A Phenomenal Horse


Most people figured this would be the year of a super horse. They were right and they were wrong. Super horse? Yes. Just not the one we thought.

Words like “greatness” and “superstar” are thrown around too easily in this sport, but with Gun Runner (Candy Ride {Arg}), every superlative you can think of is right on the mark. This is one fantastic race horse.

Coming into yesterday's GI Breeders' Cup Classic, we already knew he was a very good horse. Gun Runner had owned the summer, with three straight Grade I wins, all of them impressive victories. Yet, not everyone was convinced he was the best horse in the sport. In fact, he was not the favorite in the Classic. Arrogate (Unbridled's Song) was.

There were not many doubts about Gun Runner coming into the Classic, but he managed to take a championship race and turn it into a show where he was the star and everyone else was part of a supporting cast. Good horses don't do that. Very good horses don't do that. Only those rare horses that are among the best of their era are capable of such a thing.

It's not just that he won the most prestigious race run on this continent open to older male horses, it's how he did it.

Because he had four very good horses in the race, Bob Baffert was set to play the spoiler and some wondered aloud if the white-haired trainer might gang up on Gun Runner. With different owners involved with all four of his horses, Baffert was never going to sacrifice one of his runners to benefit another. Still, with the way the race developed, Collected (City Zip) played the role of a rabbit.

Under Florent Geroux, Gun Runner bounced out of the gate, but Martin Garcia on Collected went right after him. With Gun Runner holding a slight lead, Collected pressed and pressed and pressed some more. The first quarter went in 22:50, and neither jockey was willing to give the other a breather.

With so many quality closers in the race, both Gun Runner and Collected figured to hit a wall at some point, but it never happened. At the top of the stretch, the two were only a head apart. It was then that Gun Runner found another gear. He shook off Collected and drew off to win by 2 1/4 lengths.

Turning in an outstanding performance in his own right, Collected held gamely for second. Really, it was a two-horse race from the moment the gates opened to the instant they crossed the wire.

So Gun Runner is obviously Horse of the Year. Where does he stand among the all-time greats? That's a tough one to answer in any sort of definitive sense, but, at the very least, he belongs among a short list of great horses that have raced over the last few years, that also includes American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile) and, yes, Arrogate.

Everyone in the Gun Runner camp had every reason to be elated yesterday, but perhaps no group was happier than the people at Three Chimneys. They bought into this horse so that they could stand him at stud and now they're involved with a horse that is going to be one of the most in-demand sires to come around in a long time.

In time, we'll learn more about what co-owners Three Chimneys Farm and Winchell Thoroughbreds have in mind when it comes to future plans for Gun Runner. They have already mentioned a start in the GI Pegasus World Cup, which is good news and bad news for Gulfstream Park.

You don't want to put on a $16 million race and not have the top horse in the sport involved, but this is a unique race and it depends on 12 owners putting up $1 million to secure a spot in the field. They're going to have a hard time finding 11 people who want to run against ths monster.

The Bob Baffert-Juddmonte team was hoping that Arrogate, not Gun Runner, would be the subject of the 600 or so words of fawning praise that have just jumped off my keyboard so far. That didn't happen, but this is no time to bury this horse. Rather, it might be a good time to overlook his race yesterday and reflect back on what a great horse he was when on top of his game. You have to be very special to win, in succession, the GI Travers, the Breeders' Cup Classic, the Pegasus World Cup and the GI Dubai World Cup.

The real Arrogate didn't show up again yesterday as he finished in a dead-heat for fifth with Gunnevera (Dialed In) and was never, at any time, a serious threat in the race. What happened to him? One theory is that he hates the Del Mar racing surface, as he was 0 for 3 there after the Dubai World Cup. That's possible, but the more likely scenario is that he ran so hard and overcame so much in Dubai that he was never again the same horse.

He will now enter stud and anyone holding his post-Dubai struggles against him when deciding who to breed their mares to would be, well, out of their minds. No matter how he finished up the year, he is still a horse who went on an historic run and was, for seven months, one of the best horses anyone has ever seen. Just like Gun Runner, he's odds-on to be a good sire.

So another Breeders' Cup is in the books and, just as there always is, there were stories aplenty. Peter Miller, a trainer you don't hear much about, ran one-two in the GI Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint and followed that up with a win with Roy H (More Than Ready) in the GI Breeders' Cup Sprint. World Approval (Northern Afleet) left little doubt that he's the best turf horse in America by winning the GI Breeders' Cup Mile. The incomparable Chad Brown not only won the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but dd so with a maiden Good Magic (Curlin). So many longshots won on the card that the lines at every ATM at every racetrack and simulcasting outlet in America wound around the block.

But those stories were footnotes on this day, a day that was all about one horse-Gun Runner.



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