Breeders’ Cup: Gun Runner rules, Midlantic-breds falter
by Frank Vespe
Gun Runner’s the king.
Midlantic-breds, meanwhile, will be licking their wounds.
On Breeders’ Cup Saturday, Gun Runner delivered the performance of the weekend in the Classic, winning fourth straight race, all in Grade 1 company, and virtually wrapping up Horse of the Year honors. In so doing, he sent Arrogate, last year’s champion who, despite having lost his last two, went off the favorite, into retirement.
Under regular pilot Florent Geroux, Gun Runner was on the engine from the get-go, making the lead immediately out of the gate while hounded by the improving Collected. That pair ran one-two all the way around the track, just heads apart after a mile in 1:35.03, with the margin growing to a bit over two lengths at the finish. Gun Runner stopped the clock in 2:01.29 for the 1 1/4 miles over a fast Del Mar main track. Arrogate, never much involved in the $6 million Classic, dead-heated for fifth.
“What an awesome feeling this is,” said winning trainer Steve Asmussen. “Florent (Geroux) has the ultimate confidence in Gun Runner and he rode Gun Runner. It’s all part of the process. We had discussed what we’d see (in the race) through the day, and I told him to ‘ride Gun Runner.’ I’m the lucky trainer of the Horse of the Year.”
Geroux seconded the notion. “This (win) means a lot,” he said. “It’s the biggest win of my career. It’s the big race with Horse of the Year on the line. I’m glad he was the best horse.”
Gun Runner is scheduled to stand stud at Kentucky’s Three Chimneys Farm but the son of Candy Ride is expected, first, to contest the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup in January at Gulfstream Park.
Trainer Bob Baffert, meanwhile, didn’t make any excuses for Arrogate. But he also made clear that the big horse’s future is in the breeding shed and not on the racetrack. “I don’t know what happened to him,” Baffert said of Arrogate, who in succession in late 2016 and early 2017 took the Travers Stakes, Breeders’ Cup Classic, Pegasus World Cup, and Dubai World Cup, helping to propel him to more than $17.4 million in earnings. “I don’t know if it’s this track or what. He’s just losing interest, and I think that’s what it is. He’s run so many incredible races that I really think he’s just losing interest. That’s what it is. It’s time (for him to retire).”
It was also a rough afternoon for several Midlantic-breds. In the Filly and Mare Sprint, a pair of Pennsylvania-breds entered with high hopes but had no great impact on the outcome. Unique Bella went off as the 1.10-1 favorite in the seven-furlong test — one of a number of wildly overbet favorites who met defeat — but after zipping to the lead rather suddenly stopped and faded to seventh.
“No excuse,” said trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
The race’s other PA-bred, Finest City, had not had as productive a ’17 season as she did in ’16 but nevertheless entered the race with a chance to defend her title. But after stalking within a couple of lengths of the leader, she, like Unique Bella stopped and faded to eighth.
At the finish, 66-1 outsider Bar of Gold got her nose down just ahead of 18-1 shot Ami’s Mesa for the win. It was a length back to the 20-1 show horse, Carina Mia. The exacta paid $1030 for a buck, and the triple returned $6,926.75.
Four races later, in the Juvenile, Bahamian, a Maryland-bred son of Freedom Child, went off a longshot after entering the race a maiden. He ran to those 85-1 odds, finishing twelfth, and left with his maiden status intact.
The same could not be said of the Grade 1 placed-but-still-a-maiden-entering-the-race Good Magic, a Chad Brown trainee who benefited from the very wide journey endured by 7-10 favorite Bolt d’Oro to post an emphatic four-length win, which, it must be said, is a pretty nice way to break one’s maiden.
All-sources handle for the two days of the Breeders’ Cup was up almost six percent versus last year, to more than $166 million. Day two attendance was 37,692 — above the stated capacity of 37,500.