussen said. “We’re just blessed to be in his presence, and he just drags us along with him.”
And what a drag. Since he came back from a second-place finish to Arrogate last spring in the Dubai World Cup, Gun Runner started five Grade 1 races. And he won them all, including the Breeders’ Cup Classic to finish off his championship campaign of 2017. Saturday’s race finished off his racing career.
“We wanted the horse to prove that the Breeders’ Cup and all of last year was not a fluke,” said Florent Geroux, who took over riding Gun Runner two years ago. “In only one word the horse was ‘unbeatable.’”
The 5-year-old horse that was sired by Argentine stallion Candy Ride wore down most of the rest of the field and won by 2½ lengths. West Coast (7-2), the third-place finisher in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, stalked the pace throughout the race and finished second Saturday, the only other horse among the 12 to get anywhere near Gun Runner.
“I saved all the ground and followed the big horse in the race every step of the way,” West Coast’s jockey Javier Castellano said. “The one good thing about this race is I won’t have to deal with (Gun Runner) anymore.”
Deep closers Gunnevera (13-1) and Fear The Cowboy (74-1) finished third and fourth, respectively, more than 13 lengths behind Gun Runner. That ballooned the payoff for a winning 10-cent Superfecta ticket to $114.27.
“Turning for home I thought Gun Runner might be a little empty,” West Coast’s trainer Bob Baffert said. “But his tank is so big, and he just kept going. He’s just a great horse. He just kept on running.”
Gun Runner needed a perfect start, and that is just what he got. Geroux scrubbed him within a half-length of Collected’s early lead by the time they got to the first turn, which comes only 150 yards into nine-furlong races here at Gulfstream – the big reason horses drawn outside gate 6 had been only 7-of-129 in races of that length since 2013.
Collected (7-1) continued to lead through the backstretch, but Gun Runner was within breathing distance the whole time. Early fractions of 23.41 and 46.61 seconds looked honest, but they proved to be too much for Collected. He faded to a distant memory from his second-place finish to Gun Runner nearly three months ago in the Breeders’ Cup.
“The wind is blowing really hard, so it dries that track out a little bit,” Collected’s jockey Mike Smith said. “When Gun Runner kind of pushed me at the half-mile pole, Collected got to struggling. I said ‘uh-oh, we might be in trouble.’”
As Collected regressed, his stable mate West Coast made up ground and got within a length of Gun Runner as they turned into the stretch. Geroux used a couple taps of the whip to find another gear, and there was no doubt that the newly crowned U.S. champion would send himself off to a breeding career with a winning exclamation point. The winning time was 1:47.41.
“When he broke like he did and got position that he did, we felt wonderful about it,” said Asmussen, who has trained four of the last 11 Horses of the Year (Curlin twice, Rachel Alexandra and Gun Runner).
Although Asmussen looked relaxed in a lucky tan suit that he superstitiously wears to big races, co-owner Ron Winchell was not. Asked if he had reason to feel pressure, Winchell said, “There were 16 million of them.”
Already set to get a $70,000 stud fee for every mare he covers, Gun Runner earned $7 million for Saturday’s win and finished his racing career with earnings of $15,988,500. He passed California Chrome ($14,752,650) for second on the list of North American thoroughbreds, trailing only last year’s Pegasus winner Arrogate ($17,422,600).
Organizers said 16,653 people filled the Gulfstream grandstand that was downsized after 2004. The handle Saturday was $41.983 million, the fourth-largest in track history and the most for a non-Breeders’ Cup card.
In spite of a push to move the Pegasus to Santa Anita Park in California – where three times as many people could get in – Stronach Group president and chairwoman Belinda Stronach said next year’s race would stay here. She confirmed that other new races elsewhere – perhaps a turf event – could carry a format similar to the $1 million buy-in for the Pegasus.
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