Gun Runner solid favorite in $16 million Pegasus World Cup
From a Gulfstream Park release
With a lock on the 2017 Horse of the Year title presented at Thursday night’s Eclipse Awards in Gulfstream Park’s Sport of Kings venue, Gun Runner will have a golden opportunity to finish off a stellar racing career in style in Saturday’s $16 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) at Gulfstream.
“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime and everybody expecting him to be announced Horse of the Year two days before that is just a very exciting time for what we feel is a great horse and a deserving horse,” trainer Steve Asmussen said. “Hopefully, he will be Horse of the Year on Thursday and [have] a chance to prove it on Saturday.”
Scheduled to embark on a stallion career at Three Chimneys Farm in Versailles, Ky. after making his final career start in the world’s richest race, Gun Runner was installed as the 4-5 morning-line favorite in a field of 12 after drawing the No. 10 stall in the starting gate at Wednesday morning’s post-position draw.
“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,” 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.”
Gun Runner will move into second-place in the all-time purse earnings standings behind Arrogate, the winner of the inaugural Pegasus World Cup who retired with $17,422,600 in the bank, with a victory Saturday. A triumph in the second running of Gulfstream’s thoroughbred spectacular will be worth a record $7 million to the winner and would push the son of Gun Runner’s career earnings to $15,988,500, ahead of California Chrome’s $14,752,650.
“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,” Asmussen said. “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.”
The son Candy Ride has won six of his last seven starts by a combined 33 ¼ lengths while totally dominating World Class competition. His only loss last year came in a second-place finish in the Dubai World Cup (G1) in March, finishing 2 ¼ lengths behind Arrogate and five lengths ahead of third-place finisher Neolithic, who finished third in the 2017 Pegasus World Cup.
Gun Runner finished third in the 2016 Kentucky Derby (G1) behind then-undefeated Florida Derby (G1) champion Nyquist and next-out Preakness (G1) victor Exaggerator after winning four of his first five lifetime starts. He finished off his 3-year-old season with a victory in the Clark Handicap (G1) at Churchill Downs before launching his 2017 campaign with a 5 ¾-length front-running score in the Razorback Handicap (G3) at Oaklawn Park in February while prepping for the Dubai World Cup.
The Asmussen trainee came back from Dubai better than ever, reeling off overpowering Grade 1 triumphs in the Stephen Foster at Churchill, the Whitney and Woodward at Saratoga, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). In his 2 ¼-length victory in the Classic, Gun Runner was followed, in order, by Collected, West Coast, War Story and Gunnevera (who finished in a dead-heat with Arrogate for fifth) – all four of whom are slated to take another shot at him in the Pegasus World Cup.
“We’re obviously extremely excited about the year that Gun Runner had last year and we’re looking forward to our run in the Pegasus,” Asmussen said. “The horse has spoiled us with his consistency; how willing he is in a work is very exciting for us. We realize we’ve got one more run with him…. It’s a little bittersweet.”
In his quest to go out a winner Saturday, Gun Runner will be challenged by two horses trained by Bob Baffert, who saddled Arrogate for a 4 ¾-length romp in the inaugural Pegasus World Cup. The Hall of Fame trainer will be represented by Speedway Stable’s Collected and Gary and Mary West’s West Coast, who finished second and third, respectively, behind Gun Runner in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Collected and West Coast were rated at 8-1 in the morning after drawing Post Nos. 5 and 2, respectively, behind Gun Runner and Sharp Azteca.
Collected, who upset stablemate Arrogate by a half-length in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar in August, was upset by Pegasus World Cup entrant Giant Expectations while finishing third in the San Antonio at Santa Anita in his most recent start Dec. 26.
Jockey Mike Smith, who rode Arrogate to victory in last year’s Pegasus World Cup, has the mount aboard Collected in a quest to reverse the Classic order of finish.
“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 tough to beat,” Smith said. “I got to fire my A-plus race, a few things that’ll go our way, which can happen in horse racing.”
West Coast brought a five-race winning streak into the Classic, in which he raced evenly after encountering early traffic. The 4-year-old son of Flatter is likely to be honored Wednesday evening with an Eclipse Award as the 3-year-old champion of 2017 on the strength of his 3 ¼-length triumph in the Travers (G1) at Saratoga and 7 ¼-length romp in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) at Parx.
Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano has the mount aboard West Coast.
Sharp Azteca, who is rated second.in the morning line at 6-1 after being assigned Post No. 4, figures to contribute a high level of brilliance to the Pegasus World Cup, in which he will try to carry his impressive speed over 1 1/8 miles for the first time. Representing stakeholders Loooch Racing Stables and Ashley Quartarolo, the 5-year-old son of Freud, a one-turn mile specialist who is coming off a stunning 3 ½-length victory in the Cigar Mile (G1) at Aqueduct, has had success around two turns, winning the 1 1/16-mile Monmouth Cup (G3) by 7 ½ lengths in July.
“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,” Navarro said. “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.”
Navarro named Irad Ortiz Jr. to ride the earner of $1.7 million for the first time Saturday.
The Navarro-trained War Story, who finished fifth in the inaugural Pegasus World Cup, is set to return in the 1 1/8-mile event for Pegasus Race Participants, LLC. The 6-year-old gelding, who finished fourth behind Gun Runner in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, captured the Brooklyn Handicap (G2) last year. Jose Ortiz has the mount.
Eclipse Award champion, Stellar Wind, is set to become the first filly or mare to run in the Pegasus while making her first start for trainer Chad Brown and likely the last start of her brilliant career. Purchased by M. V. Magnier for $6 million at the Keeneland November Sale, the 6-year-old daughter of Curlin, the 3-year-old filly champion of 2015, has won six Grade 1 stakes for fillies and mares.
“She’s all class. She’s been real easy to be around and to train. She just goes out there and does her thing. She’s a very straightforward horse,” Brown said. “The most disappointing thing is only having her for one start because I can see how classy she is, a true champion. We’ll try to make the best of that one start.”
Joel Rosario has been named to ride Stellar Wind, who will race for stakeholder Coolmore Partnership.
Gunnevera will bring a record of excellence at Gulfstream Park into the Pegasus World Cup for stakeholder GalloStables. The 4-year-old son of Dialed In, who finished in a dead-heat for fifth with Arrogate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, captured last year’s Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream and won the Tangelo Stakes before shipping north to Saratoga for a runner-up finish behind West Coast in the Travers (G1).
Luis Saez is slated to ride Gunnevera for the first time Saturday.
Charles E. Fipke’s Seeking the Soul, who has won only three of his first 15 races, has been peaking in his two most recent starts for the Pegasus World Cup. The Dallas Stewart-trained 5-ytear-old son of Perfect Soul broke the track record for 1 1/16 miles while winning an Oct. 21 allowance at Keeneland before earning Grade 1 credential with a triumph at the Pegasus distance of 1` 1/8 miles in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs Nov. 24.
“He’s just been very sharp. He’s very happy about his job. He’s eating well. He’s healthy. He looks great. He’s all dappled out,” trainer Dallas Stewart said. “I think he’s going to be ready to go.”
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, who was aboard for the Clark triumph, has the return mount.
Toast of New York returned to training from a three-year stint at stud in Europe for a chance to run in the Pegasus World Cup. The 7-year-old son of Thewayyouare, who ventured to U.S. in 2014 and finished second in the Pacific Classic (G1) over Del Mar’s synthetic track behind Shared Belief before being nosed out by Bayern in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) on dirt at Santa Anita, tuned up for Saturday’s race with a victory under allowance conditions over Lingfield Park Racecourse’s synthetic surface Dec. 6.
Frankie Dettori, who was aboard for the tune-up, has the return mount aboard the Jamie Osborne-trained veteran, who will race for stakeholders Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, R.A. Hill Stable and Eric Young.
Giant Expectations established himself as a Pegasus World Cup contender when he pulled off a front-running upset over Collected in the San Antonio. The Peter Eurton-trained 5-year-old son of Frost Giant, who will be ridden by Gary Stevens, will represent stakeholder Pegasus Race Participants, LLC.
Fear the Cowboy enters the Pegasus World Cup with a record of excellence over Gulfstream Park’s main track that includes stakes triumphs in the Harlan’s Holiday (G3) in his most recent start and the Skip Away (G3) in March.
The Efren Loza Jr.-trained son of Cowboy Cal, who will be ridden by Tyler Gaffalione, will represent stakeholders Stronach Stables and Ron and Jerry Frankel.
Singing Bullet, a Grade 2 stakes-placed son of Hard Spun, rounds out the 12-horse field for stakeholder Pegasus Race Partners LLC. The 4-year-old colt, who is trained by Dale Romans, will be ridden by Robby Albarado, who guided him to victory in a Churchill allowance two starts back.