LOUISVILLE, KY – Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC and Three Chimneys Farm’s heavily-favored Gun Runner took the lead shortly after the start, shook off a brief challenge from Stanford on the far turn, and drew away easily under jockey Florent Geroux through the homestretch for an easy 7-length victory in Saturday’s 36th running of the Grade 1, $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap President by GE Appliances at Churchill Downs.
The 4-year-old son of Candy Ride, saddled by Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, won for the third time in his last four races. The victory secured the colt a starting spot in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at California’s Del Mar Race Course on November 4. The race was part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win & You’re In Classic Division” series of races, which awards winners of its races an automatic berth in Breeders’ Cup Classic, along with traveling expenses for the journey to Southern California.
Gun Runner covered the Stephen Foster’s 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:47.56, the fifth-fastest running of the Stephen Foster. The colt’s victory margin was a record, eclipsing Street Cry, who won the 2002 Foster by 6 1/2 lengths.
Gun Runner has emerged as one of the world’s leading thoroughbreds and entered the Stephen Foster tied for fourth in the Longines World’s Best Racehorse rankings. His only loss in his last four races was a runner-up finish to 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Arrogate, the top-ranked horse in the world, in the $10 million Dubai World Cup.
“It’s special to win a Grade 1, but now we have our ticket punched to the Breeders’ Cup,” said Asmussen, who previously won the Stephen Foster with Horse of the Year Curlin in 2008. “We got him to the Winner’s Circle here at home and we set ourselves up for a great second-half campaign. I can’t thank our owners enough. This horse is incredibly special in so many ways.”
Gun Runner’s Stephen Foster Handicap triumph improved his career record to 8-3-2 in 15 races and the winner’s purse of $300,700 boosted his lifetime earnings to $4,638,500.
After easily moving to the early lead from post position 3, Gun Runner cruised under Geroux through early fractions of :23.59, :47.23, and 1:10.69. Stanford was in close pursuit down the backstretch and jockey John Velazquez moved him toward the leader heading into the far turn, but Gun Runner shook off that challenge and any suspense regarding the winner of the Stephen Foster quickly evaporated as the heavy favorite easily pulled away to his impressive victory.
Honorable Duty rallied late to finish second, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Breaking Lucky. It was another 1 1/2 lengths back to Hawaakom, while Stanford, Texas Chrome, Mo Tom, and Bird Song completed the order of finish.
Gun Runner, who impressively beat a powerful group of accomplished older rivals in last fall’s Grade 1, $500,000 Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare at Churchill Downs, became the fourth horse to win the Clark and return to win next spring’s Stephen Foster. The others are No Marker (1989-90), Saint Liam (2004-05), and Blame (2009-10).
Gun Runner returned $3, $2.40, and $2.10. Honorable Duty brought back $4 and $2.60, while Breaking Lucky paid $3 to show.
Additional Race Quotes
Jockey Florent Geroux, Gun Runner: “I was loaded the entire trip around there. He was doing everything so easily. This horse is truly unbelievable. He’s one of the best horses I’ve ever ridden, and to put forward this type of effort after running in Dubai is so impressive. I was a bit surprised to find myself on a lone lead, but I wasn’t complaining one bit. What a horse.”
Trainer Steve Asmussen, Gun Runner: “I think it was key taking our time with this horse. We always thought he would get better with age, and he’s proving that to us right now.”
Jockey Javier Castellano, Honorable Duty: “Second best today. The winner, I give a lot of credit. He was much the best horse in the race. Unfortunately, not much speed in the race. I thought about it before the race, the way I handicapped the race, a little more speed, I thought Stanford was gonna go and the other horse inside (Bird Song) was going to go. They let him (Gun Runner) dictate the pace, nice comfortable rhythm, nice comfortable pace. I think it didn’t help when my horse is coming from behind. I think it cost a little bit of the race.”
Trainer Brendan Walsh, Honorable Duty: “Super. Can’t be disappointed. He ran great. Looks like he probably stepped up again. I mean, what can I say? He’s just turned into a great horse.”
Jockey Luis Contreras, Breaking Lucky: “He always runs such a hard race. I thought we could’ve run second, but we ran into some trouble in the stretch. I’m still proud of how well he ran.”
Trainer Reade Baker, Breaking Lucky: “We had a troubled trip down the lane. I’m not sure who exactly who got us in trouble, but with a clearer trip, I think we could’ve ran second. There was no catching the winner today.”
Trainer Todd Pletcher, Stanford: “We had no excuse. We tried to follow the winner around there, put a little pressure on him. Just couldn’t fire with him.”