Gun Runner goes out in style; Foiled Again looking to follow

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Ted Black

January 30th, 2018

Last weekend, while many sports enthusiasts were already looking ahead to this Sunday's Super Bowl LII (52) match-up between the defending champion New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles in Minnesota, thoroughbred racing fans easily filled the void while watching the Grade I, $16 million Pegasus World Championship Invitational at Gulfstream Park where defending horse of the year, Gun Runner, capped his career with another stellar performance.

Saturday's second edition of the Pegasus Invitational attracted a superb cast that included Gun Runner, winner of four straight Grade I races last summer and fall, capped by a two-length score in the Grade I Breeders Cup Classic that sealed his bid for champion older horse and horse of the year. Overall, he brought 11 wins and nearly $9 million banked from 18 career tries and the Pegasus would mark the final start of his career, win or lose, and Gun Runner went postward as the even-money choice.

Looking to upend Gun Runner was last year's champion three-year-old, West Coast, who was making his four-year-old debut off a series of sharp workouts at Santa Anita for trainer Bob Baffert after ending his sophomore season by running third in the Grade I Breeders Cup Classic. The son of Flatter, who arrived having already earned roughly five times his purchase price of $425,000 for owners Gary & Mary West, was sent out as the 7-2 second choice.

Another Baffert trainee, Collected, a dull third in his seasonal debut after running second in the Breeders Cup Classic, was looking to regain his winning ways. Last spring and summer Collected reeled off four straight stakes victories, including a 14-length victory in the Grade III Precisionist at Santa Anita that was immediately followed by a half-length victory over Arrogate in the Grade I Pacific Classic at Del Mar. His runner-up effort in the Breeders Cup Classic was solid, but his debut in the Grade II San Antonio was listless at best.

Also among the Pegasus upstarts was the talented mare Stellar Wind, a Virginia-bred daughter of Curlin, who arrived with six Grade I wins to her credit and 10 wins and $2.25 million banked from 16 starts overall. The Pegasus was her first start against male rivals anywhere and her first for trainer Chad Brown and owners Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith. Gunnevera arrived with the most success over the strip, sporting three wins and nearly $500,000 banked from seven local outings including a romp in the Grade II Fountain of Youth.

When the gates opened in the Pegasus, Collected displayed his usual early zip while the same could not be said for Sharp Azteca, the expected pacesetter, who raced in midpack throughout. Gun Runner broke alertly and loomed just off the flank of Collected, with longshot Giant Expectations three-wide early in a prominent spot, while West Coast bided his time from along the rail in an ideal tracking spot.

Collected and Gun Runner were virtually on even terms through honest splits of 23.2, 46.3 and 1:10.1 through the first three calls until the favorite disposed of the speedy Baffert trainee midway on the far turn. But the other member of the Baffert barn, West Coast, angled off the fence with plenty of energy and loomed alongside the defending horse of the year approaching the quarter pole. Gunnevera and longshots Fear the Cowboy and Seeking the Soul, all exhibited some late foot but the Pegasus was virtually a match race turning for home.

Gun Runner had already shaken loose of Collected when West Coast loomed outside of him turning for home, but the reigning horse of the year was hardly phased by his early encounter with Collected and was poised for the challenge that West Coast brought. Nearing the eighth pole, Gun Runner began to edge away from West Coast and the defending horse of the year capped his career in style by drawing clear in the lane to a three-length score in 1:47.41 for the one-mile and one-eighth affair.

A five-year-old Candy Ride stallion trained by Steve Asmussen, Gun Runner concluded his career with five straight Grade I victories and retires with 12 wins and nearly $16 million banked from 19 lifetime outings. Ten months earlier after running second to Arrogate in the Grade I Dubai World Cup, Gun Runner was hardly in the conversation as being among the contenders for champion older horse or horse of the year since many pundits had already conceded both titles to the World Cup winner. But Gun Runner returned home and never lost another race, while Arrogate floundered in two of his final three starts and was nothing more than a footnote in the recap of the season.

This Thursday evening at Yonkers Raceway, Foiled Again will make his second attempt at collecting the 100th victory of his Hall of Fame career when he tackles non-winners of $20,000 last five starts company from post five and gets reunited with longtime driver Yannick Gingras. The 14-year-old Dragon Again gelding trained by Ron Burke is in the final year of competition on the track and already boasts a record $7.56 million bankroll and 99 wins from 306 starts and numerous stakes scores and a pair of Dan Patch Awards as champion aged pacer.

Foiled Again will be among the favorites in Thursday's conditioned event while making another bid at his 100th career victory and regardless of the outcome he should embark on a farewell tour and visit at least a dozen tracks this winter, spring, summer and fall, including several venues like Rosecroft Raceway and Ocean Downs in Maryland where he has yet to compete. Granted, Foiled Again would likely have to compete in the Open Handicap at those ovals, but the 'grand old man' of harness racing would be a welcome site at both Maryland ovals and serious and novice fans alike at both tracks deserve to see him first hand.