Gun Runner, the Pegasus and the Economics of Racing


Gun Runner | Horsephotos

By Bill Finley

It came as no surprise that the co-owners of Gun Runner (Candy Ride {Arg}), Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm, announced that their GI Breeders’ Cup Classic winner would be retired after a final career start in the GI Pegasus World Cup.

The two entities may be made up of sportsmen, but they are also practical businessmen, and they believed 2018 was the time for Gun Runner to enter stud. It was not an irrational decision. He’s the top horse in racing and there will be no shortage of people willing to pay the $70,000 stud fee to breed to him. Had they raced him another year, too much could have gone wrong. It was a chance they were not willing take

So we will see Gun Runner one more time, Jan. 27 at Gulfstream Park, where he will be the favorite in a $16 million race.

When Frank Stronach created the Pegasus World Cup, which was worth $12 million in its inaugural year, he thought it would keep racing’s biggest stars on the racetrack. In 2018, between the Pegasus and the G1 Dubai World Cup, a horse has a chance to race for $26 million in purse money within a two-month period. That’s an astronomical amount of money and one might think it would cause people to conclude that racing is more lucrative than breeding. It has worked, but only to an extent, and not exactly the way Stronach had planned.
Because a horse can race in the Pegasus and still begin the breeding season on time, the Gulfstream race is giving the sport one last glimpse at some of its biggest stars. That’s a good thing. Arrogate (Unbridled’s Song) was always going to run last year, but California Chrome (Lucky Pulpit) was not. Even though he did not turn in his best effort in the Pegasus, at the very least the race allowed the fans to get to see him one last time. The same will hold true this year for Gun Runner. What the Pegasus has not been able to accomplish is to convince owners to keep their stars racing for another full campaign.

Clearly, the sport would be better off if the Gun Runners and California Chromes of the world would stick around for 5, 6, even 7-year-old campaigns. Stronach gave it his best shot and it didn’t exactly work. We don’t know yet how aggressive Three Chimneys is going to be when it comes to how many mares it will allow Gun Runner to be bred to, but let’s just say he has 125 live foals. At $70,000 a foal, that’s $8.75 million. He could earn that on the racetrack, but an awful lot would have to go right.
A year earlier, the California Chrome team toyed with the idea of returning the horse to training after the breeding season, pointing toward the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the Pegasus World Cup, and then resume breeding. That really doesn’t seem like such a bad idea and it would be nice to see someone try it. What would be the downside? Yet people in the racing and breeding business are wary of trying something new and different. When you’re standing a horse of the quality of Gun Runner, whose potential as a sire is almost limitless, perhaps you can’t blame them.

Arrogate’s Horse of the Year Jinx
The year’s final NTRA Top 10 poll came out this week and it confirmed what everyone already knew, that Gun Runner will be named 2017 Horse of the Year. He was a runaway No. 1 in the poll, while Arrogate dropped all the way down to sixth (That seems to be too big a drop for a horse that was nothing short of sensational through the first four months of the year. People have short memories).
What this means is that Arrogate is quite possibly going to go down as the greatest horse to never win a Horse of the Year title. He came on too late last year to unseat California Chrome and did not sustain his brilliance in the latter half of this year, which paved the way for Gun Runner to become the Horse of Year in waiting.
Gun Runner will represent Steve Asmussen’s fourth Horse of the Year winner since 2007. The others are Curlin (2007 and 2008) and Rachel Alexandra (2009).

Stick to Baseball, Brian
When discussing the vetting process for hiring a new manager for the New York Yankees, the team’s general manager Brian Cashman had this to say this week: “Whoever the lead horse will be, hopefully they will be pretty obvious and they will win by 16 lengths, like Secretariat did.”
Okay, you, me, your next door neighbor, the checkout clerk at your local Shop Rite and everyone who has not been living under a rock since 1973 knows that Secretariat won the Belmont by 31 lengths. But it’s even more ironic that Cashman, of all people, made this mistake. While never involved in the thoroughbred business, he should know racing as his father was one of the most prominent figures in harness racing history. John Cashman Jr. was best known for running Castleton Farm. That’s the same farm that is today the Castleton Lyons Thoroughbred farm.

The Juvenile Eclipse Award
Good Magic (Curlin) or Bolt d’Oro (Medaglia d’Oro)? The choice between those two will be among the most difficult choices Eclipse Award voters will have to make. Do you take the horse, Good Magic (Curlin), who was a maiden coming into the Juvenile but won the race or the horse, Bolt d’Oro, who was three-for-three coming into the race, won two Grade Is and looked sensational prior to the Breeders’ Cup, where he had a bad trip?
While not campaigning for either horse, I suggest you might want to take into consideration what Trakus revealed from the Juvenile–Bolt d’Oro actually ran faster. Wide throughout, he covered 78 more feet than Good Magic did and his average speed for the race was 37.6 miles per hours. Good Magic’s average speed was 37.5.

At Remington, a Blast from the Past
Can’t say I spend a lot of time listening to race calls from Remington Park, but caught a couple races Saturday night and heard something I haven’t heard in a zillion years or so from a track announcer. In the second race, a horse named Tupelo Hope (Wicked B. Havior) outsprinted the field in the early going and it was apparent the jockey was trying to wire the field. That prompted track announcer Dale Day to say, “Tupelo Hope is on the Bill Daly.”
Tupelo Hope faded to finish fifth.
Way back when, “on the Bill daly” was a pretty common expression in racing. According to the, the “term stems from ‘Father Bill’ Daly, famous old-time horseman who developed many great jockeys.” Daly’s strategy was to have his jockeys send his horses to the front and hope they never looked back. Apparently, Mrs. Daly was no fan of Mr. Daly. In a 1920 story in the New York Times detailing her divorce proceedings against the trainer she maintained that “He buys pancake flour, makes pancakes in the kitchen, and musses things up so that I can’t get there, and then he feeds the jockeys and himself.”
How dare he.

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