by Chelsea Hackbarth
Del Mar, CA (November 4, 2017)-It was billed as one of the most competitive editions of the Breeders' Cup Classics in recent memory, but Gun Runner didn't bother reading the hype.
The 4-year-old son of Candy Ride vied for the lead with Collected through at least 10 furlongs, but when Florent Geroux asked his mount the question in the stretch it was all Gun Runner. On Saturday evening just before sunset at Del Mar, the Steve Asmussen-trainee finished 2 1/4 lengths clear of Collected at the wire.
“I think he's better today than he ever was,” Asmussen said. “What a blessing.”
Owned by Ron Winchell and Three Chimneys Farm, Gun Runner completed 1 1/4 miles over the fast track in 2:01.29, paying $6.80 as the second choice. Collected finished second and West Coast third for Bob Baffert, while War Story got up for fourth. Post-time favorite and defending champion Arrogate finished in a dead head for fifth with Gunnevera after ducking in at the start.
Every one of 37,692 eyes in the Del Mar grandstand was trained on the starting gate, every heart beating just a bit faster with the anticipation of an epic Breeders' Cup Classic. It was the rematch of Dubai World Cup champion Arrogate and runner-up Gun Runner, and each horse was steady at 2-1 on the tote board. Arrogate was slightly favored over his rival, but trainer Bob Baffert knew right after the start that his big gray colt wasn't going to fire.
Arrogate broke very awkwardly toward the rail from his innermost post position, and jockey Mike Smith had to go to work early to get any kind of tactical position in the race. He had his head up a bit, seemingly to avoid the kickback in his face as Arrogate was third from last in the earliest stages.
Gun Runner, meanwhile, broke extremely well from post five and went right for the front. One of Baffert's four-horse contingent in the Classic, Collected was quick to keep the gallant chestnut company as the pair flew down the stretch for the first time. Inching out to a half-length advantage around the clubhouse turn, Gun Runner clocked a first quarter in a sharp :22.50.
Geroux was able to slow the pace slightly around that turn and into the backstretch, turning in a second quarter mile in 23.89 seconds as the half ticked by in :46.31. Behind those two leaders by a widening margin, West Coast and Churchill were moving in a joint third ahead of War Story and Pavel. Arrogate had started to advance slowly, and he continued to move up inch by inch down the backstretch.
After three-quarters in 1:10.50 and a mile in 1:35, Collected started to encroach on Gun Runner's half-length lead. West Coast was moving well, but was at least three lengths back in third, and War Story was forced wide but looked ready to make a run in the lane. Gunnevera was the next closest, and Arrogate came grinding up alongside him as the field turned for home.
Geroux kept Gun Runner a few paths off the rail in the stretch, and as the horse eyed Collected at the three-sixteenths pole it looked like the race could go either way. It took only a matter of strides for Gun Runner to decide to burst away from his rival, and he did so in convincing fashion. At the wire, Gun Runner and Geroux were 2 1/4 lengths ahead of Martin Garcia and Collected. Geroux pumped his fist in the air as Gun Runner carved his name into the history books.
West Coast never threatened the leaders but was a clear third, and War Story flattened out late to finish fourth. Gunnevera and Arrogate battled the length of the stretch and hit the wire in unison for a dead heat fifth-place finish. The remaining order of finish was: Churchill, Mubtaahij, War Decree, Pavel, and Win the Space.
Bred in Kentucky by Besilu Stables, Gun Runner was privately purchased to be the first equine partnership between Ron Winchell and Three Chimneys Farm. As a sophomore he won both the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds before running third in the Kentucky Derby. Gun Runner ended that season with a second-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile and a big win in the G1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs.
In 2017, Gun Runner had to skip the Pegasus World Cup due to a quarantine situation at the Fair Grounds. Instead he was sent to Oaklawn Park, where Geroux guided him to an easy win in the G3 Razorback as a prep for Meydan. In the Dubai World Cup, Gun Runner looked the winner in the stretch until a monster run from Arrogate saw him defeated at the wire.
Returning to the U.S., Gun Runner ran out a three-race win streak in the Stephen Foster, Whitney and Woodward, the latter by 10 1/4 lengths. The Breeders' Cup Classic win improves Gun Runner's record to 11 wins from 17 starts, with three seconds and two thirds. The colt has now earned $8,988,500, and all signs from the connections indicate that they will aim for the $16 million Pegasus World Cup in January.
Gun Runner will fly back to Churchill Downs on Monday.