There were questions about the post position and about the pace scenario, but Horse of the Year and race favorite Gun Runner answered them all with a 2 1/2-length triumph in Saturday's second running of the $16 million Pegasus World Cup. Florent Geroux rode hard out of the gate on the 5-year-old son of Candy Ride, getting over to the two-path from his starting position in stall 10. From there, Gun Runner hounded the front-running Collected down the backstretch, taking the lead in the far turn. West Coast was the only horse with a chance late, but Geroux switched to his left-handed stick and Gun Runner pulled away to mirror his Breeders' Cup Classic performance.
Trained by Steve Asmussen for Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm, Gun Runner covered the 1 1/8-mile distance over Gulfstream's fast main track in 1:47.41. West Coast had to settle for second, while Gunnevera was a long way back in third. Fear the Cowboy finished fourth, and Seeking the Soul was fifth.
It was the final race of Gun Runner's career, and he will be retired to Three Chimneys to stand the 2018 breeding season.
“It's the cherry on the top, this one,” said Asmussen. “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.”
He may have been excluded from the primary running of the Pegasus last year due to quarantine issues at the Fair Grounds, but Gun Runner made his way overseas to the Dubai World Cup chasing the victor, Arrogate. The last time Gun Runner lost a race was in that second-place finish. Since then, he has won five straight Grade 1 races: the Stephen Foster, Whitney, Woodward, Breeders' Cup Classic, and now the Pegasus World Cup.
“This feeling is hard to describe, it's a dream come true,” Geroux said. “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.”
Despite his win streak, Gun Runner's post position in stall 10 was seen as a major factor leading up to the Pegasus. With a short run to the first turn at Gulfstream Park, Gun Runner would have to show a lot of speed early or risk being caught very wide. The issue was whether the Horse of the Year, crowned at Thursday evening's Eclipse Awards, would have enough left in the tank after spending so much energy early on. He most definitely did.
It was the Bob Baffert-trained Collected who got the best of his rivals early on, out-running the speedy Sharp Azteca in the first eighth of a mile to take the lead into the turn. West Coast was also positioned well early on, but all eyes seemed to be on Gun Runner in the outside post.
Geroux left the starting gate with his stomach flat against Gun Runner's withers, urging the colt forward with every stride to secure his position. The ever-versatile Gun Runner responded willingly, and was outside only Collected by the time the pair reached the bend.
Collected led Gun Runner by a length through a first quarter in :23.41, with Giant Expectations three-wide on the outside of West Coast behind those two. Sharp Azteca got hemmed in behind those front four, and both War Story and Toast of New York were placed near mid-pack in the early going.
After a half-mile in :46.61, Geroux started to let Gun Runner encroach on Collected's lead. The pair drew even in the early part of the far turn, and it was Gun Runner stealing away from Collected as he turned to face the stretch for one final run. West Coast angled out to mount his challenge under Javier Castellano, but the rest of the field was already dropping back as those two faced down the wire.
On his left lead, Gun Runner seemed to take off again as he felt West Coast coming up on his heels. Geroux kept riding, and when the jockey changed to a left-handed stick at the sixteenth pole, Gun Runner changed to his right lead and drew out his margin of victory to a convincing 2 1/2 lengths. Geroux pumped his fist as the pair crossed the wire, and the pair took their time jogging back to the winner's circle for the last time.
The win was emotional for the entire Gun Runner team, but it was even more emotional for Geroux; the jockey had lost his father in late December.
West Coast had to settle for second, and it was at least 10 lengths behind him that the local horse Gunnevera rallied to finish third. Fear the Cowboy got up to finish fourth. The remaining order of finish was: Seeking the Soul, Stellar Wind, Collected, Sharp Azteca, Giant Expectations, War Story, Singing Bullet, and Toast of New York.
“West Coast, he came with a huge run,” said trainer Bob Baffert. “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.”
Bred in Kentucky by Besilu Stables, Gun Runner is out of the graded stakes winning Giant's Causeway mare Quiet Giant. She, bred by the late Edward P. Evans, brought $3 million in the 2011 Keeneland November sale at the end of her racing career. Gun Runner himself was a private purchase who represented the first partnership between Ron Winchell and Three Chimneys Farm.
Gun Runner broke his maiden at first asking as a 2-year-old, but really began to shine at the start of his sophomore campaign when he swept the both the Risen Star and the Louisiana Derby en route to a third-place finish in the Run for the Roses. At the end of 2016, he finally got his first Grade 1 win when taking the Clark over older males.
Last year was a major coming-out party for Gun Runner. His 4-year-old season began with a win in the G3 Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn as a prep for the Dubai World Cup against Arrogate, winner of the inaugural Pegasus World Cup. Gun Runner would finish second that day in March, but he never lost another race while Arrogate never regained his form.
With wins in the Stephen Foster, Whitney, Woodward, Breeders' Cup Classic and now the Pegasus, Gun Runner has certainly proven his consistency over the past year. He retires with a record of 12 wins in 19 starts and earnings of approximately $15 million.
“I'm so impressed for him to come through like he did today, to overcome the draw,” said Asmussen. “I'm just so proud of the horse. What a dream come true.”
#GunRunner closes his great career with a win in the 2018 @PegasusWorldCup at @GulfstreamPark over a game West Coast!
Watch upcoming the press conference LIVE on: https://t.co/rrmu6YLN1V pic.twitter.com/IJeh3qHhJr
— XBTV (@WatchXBTV) January 27, 2018
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