Gun Runner seeks Pegasus victory in final start
By Bob Ehalt
One of the goals when the Pegasus World Cup was created in 2016 involved keeping the sport’s best horses in training longer.
On that front, the race is 2-for-2.
While the financial wheelings and dealings of the $16 million race have been controversial and confusing, the world’s richest race has indeed been the lure that enticed a pair of Horse of the Year recipients to stick around for one more race.
Last year, it was California Chrome who ran in the Pegasus – and finished ninth – before heading to the breeding shed. Now it’s newly crowned 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner whose career at stud will be delayed by the Pegasus.
The Breeders’ Cup Classic winner headlines Saturday second edition of the Pegasus at Gulfstream Park (5:35 p.m. post time, NBC TV), which is also keeping almost all of the top performers in the $6 million race at Del Mar in training. The top five finishers in that race will also run in the Pegasus, with the lone exception being 2017 Pegasus winner Arrogate, who headed to stud after finishing in a dead-heat for fifth in the BC Classic.
Gun Runner, a decisive 2 ¼-length winner of the BC Classic as the second-choice in the wagering behind favored Arrogate, will be a heavy favorite, despite drawing post 10 and facing the prospect of a potentially challenging wide trip.
The BC Classic was Gun Runner’s fourth straight win, joining the Woodward, Whitney and Stephen Foster. The 5-year-old son of Candy Ride captured that quartet of Grade 1 wins by a combined 24 ¾ lengths.
“I’ve always said, you don’t know to complain about the post position until after a race is run. It might work out perfectly for him,” trainer Steve Asmussen said. “The horse is doing extremely well and in capable hands of (jockey) Florent Geroux. Hopefully we’ll have a big day Saturday and send the 2017 Horse of the Year out on top.
“Just to be in his presence, to be around him, to have the privilege to train him as well as run him, it’s a dream come true,” he added. “Everybody’s well aware of my background. I grew up in a racing family and that’s what I dreamed of being a part of, and I’ve realized how blessed I am to be in this position.”
With a $7 million winner’s share of the purse on the line, there’s no shortage of contenders for Gun Runner.
Heading the list is a pair of runners from trainer Bob Baffert’s barn who were Gun Runner’s closest pursuers in the BC Classic.
Baffert’s Collected and 3-year-old champion West Coast will both be back for a rematch.
Collected (8-1) was second in the BC Classic but then finished third behind fellow Pegasus starter Giant Expectations in the San Antonio.
“What’s so hard to beat Gun Runner is he’s not a one-dimensional horse. You know, he’s not a horse that needs a lead. He’s a horse that if they go quick enough, we’ve all seen him lag, second, third, fourth, and still run just as well as when he’s had a comfortable lead. So, he’s going to be tough to beat,” said jockey Mike Smith, who will be aboard Collected on Saturday and won last year’s race with Arrogate. “I got to fire my A-plus race, a few things that’ll go our way, which can happen in horse racing.”
West Coast (8-1) has not raced since finishing third in the BC Classic but prior to that was victorious in the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby.
Another formidable challenge should come from Sharp Azteca, a top-notch miler who will stretch out to a mile-and-an-eighth for the Pegasus. Second in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Sharp Azteca (6-1) is coming off a blowout 5 ¼-length win in the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct.
“Everything is falling the right way. The way he’s training, the way he’s doing everything, I can’t believe I’m sitting on a good horse like that,” trainer Jorge Navarro said about Sharp Azteca. “This is a huge step. It’s the best race in the world. Let’s not forget we’re running against Gun Runner, but there’s no doubt my horse belongs in there.”
The rest of the field includes, by post position, Singing Bullet (30-1), the mare Stellar Wind (30-1), Gunnevera (15-1), Fear the Cowboy (30-1), War Story (25-1), Toast of New York (20-1) and Seeking the Soul (25-1).
Whether any of then can win on Saturday is quite debatable. What can’t be argued is regardless of who wins, the sport of horse racing notched a huge victory simply by getting one more opportunity to watch Gun Runner – thanks to the Pegasus.