In his final start, Winchell Thoroughbreds’ and Three Chimneys Farm’s recently crowned Horse of the Year Gun Runner put an impressive exclamation point on what has been a standout career with his impressive 2 ½-length victory in the world’s richest horse race — the $16.3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (GI) — at Gulfstream Park on Saturday. With the win, the Steve Asmussen-trained son of Candy Ride heads to his stallion career at his owner’s Three Chimneys Farm outside Midway, Kentucky, as North America’s second-richest racehorse of all time with $15,988,500 in career earnings.
Under regular jockey Florent Geroux, who became an American citizen just a day earlier, Gun Runner was the public’s near-even-money favorite and was good for $4.20, $3 and $2.20. West Coast rallied from off the pace to earn second and paid $4 and $3.20 at odds of 7-2. It was another 10 ½ lengths back to Gunnevera, who returned $4.80 at nearly 14-1. The $2 exacta paid $17.20 and the $1 trifecta $55.50.
Fear the Cowboy, Seeking the Soul, Stellar Wind, Collected, Sharp Azteca, Giant Expectations, War Story, Singing Bullet and Toast of New York rounded out the order of finish.
Despite carrying a record of four Grade 1 wins into the Pegasus, including his Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) romp in November, some expressed concern with the confirmed frontrunner/stalker drawing post position 10 with legitimate speed to his inside. Someone forgot to tell Geroux, though, because, after a clean break, he quickly sent Gun Runner after the lead and settled his mount under a long and relaxed hold, sitting just off the frontrunning Collected through splits of :23.41 and :46.61 for the first half-mile.
By the time the early leader reached the far turn, he was laboring. And soon after Collected tossed in the towel, Gun Runner was in command and posted the six furlong split in a quick 1:10.21. Geroux asked Gun Runner for just a little bit more run for good measure and by the time they reached the top of the lane, they were in complete control of the outcome. Though they were briefly challenged by West Coast in the lane, the runner-up was never any serious threat and Gun Runner steadily drew away despite swaying in and out as he made his way toward victory under little more than a hand ride from Geroux.
After posting the one-mile time of 1:34.28, the winner finished the 1 1/8-mile test over a Gulfstream Park main track labeled fast in 1:47.41.
“This feeling is hard to describe, it’s a dream come true,” Geroux said. “We wanted the horse to prove that the Breeders’ Cup and all of last year was not a fluke and the horse was there, in only one word, the horse was unbeatable.”
Gun Runner was bred in Kentucky by Besilu Stables, and Three Chimneys acquired the chestnut as a yearling in a package deal. Besilu had purchased his dam, the Grade 2 winner Quiet Giant, out of the late Edward P. Evans’ dispersal at the 2011 Keeneland November breeding stock sale and she was subsequently bred to Candy Ride. That foal, Gun Runner, was set to be sold as a 2-year-old by Three Chimneys, but Ron Winchell took a liking to the colt and partnered with the historic nursery.
Now, with a Hall of Fame career likely in the books, he heads to stallion duty at Three Chimneys with a record of 19-12-3-2, which includes six Grade 1 victories, such as last year’s Whitney, Woodward Stakes, Stephen Foster Handicap and 2016’s Clark Handicap all under the care of his Hall of Fame conditioner.
“I’m just so proud of the horse. What a dream come true,” Asmussen said. “He has improved with every opportunity. Even when he didn’t have success, he moved forward from it; so pleased to be in his presence. This memory will be with us forever. To be able to share it with my family, just a wonderful ownership group — what a special horse.
“It’s the cherry on the top, this one — 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 [Geroux] have for this horse is just a beautiful thing.”
“He has qualities we all wish we had,” Asmussen continued. “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.
“You’re rooting on him. But when he broke like he did and got in the position that he did, we felt wonderful about it.”
Gulfstream Park registered an all-sources handle of $41,983,881 Saturday on its second Pegasus World Cup Day, a four percent increase over last year’s previous Pegasus record handle of $40,217. The figure is the largest handle in Gulfstream’s 79-year history excluding Breeders’ Cup Days. Pegasus World Cup attendance was 16,400.