Big week ahead for Gun Runner

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TwinSpires Staff

January 23rd, 2018

By Dick Powell

It’s going to be a big week for GUN RUNNER. He is expected to be awarded Eclipse Awards for Older Male and Horse of the Year at Thursday’s ceremony at Gulfstream Park. And, on Saturday, he will go off as the favorite in the $16 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) also at Gulfstream Park.

I voted for Gun Runner and he could be a near unanimous selection. And despite winning four straight Grade 1 stakes by wide margins going into the Pegasus, something still nags me and his name is ARROGATE.  

Last year, they met for the first time in the Travers Stakes (G1) and Arrogate beat Gun Runner by 15 ridiculous lengths. After just missing behind CONNECT in the Pennsylvania Derby (G2), his connections took the safe way out and avoided Arrogate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).  

Instead, Gun Runner ran in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) and was second behind TAMARKUZ. He finished up the season with a win in the Clark Handicap (G1) at Churchill Downs so he got his Grade 1 stakes win as well as $1.97 million in earnings. 

Fair Grounds had a quarantine this winter and it compromised Gun Runner’s chance to try to go to the Pegasus World Cup. So, Steve Asmussen sent him to Oaklawn Park where he won the Razorback Handicap (G3) by almost six lengths in fast time. 

The Dubai World Cup (G1) had a full field of 14 and it included Gun Runner and Arrogate. Arrogate got left at the gate, picked up horses out in the middle of the track around the far turn and caught Gun Runner with a furlong to go.  

With little effort, Arrogate surged by him and won by a convincing 2 ¼ lengths. To his credit, Gun Runner was racing over a drying-out wet track that was not kind to speed horses but there was no doubt, just like we saw in the Travers and the Classic dodge, who was the better horse. 

Arrogate went bad the second half of the year with two losses at the Del Mar summer meet and an awful performance in the Breeders’ Cup Classic there. It would have been great for his connections to put him away after the Pacific Classic (G1) and wait for the Pegasus but they took a shot in the Classic and Gun Runner was the far superior horse that day.  

Arrogate’s brilliance cast a wide shadow and at least Gun Runner is getting out from under it. He has a chance on Saturday to get out from under it even more.  

Gun Runner will meet the first four horses that trailed him in the Classic and the field has some legitimate speed horses in it. Wednesday’s post-position draw will give us some clues on how the race will be run. 

On January 14, Gun Runner had a work for the ages at the Fair Grounds. Under the lights in the early morning, Gun Runner was very aggressive early, settled down through six furlongs in 1:11 flat and galloped out strongly. It was jaw-dropping.

Here’s my problem: it was very unlike Asmussen to work that fast that close to the race. He has been breezing strong since the first week of December and everything looked to be on schedule.  

In 1992, Shug McGaughey had a terrific 3YO named FURIOUSLY for Mill House Stable. He won his first three races with ease then was fourth in the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2). Still pointed for the Travers Stakes 21 days later, Shug worked him seven furlongs in 1:26 at the Oklahoma training track which was much more deep and tiring back then. 

I was amazed by the workout and thought Furiously was back on track until I spoke to an old-time trainer on the Saratoga backstretch. Instead of being a positive, he said thought it was a negative since it was so out of line from the way Shug usually worked his horses – slow and steady. He felt that it was a sign of something amiss and evidence of trying to make up for lost ground. 

Furiously was beaten 15 lengths in the Travers – he probably didn’t want any part of 10 furlongs on dirt anyway – and came back to win the one-mile Jerome Handicap (G1) on the dirt. Later, he developed into a top turf horse, winning the Bernard Baruch Handicap (G2).  

The good thing for Gun Runner is even if I am right, he will have 13 days to recover from it. Usually, the last workout is the maintenance workout and the one before that is the key. Gun Runner certainly fits that pattern. Let’s see how the post-position draw works out and go from there but I have to admit that when he worked that fast at the Fair Grounds, my reaction was, “Why?”