Breeders’ Cup Classic hero Gun Runner to stay in training in New Orleans — for how long is up in air

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By Jennie Rees
Special from Kentucky Downs

DEL MAR, Calif. — Gun Runner, who virtually secured Horse of the Year honors by taking Saturday’s $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic by 2 1/4 lengths in front-running fashion over Collected, is scheduled to stay in training this winter in New Orleans, though how much racing that might lead to is yet to be determined.

Trainer Steve Asmussen said Sunday morning at Del Mar that the 4-year-old colt will fly to Louisville early Monday and van directly to co-owner Three Chimneys Farm near Lexington to be display to horsemen during this week’s massive Keeneland November breeding-stock sale. Asmussen said the son of the Lane’s End stallion Candy Ride then will go directly to the stable’s New Orleans operation at the Fair Grounds “and we’ll go from there.”

“What’s next is celebrating every day from now until they give him the Horse of the Year trophy,” Asmussen said. “The horse deserves it. Can’t tell you the level of appreciation I have for him. Because very few horses accept the amount of pressure that was applied to him. Especially in the style in which he did it.”

Gun Runner has spent the past two winters in New Orleans, including winning the 2016 Risen Star and Louisiana Derby before finishing third in the Kentucky Derby.

One objective could be Gulfstream Park’s $16 million Pegasus World Cup on Jan. 27, a race Gun Runner was forced to miss last year when horses stabled in New Orleans were caught up in a quarantine. Presumably Gun Runner could make that race and still start the 2018 breeding season in mid-February, should his connections so choose.

Instead of the Pegasus, Gun Runner this year was rerouted to Oaklawn Park, winning the Grade 3 Razorback by 5 3/4 lengths to kick off a season that saw the colt go 5 for 5 in the United States. His only defeat at age 4 was his second in the $10 million Dubai World Cup to 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic and 2017 Pegasus World Cup winner Arrogate, who finished in a dead-heat for fifth in the Classic at Del Mar to end his career with three straight defeats.

Gun Runner’s Breeders’ Cup victory avenged not only that loss but a third-place finish last year in Saratoga’s Travers, which Arrogate won in electrifying style in his first stakes appearance. The Classic also gave Gun Runner his first victory at 1 1/4 miles.

“It came together,” said Asmussen, a 13-time Fair Grounds training champion. “Erased any ‘wrongs.’ He was 0 for 3 at a mile and a quarter, and he was 0 for 2 against Arrogate. And on this stage, when you need to be your best, we were our best…. The Breeders’ Cup here at Del Mar, what a wonderful setting. (I was) very much concerned about a different racetrack, a racetrack he hadn’t run on — all of those variables. He accepted them, did his job and came through like the champion he is. That little bit of unknown just had the the excitement a couple notches higher.”

With two-time Fair Grounds riding titlist Florent Geroux aboard, Gun Run set a stern pace, withstood pressure from Collected throughout the far turn and into the stretch and finished 1 1/4 miles in 2:01.29. He was assigned a 113 Bris speed figure, just off his career-best 114 earned in his prior start, when Gun Runner romped to a 10 1/4-length triumph in Saratoga’s prestigious Woodward Stakes.

The Breeders’ Cup was the culmination of a meticulous plan charted out by Asmussen, chief assistant Scott Blasi and co-owners Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys. At Churchill Downs, Asmussen had special Gun Runner saddle towels made up so that the standout colt not only was readily identifiable to admirers watching morning training, but so that other exercise riders would give him wide clearance on the track — a small detail designed to minimize the chance of mishap caused by another horse.

Blasi, exercise rider Angel Garcia and groom Idelberto Gutierrez spent six weeks in California preparing for Nov. 4.

“It feels wonderful standing here the day after; the plan came together so well and feel the season has earned him the golden trophy,” Asmussen said, referencing the gold-plated Eclipse Award that goes to North America’s Horse of the Year.

It would be the barn’s fourth top honor, following two with Curlin in 2007 (when he won the Breeders’ Cup Classic) and 2008 and Rachel Alexandra in 2009. But while he began training those future Hall of Famers as 3-year-olds, Gun Runner has been in Asmussen’s care his entire career.

Gun Runner now is 11-3-2 in 18 lifetime starts while earning $8,988,500 with the $3.3 million payday, putting him 10th among the world’s all-time money-earners, which Arrogate heads at $17,422,600. His Grade 1 victories include Churchill Downs’ Clark Handicap and Stephen Foster and Saratoga’s Whitney. He also was second in last year’s $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

Arrogate, the slight favorite over Gun Runner, was never in the hunt, his short but once-scintillating career concluding with a whimper.

“It’s a shame. He’s like a pitcher who can’t find the strike zone,” trainer Bob Baffert said after the race, in which he also finished second (Collected), third (West Coast) and eighth (Mubtaahij). “He’s lost interest… It’s painful to watch him run like that. He’s healthy and sound. I don’t know if it’s meant. It’s just no mas.”

Arrogate also heads to Lexington, but to become a stallion at owner Juddmonte Farms.

“I’m going to put this aside immediately and return to all the memories of those fantastic victories when he showed us he was one of the greatest horses we’ve ever seen,” said Garrett O’Rourke, who manages Juddmonte’s U.S. operation. “… We’re going to try to make some babies that can run like him and be as brilliant as he was.”

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