The expected coronation of Gun Runner took a step closer to becoming official Jan. 5 when the reigning Breeders' Cup Classic winner was announced as one of the three finalists in the Eclipse Award balloting for 2017 Horse of the Year.
Winners in 17 horse and human categories will be announced Jan. 25 at the 47th annual Eclipse Awards dinner and ceremony, presented by Daily Racing Form, Breeders' Cup, and The Stronach Group, at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla.
In addition to being the overwhelming favorite to be named champion older dirt male, Gun Runner is considered a virtual lock to claim the ultimate year-end honor over fellow Horse of the Year finalists Arrogate and World Approval. After starting his campaign with a warm-up victory in the Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn Park in February, Gun Runner finished second behind Arrogate in the $10 million Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline March 25.
That evening would go down as the last time Gun Runner would let any challenger get the better of him in 2017. Following his seven-length win in the Stephen Foster Handicap, the chestnut colt dismissed his competition by open lengths in both the Whitney Stakes and Woodward Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets before turning back Collected during his 2 1/4-length victory in the Nov. 4 Breeders' Cup Classic at Del Mar.
Gun Runner finished 2017 with five wins from six starts and $6,950,700 in earnings.
So brilliant was the campaign by the son of Candy Ride that it could produce some accolades for his human connections as well. Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm, which campaign the now 5-year-old horse, are among the finalists for Outstanding Owner along with defending category winner Juddmonte Farms—owners of Arrogate—and Godolphin Racing.
Gun Runner's Hall of Fame conditioner Steve Asmussen is a finalist for Outstanding Trainer, a category he has won twice previously in 2008 and 2009. Chad Brown, who earned his first Eclipse Award for leading trainer in 2016, is a finalist again having led the nation in earnings and graded stakes victories while Hall of Famer Bob Baffert rounds out the trio.
Besilu Stables, breeder of Gun Runner, is a finalist for Outstanding Breeder along with Clearsky Farms and WinStar Farms. Notably absent among the finalists for breeder was Live Oak Stud, which won eight graded stakes in 2017 headlined by World Approval, and Runnymede Farm, which co-bred Eclipse Award finalists Lady Eli (champion turf female) and Collected (older dirt male).
World Approval won four graded stakes in 2017, including the Breeders' Cup Mile, and is the favorite to take home the hardware for champion turf male where he is a finalist along with multiple Grade 1 winner Beach Patrol and Longines Breeders' Cup Turf winner Talismanic. World Approval also captured the Fourstardave Handicap and Ricoh Woodbine Mile to highlight a campaign that saw him win five of six starts.
Both Brown and Baffert have the opportunity to have multiple 2017 champions come out of their barns.
In addition to training Lady Eli, Off Limits, and Beach Patrol, Brown conditions Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Good Magic, a finalist for champion 2-year-old male along with Bolt d'Oro and Solomini; Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf heroine Rushing Fall—a finalist for champion 2-year-old filly along with Caledonia Road, winner of the 14 Hands Winery Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, and Moonshine Memories—and Paulassilverlining, a finalist for champion female sprinter along with Bar of Gold and Unique Bella.
Along with Arrogate, Baffert trains Collected as well as leading 3-year-olds Abel Tasman and West Coast. Abel Tasman is a finalist for champion 3-year-old filly along with Elate and Unique Bella, with West Coast leading the finalists for champion 3-year-old male along with Always Dreaming and Battle of Midway.
Javier Castellano is seeking his fifth straight Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey as he is a finalist in that category along with Hall of Famer Mike Smith and Jose Oritz, who led all riders in North America in earnings for 2017.
The complete list of Eclipse Awards finalists is below, in alphabetical order.
Horse of the Year: Arrogate, Gun Runner, World Approval
Two-Year-Old Male: Bolt d’Oro, Good Magic, Solomini
Two-Year-Old Filly: Caledonia Road, Moonshine Memories, Rushing Fall
Three-Year-Old Male: Always Dreaming, Battle of Midway, West Coast
Three-Year-Old Filly: Abel Tasman, Elate, Unique Bella
Older Dirt Male: Arrogate, Collected, Gun Runner
Older Dirt Female: Forever Unbridled, Songbird, Stellar Wind
Female Sprinter: Bar of Gold, Paulassilverlining, Unique Bella
Male Turf Horse: Beach Patrol, Talismanic, World Approval
Steeplechase Horse: All the Way Jose, Mr. Hot Stuff, Scorpiancer
Owner: Godolphin Racing, Juddmonte Farms, Winchell Thoroughbreds & Three Chimneys Farm
Breeder: Besilu Stables, Clearsky Farms, WinStar Farm
Trainer: Steve Asmussen, Bob Baffert, Chad Brown
Jockey: Javier Castellano, Jose Ortiz, Mike Smith