Horse of the Year Gun Runner: A Champion in Every Sense of the Word

Gun Runner after winning the 2017 Breeders' Cup Classic at Del Mar. (Eclipse Sportswire)

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – When Arrogate overcame the worst possible start with a monstrous rally to haul in Gun Runner by 2 ¼ convincing lengths in the $10 million Dubai World Cup last March, it appeared that would set the tone for the rest of the season.

In reality, Gun Runner was just getting started.

What followed was what trainer Steve Asmussen described as a “dream season,” one that made Gun Runner the obvious choice as Horse of the Year when that honor was announced Thursday night at the Sport of Kings Theater at Gulfstream Park.

“He wasn’t back in training for the Dubai World Cup last year. He was in training for the Breeders’ Cup Classic,” Asmussen said before the expected accolade became official. “You have that in mind when you go about your tasks.”

A Dubai triumph, sweet as it would have been, was never the goal when owners Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm made the sporting decision to keep the richly-bred son of Candy Ride on the track as a 4-year-old.

They were in it for the long haul, and Asmussen, benefitting from his experience with Curlin, Horse of the Year in 2007 and 2008, and with Rachel Alexandra, Horse of the Year as a 3-year-old filly in 2009, never took his eye off the season-ending prize.

What followed was a sight to behold.

Gun Runner dominated the June 17 Stephen Foster Handicap by seven lengths at Churchill Downs. He rolled by 5 ¼ lengths in the Aug. 5 Whitney Stakes at Saratoga Race Course. He clobbered his foes by 10 ¼ lengths in the Sept. 2 Woodward Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets at Saratoga. He then brought home the big one, the Nov. 4 Breeders' Cup Classic at Del Mar, by 2 ¼ lengths.

Regular rider Florent Geroux was aboard for it all, riding one heady race after another. The Beyer Speed Figures say everything about how wisely Asmussen and his staff went about their tasks. Gun Runner earned 110 for the Stephen Foster, 112 for the Whitney, 115 for the Woodward, 117 for the Classic. Four Grade 1s by a combined margin of 24 ¾ lengths.

Rarely do Thoroughbreds stitch together a glitch-free season. Gun Runner did.

“He hasn’t had any setbacks. He continued to move forward. Mentally, he stayed in it,” Asmussen said. “When he steps on the racetrack, it’s like ‘This is who I am. This is what I want to do.’ That consistency is hard to match.”

Gun Runner offers the perfect combination of mind and body.

“He’s got a very high energy level, a great willingness, always moving forward,” Asmussen said. “He breaks off for every breeze wanting to get around there.”

The newly-crowned Horse of the Year will make his final start in the $16 million Pegasus World Cup on Saturday at Gulfstream Park. The challenge he faces with a short run into the first turn significantly increased when he drew post-position 10 in a field of 12 that includes Collected and West Coast, the second- and third-place finishers, respectively, in the Classic.

Then again, champions tend to find their way home.

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