HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – If there was any doubt left regarding the world’s top dirt horse, then Gun Runner surely dispelled the remaining skeptics with a triumphant swan song score in Saturday’s Grade 1, $16,300,000 Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park.
Even Gun Runner’s biggest fans were concerned when the Winchell Thoroughbreds-owned 2017 Horse of the Year drew the 10 post; with the short run-up to the first turn, the fear was that he would get stuck out wide early and use up too much energy trying to maintain a front-running position.
That’s why jockey Florent Geroux made the move that he did.
Breaking sharpest of all 12 horses from the gate, Geroux hurried Gun Runner forward as fast as possible in order to minimize the number of foes to his inside. The tactic worked:
Speeding into the corner, only Collected was able to stay with him. Geroux let Gun Runner sit a 1/2-length off through opening fractions of :23.41 and :46.61. After inching up to apply pressure down the back stretch, Gun Runner decided that he’d had enough of Collected and dispatched of him as the field raced into the far turn. With 3 furlongs remaining, Geroux was still motionless aboard his steed, but that soon changed when West Coast emerged from his ground-saving trip near the top of the stretch.
One last time, Geroux put Gun Runner to task, and together, the untouchable duo took flight from the 1/8-pole. Gun Runner hit the finish line first for the final occasion by 2 1/2 lengths in a final time of 1:47.41 for the 1 1/8-mile main track event.
“This feeling is hard to describe; it’s a dream come true,” Geroux said. “We wanted the horse to prove that the Breeders’ Cup and all of last year was not a fluke, and the horse was there, in only one word, the horse was unbeatable.”
For trainer Steve Asmussen, clinching the world’s richest race with his fourth career Horse of the Year winner was a dream come true.
“It’s the cherry on the top, this one,” Asmussen said. “This race, the world’s richest horse race, after him being named Horse of the Year on Thursday night… For him to be able to go out on top and go back to his next career with everybody feeling the way that we have, and it’s built up to this point. I’m just so proud of the whole team and happy for them. How much love that this team and Florent have for this horse is just a beautiful thing.”
West Coast’s valiant effort didn’t pay off in victory, but he did hold on to be much the best of the rest, finishing 10 3/4 lengths ahead of a late-rallying Gunnevera. Longshot Fear the Cowboy necked out fourth over Seeking the Soul, the mare Stellar Wind was a neck in front of a fading Collected, and a nose further back was Sharp Azteca. After sitting third for most of the race, Giant Expectations faded fast down the stretch and finished ninth. Another 13 lengths back came War Story, with Singing Bullet and Toast of New York completing the order of finish. Giuseppe the Great and Game Over, entered in case of scratches, did not run.
The $7 million winner’s share of the purse pushed Gun Runner to become the second-richest race horse in the world with $15,988,500, behind only last year’s Pegasus victor, Arrogate, with $17,422,600. The 5-year-old son of Candy Ride, whose career record will forever stand at 19-12-3-2, is retiring to co-owner Three Chimneys Farm, where he will stand stud for $70,000.
“He has improved with every opportunity,” Asmussen said. “Even when he didn’t have success, he moved forward from it. So pleased to be in his presence. This memory will be with us forever. To be able to share it with my family, just a wonderful ownership group. What a special horse.”
Gun Runner returned $4.20 to win, $3 to place, and $2.80 to show. West Coast brought back $4 to place and $3.20 to show, while Gunnevera paid $4.80 to show.