Welcome to another edition of America’s Best Racing’s Main Track.
Each week in this space we spotlight the most meaningful story of the past seven days, detailing a story that stands out because of its importance or perhaps the emotional response it generates.
Looking ahead, if you believe there’s a story this week that should be featured in next week’s edition of the Main Track, let us know by tweeting it to @ABRLive using the hashtag #ABRMainTrack.
In this week’s story we’ll look back at a great race and look forward to a great debate.
In its second year, the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park once again met its intended goal of bringing together the world’s best horses in the world’s richest race while extending the career of a great champion.
On Saturday, there was $16 million at stake and newly crowned Horse of the Year Gun Runner took the track for the final time and turned in an equally superb performance in turning aside a determined bid from 3-year-old champion West Coast and bowing out in grand style with a 2 1/2-length victory.
There was no doubt about who was the best horse in each edition of the Pegasus but what will linger and fuel the kind of debate essential to any sport are arguments about who was the better horse of the two.
Arrogate vs. Gun Runner.
It was a lively enough rivalry on the racetrack and the relative merits of the two horses should be an even hotter topic of debate in the years to come. Picking one as the better of the two is a relatively difficult chore even though one of them won two of their three meetings.
Arrogate got the better of Gun Runner in the 2016 Travers and 2017 Dubai World Cup while Gun Runner topped Arrogate in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
That should settle any debate but what adds fuel to it is the way the two horses ended their careers.
Arrogate put together four of the most sensational wins anyone could ask of a horse in taking the Travers, Breeders’ Cup Classic, Pegasus, and Dubai World Cup. Yet after returning from Dubai, Arrogate was not the same horse. He lost his final three races and in two of them he was nothing short of dull. He lost by only a half-length in the Pacific Classic but in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap he was fourth by 15 lengths and he finished in a dead-heat for fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, ending up 6 ½ lengths behind the victorious Gun Runner.
Meanwhile, Gun Runner closed out his career in a completely opposite manner. He was nothing but brilliant after finishing second to Arrogate by 2 ¼ lengths in Dubai, which was a big improvement from his 15-length loss to Juddmonte star in the Travers.
Gun Runner shipped back to the United States and reeled off consecutive wins in the Stephen Foster, Whitney, Woodward, Breeders’ Cup Classic, and Pegasus. That’s five Grade 1 stakes and five victories by a combined margin of 27 ¼ lengths to close out your career. It doesn’t get much better than that.
In the end the totals were:
Gun Runner: 19 starts, 12 wins, 3 seconds, 2 thirds with earnings of $15,988,500.
Arrogate: 11 starts, 7 wins, 1 second, 1 third with earnings of $17,422,600.
In their three meetings, Arrogate finished ahead of Gun Runner twice by a combined 17 ½ lengths; Gun Runner beat Arrogate by 6 ¼ lengths.
Who wins that tale of the tape?
It’s close, but in my final analysis the nod goes to Arrogate. In the end, when you take into consideration those four straight fabulous wins by Arrogate – when he beat a Horse of the Year three times - and factor in how Arrogate overcame a horrendous start and beat Gun Runner in the Dubai World Cup, it leaves a lingering image. Put the two horses on the same racetrack on their best day and Arrogate would win.
It’s just one opinion. Like a thought that as good as both Arrogate and Gun Runner were, it only shows how magnificent American Pharoah was. Arrogate slumped at the end of his career and Gun Runner lost four straight races at 3. But American Pharoah, after losing the first race of his career, won nine of his next 10 starts, with the lone loss a very solid second in the Travers.
Oh, and he also became the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, making him the gold standard in recent years.
Again, all of that is subject to debate and surely there will be those who will vehemently disagree with that assessment.
It’s actually the natural thing to do after great races with great horses, like the Pegasus.
The Also-Eligible List
Here are some of the other noteworthy stories that made for a lively week in the U.S. Thoroughbred racing industry: