Gun Runner and Arrogate - Two ships passing in the night

Profile Picture:

TwinSpires Staff

January 3rd, 2018

by Dick Powell

GUN RUNNER will be a well-deserved winner of the 2017 Horse of the Year and older male Eclipse
Awards, but there is still a 500-pound elephant in the room named ARROGATE and his presence cannot be ignored.

Gun Runner was unable to race in the inaugural Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) last year since he was stuck in quarantine at Fair Grounds. If he had shipped and tested positive, his year would have been disrupted.

Instead, trainer Steve Asmussen sent Gun Runner up to Oaklawn Park and he dominated the Razorback Handicap (G3) by almost six lengths in his four-year-old debut. Arrogate won the Pegasus over CALIFORNIA CHROME to take down the huge purse, and it was now on to the desert for a showdown at Meydan Race Course in Dubai.

The pair had already met as sophomores in the 2016 Travers Stakes (G1), where Arrogate was a stunning 13 1/2-length winner with Gun Runner back in third, beaten 15 lengths. They could have faced off in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Santa Anita but Asmussen wanted no part of the Juddmonte monster at that time and entered the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1), where Gun Runner finished second. To complete his three-year-old season, the chestnut beat older rivals in the Clark Handicap (G1) by almost three lengths.

In Dubai, on a track that was very muddy despite Equibase still listing it as fast, Gun Runner turned for home on an easy lead and looked like a winner. Arrogate, far behind out in the middle of the track after a dreadful start, began to pick off horses around the far turn but still looked like he had too much to do.

Remarkably, he caught Gun Runner with a furlong to go and cruised to an easy 2 1/4-length win despite Mike Smith shutting him down in the stretch.

If you go back to April, there was no question who the leader of the division was and I was impressed enough in his last four starts to declare that Arrogate was the greatest Thoroughbred I had ever seen.

Gun Runner bounced back nicely and promptly wheeled back with fast and dominant wins in the Stephen Foster Handicap (G1), Whitney Stakes (G1) and Woodward Stakes (G1). He won all three races by wide margins in fast times and headed into the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic in perfect form. The 10 furlongs might have still been a question but as he matured physically, it did not look like it would be much of a factor anymore.

Arrogate had an interesting path to last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, which was held at Del Mar for the first time ever. Working backward, trainer Bob Baffert decided that the Pacific Classic (G1) would be the perfect prep for the race and, in order to get a prep for the Pacific Classic, he would return in the San Diego Handicap (G2) at Del Mar.

Arrogate trained at Santa Anita for the San Diego and he ran like a horse that hated the track. With the next two races coming up at that venue, Baffert was in a quandary and shipped him to Del Mar to get him ready for the Pacific Classic.

It was a much-improved effort, but he was beaten a half-length by his stablemate COLLECTED. Still not the old Arrogate and we never got to see his panther-like stride where he bellies down and propels his weight forward with his rear legs. At times during the Pacific Classic he looked like his old self, but only ran in spots and did not display a sustained effort.

So for the Breeders’ Cup Classic we had the hottest horse in American racing going up against what had been the hottest horse in American racing until he made it to Del Mar. Further complicating Arrogate’s preparations for the Classic was that Del Mar did not even open until 10 days before the big event. So, Baffert had to take him back to Santa Anita, a track that he loves, to prepare for the Classic run over a track that he hates while facing a horse that could not be doing any better.

The bettors made Arrogate a 2-1 favorite on reputation alone and Gun Runner was sent off at 2.80-1. Not taking any chances and with a barn full of eligible horses, Baffert entered Collected, WEST COAST and MUBTAHIIJ to try to ensure a fast pace.

The battle of the pace was won as Gun Runner was forced to go :22.50 for the first quarter-mile and :46.31 for the first half. His early BRIS Pace ratings were 107 and 132, practically unheard of in dirt distance races. And, by the way, nearly every dirt winner at this year’s Breeders’ Cup came from off the pace off the rail.

But here was Gun Runner disdainfully dismissing each challenge and turning the Classic stretch into a coronation he so richly deserved. His competition made him run faster than he probably wanted too early but he won the war. Arrogate was a bad fifth and promptly retired to the breeding shed, where he will start covering mares in the middle of February.

Gun Runner has one more big dance and it will be the second running of the Pegasus World Cup where he should be odds-on to take down another financial windfall. He has put together four straight Grade 1 victories in fast times on dirt that should put him in the conversation of the all-time older males.

Like two ships passing the night, going in opposite directions, Gun Runner will earn all the kudos given to him with a win in the Pegasus.

But try to take a moment and reflect upon just how good Arrogate was. We see it every day with horses on different form cycles and it turned out that the horse with the most recent form was the one to bet.