Gun Runner demonstrated his superiority over his rivals in the 2018 Pegasus World Cup Invitational by blasting clear of them on January 27 at Gulfstream Park. It was an emphatic end to his exploits on the racetrack prior to his new career at stud.
Trained by Steve Asmussen and partnered by Florent Geroux, the five-year-old star son of Candy Ride had been the heavy favorite in the Pegasus betting as soon as his participation was confirmed.
Only Bob Baffert’s West Coast, the 4/1 second favorite with the offshore bookies, managed to get anywhere near Gun Runner when it mattered in the $16m, world’s richest horse race. More favourably drawn in stall two, West Coast was the runner-up, beaten two and a half lengths under Javier Castellano.
A gaping ten lengths further back Antonio Sano’s perennial closer Gunnevera (14/1) stayed on gamely to steal third place from the 74/1 long shot Fear The Cowboy. Neither horse ever looked to have any chance of reaching the front pair as both were ridden towards the back of the pack. Another long shot, Dallas Stewart’s Seeking The Soul (41/1) was fifth.
When a wide draw from gate ten was announced for Gun Runner his odds drifted to 6/5 but he was still the horse they all had to beat. The draw is particularly important at Gulfstream Park as it is a short run to the first bend.
Gun Runner broke well and showed his natural speed that placed him half a length ahead of the other runners three strides away from the gates. In contrast Giant Expectations and the UK shipper Toast Of New York were slow to break.
While other jockeys looked as if they were riding a finish approaching the first turn, Geroux barely had to move to urge Gun Runner to continue gaining momentum. He cruised to the head of the pack and made his way across the track close to the rail.
Mike Smith was particularly animated on Baffert’s other trainee Collected (7/1) and grabbed the rail and the lead going into the first turn. Smith must have been keen not to make the same mistake that some thought (including the jockey himself) had ruined Collected’s chances in the San Antonio Stakes in December.
Geroux eased Gun Runner alongside Collected, tight to his flank into the second spot. Fears of the favorite getting caught very wide were fortunately unfounded. Meanwhile Castellano positioned West Coast directly behind Collected, hugging the rail. Sharp Azteca raced in third, slightly ahead of him but giving away ground on his outside. Gary Stevens hustled Giant Expectations up to track the leaders while Frankie Dettori had to push Toast Of New York to stay in touch with them.
The order at the front end of the pack was unchanged until Collected weakened with three furlongs left to run and was headed by Gun Runner. It was the same story for Sharp Azteca who was having his first try at the distance of a mile and a furlong and appeared to run out of gas.
There were only two horses in with a chance rounding the final turn. Castellano angled West Coast wide of Gun Runner to challenge him but Gun Runner was not giving up his lead to anyone. He kept galloping all the way to the wire with minimal encouragement from Geroux.
The Pegasus provided Gun Runner with an ideal end to his career on the racetrack. His owners Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm had announced long before the race that it would be his final start. It had been a difficult decision for them and the result did not make it any easier.
News on the Losers
Baffert was pleased with West Coast’s performance saying that he had run his race but been beaten by a better horse. There is no disgrace in finishing with only the 2017 Horse of the Year in front of you.
Collected’s disappointing show was a head-scratcher, perhaps it was not only Smith’s unfathomable tactics in his previous race that got him beat. He finished 16 lengths behind Gun Runner in seventh place.
What of Toast of New York, the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up who was returning from stud, a tendon injury and three years off? On the day after the race Jamie Osborne, trainer of the UK shipper Toast Of New York, reported that his seven-year-old had encountered so much kick back that he was coughing like a heavy smoker. Osborne thought that breaking slowly had not helped his horse’s chances and that the early pace took Toast Of New York out of his comfort zone after such a long absence from top level company.
Osborne had aimed high and told Dettori to try to win the race but their plan did not work out, Toast Of New York finished last, beaten nearly 50 lengths. Ridden differently Osborne believed that his horse might have finished much closer to the winner. That could be stretching reality as his performance, once the excuses are stripped away, was woeful. In the context of the top table, the horse has now shown nothing in his two comeback runs. The Lingfield event he struggled to win on his return was moderate. Osborne is undeterred and, if Toast Of New York stays sound, the trainer is convinced that there is another grade one win in him. Despite the advances in technology, soundness often becomes a matter of opinion and there is a fine line between optimism and delusion.
How Good is Gun Runner?
The Pegasus was Gun Runner’s fifth straight win at the highest level providing him with total earnings of nearly $16 million. The victory placed him ahead of California Chrome on the earnings front and second only to the mighty Arrogate, Baffert’s 2017 Pegasus winner.
Unlike the ultra-talented Arrogate, Gun Runner has proved himself to be both physically and mentally tough. It could be argued that it was the effort that Arrogate had to make to beat Gun Runner in the 2017 Dubai World Cup (he finished second) that was the demise of Baffert’s stable star. Arrogate never won again and was beaten six lengths by Gun Runner in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic before retiring to stud duties.
In contrast Gun Runner went on to win his next five starts after his trip to Dubai and his Pegasus win looked fairly easy. It suggested that he could have continued to bring in the money if his owners had chosen to continue his racetrack career.
We will never know what Gun Runner could have gone on to achieve but, like the sire of his dam Giants Causeway, he has proved himself to be an iron horse who has managed to stay sound after 19 starts. If Gun Runner passes on his talent to his offspring, Arrogate’s progeny will have serious competition.