Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm’s Gun Runner broke alertly from the gate, sped straight to the lead and never looked back en route to an impressive seven-length romp in Saturday’s $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) at Churchill Downs.
With regular jockey Florent Geroux in the irons, the chestnut son of Candy Ride sped through splits of :23.59, :47.23 and 1:10.69 for three-quarters of a mile with Stanford and Breaking Lucky in hot pursuit, easily increased his advantage to five lengths past the eighth pole in 1:34.86, switched leads to the left shortly thereafter when Geroux briefly showed him a left-handed stick, and continued on easily to the wire, stopping the clock in 1:47.56 for the nine furlongs over a fast Churchill Downs main track.
“I was loaded the entire trip around there,” Geroux said. “He was doing everything so easily. This horse is truly unbelievable. I was a bit surprised to find myself on a lone lead, but I wasn’t complaining one bit. What a horse.”
At odds of 1-2, the Steve Assmusen-trained Gun Runner returned just $3, $2.40 and $2.10. Honorable Duty crossed the wire in second, paying $4 and $2.60. Breaking Lucky was another 1 ¼ lengths back in third and was good for $3. The exacta wss worth $10.60 and the trifecta $52.40.
Hawaakom, Stanford, Texas Chrome, Mo Town and Bird Song completed the order of finish.
The win, which guarantees Gun Runner a spot in the gate for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Del Mar on Nov. 4 thanks to the race’s status as a “Win and You’re In” event, earned Gun Runner $300,000 to bring his bankroll to $4,638,500 and his line now reads 15-8-3-2. He also won last year’s Clark Handicap (GI) and Matt Winn Stakes (GIII) and was second to division leader Arrogate in the March 25 Dubai World Cup (GI).
“I think it was key taking our time with this horse,” Asmussen said. “We always thought he would get better with age and he’s proving that to us right now. It’s special to win a Grade I but now we have our ticket punched to the Breeders’ Cup. We got him to the winner’s circle here at home and we set ourselves up for a great second-half campaign. I can’t thank our owners enough. This horse is incredibly special in so many ways.”
Kentucky-bred Gun Runner, who is a son of the stakes-winning Giant’s Causeway mare Quiet Giant, was purchased by Three Chimneys from Ben Leon Jr.’s Besilu Stables as part of package deal of yearlings, broodmares and weanlings. He originally was set to be sold through public auction, but a decision was made to keep him, with a half-interest sold to Ron Winchell of Winchell Thoroughbreds.