Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm's Gun Runner proved his dominance over the local handicap division in Saturday evening's G1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs, taking the lead from the start and shaken up in the stretch to win by a record-setting seven lengths. The 4-year-old son of Candy Ride, ridden by Florent Geroux, has now secured his spot with a paid berth in the Breeders' Cup Classic this fall, where connections hope he will have a rematch with Dubai World Cup winner Arrogate. Trained by Steve Asmussen, Gun Runner covered 1 1/8 miles on the fast main track in 1:47.56, besting Honorable Duty, Breaking Lucky and Hawaakom.
“I was loaded the entire trip around there,” Geroux said. “He was doing everything so easily. This horse is truly unbelievable. He's one of the best horses I've ever ridden and to put forward this type of effort after running in Dubai is so impressive. I was a bit surprised to find myself on a lone-lead but I wasn't complaining one bit. What a horse.”
With his tactical speed, Honorable Duty might have been one to press Gun Runner's rather tepid early pace, but he was shuffled back just after the start, then boxed behind rivals heading into the first turn, forcing jockey Javier Castellano's hand. That left Gun Runner unopposed on the front end right from the start, with an easy one-length lead over Stanford and Breaking Lucky through fractions of 23.59 and 47.23 seconds. Honorable Duty was fourth early on, followed by Bird Song, who also might have pressed the pace early, and Hawaakom.
“The winner, I give a lot of credit,” Castellano said after the race. “He was much the best horse in the race. Unfortunately, not much speed in the race. I thought about it before the race, the way I handicapped the race, a little more speed, I thought Stanford was gonna go and the other horse inside (Bird Song) was going to go. They let him (Gun Runner) dictate the pace, nice comfortable rhythm, nice comfortable pace. I think it didn't help when my horse is coming from behind. I think it cost a little bit of the race.”
Gun Runner stretched his lead to nearly two lengths in the backstretch, then Geroux gave him a brief breather before the far turn, allowing Stanford back within a length as Honorable Duty and Breaking Lucky began to wind up on the outside. As soon as Geroux hit the button, Gun Runner flowed away from his rivals, stretching to a two-length lead at the head of the lane.
Geroux had to stay busy to keep Gun Runner to task in the lane, but he was never seriously threatened as he cruised under the wire seven lengths in front of the field. Honorable Duty just bested Breaking Lucky for second at the wire, and Hawaakom had to settle for fourth.
Bred in Kentucky by Besilu Stables, Gun Runner was the first partnership between Three Chimneys and Winchell. He lived up to his breeding as a 3-year-old, taking the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby before finishing a good third in the Kentucky Derby. He ran several more good races through 2017, including a second in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile and a G1 win over elders in the Clark Handicap, but truly blossomed as a 4-year-old. Kept out of the Pegasus World Cup by a quarantine issue in New Orleans, Gun Runner instead keyed in on the Dubai World Cup where he ran a great race in defeat to Arrogate. Overall, the colt boasts a record of eight wins, three seconds and two thirds in 15 starts, and has earned more than $4.6 million.
“I think it was key taking our time with this horse,” said Asmussen. “We always thought he would get better with age and he's proving that to us right now. It's special to win a Grade I but now we have our ticket punched to the Breeders' Cup. We got him to the Winner's Circle here at home and we set ourselves up for a great second-half campaign. I can't thank our owners enough. This horse is incredibly special in so many ways.”
Wow! We have a new record for the largest margin of victory in the Stephen Foster.
WATCH IT👇🏽 pic.twitter.com/iHrixnL4bU
— Churchill Downs (@ChurchillDowns) June 18, 2017
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