Gun Runner loaded for bear

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TwinSpires Staff

October 30th, 2016

Story & Photo by Jennie Rees

Gun Runner (at right) and Tom's Ready (with trainer Dallas Stewart on the lead shank) eyeball each other in the Breeders' Cup barn at Santa Anita after training. The horses were 1-2 in Fair Grounds' Louisiana Derby.

Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist is on the shelf, his career quite possibly over. Preakness winner Exaggerator is done for the season. Belmont victor Creator was sold as a stallion to Japan.

And then there’s their fellow 3-year-old Gun Runner, third in the Kentucky Derby behind Nyquist and Exaggerator and Creator’s former stablemate. Gun Runner and Tom’s Ready are the only veterans of the 2016 Kentucky Derby competing in this year’s Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita. The 1-2 finishers in the Fair Grounds’ Louisiana Derby, they meet again in Friday’s $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

“He’s just solid; he doesn’t ask for any favors,” said Scott Blasi, the Churchill Downs-based assistant overseeing the Breeders’ Cup training of Gun Runner and the 2-year-old Lookin at Lee at Santa Anita for trainer Steve Asmussen. “He’s danced every dance from the Derby to going the Haskell to the Pennsylvania Derby. He’s just a quality horse.”

Gun Runner captured four of his first five starts, capped by a 4 1/2-length triumph in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby over Tom’s Ready, who went on to be 12th in the Kentucky Derby before rebounding to win Belmont’s seven-furlong Woody Stephens against 3-year-olds and Churchill Downs’ mile Ack Ack over older horses.

Post-Derby, Gun Runner’s camp skipped the rest of the Triple Crown to let the chestnut son of Candy Ride develop. He returned June 18 to take Churchill Downs’ Matt Winn, followed by a disappointing fifth in Monmouth Park’s Haskell won in the slop by Exaggerator and a third in Saratoga’s Travers won for fun by Breeders’ Cup Classic contender Arrogate. In his last start, Gun Runner probably was unlucky not to win the Pennsylvania Derby, finishing a half-length behind Connect after being forced to come wide.

“You’ve seen all the 3-year-olds come and go,” said Ron Winchell, who owns Gun Runner with Three Chimneys Farm and Besilu Stables. “He’s still looks like he’s very sharp. You wish they all were as consistent and kept progressing like he does.”

Gun Runner also was pre-entered in Saturday’s $6 million Classic, where 2015 Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome is the huge favorite. But all indications are that he’ll run next Friday, starting with the fact he had his final workout Friday rather than Saturday. Entries will be taken for all 13 Breeders’ Cup races on Monday. Gun Runner will be ridden by two-time Kentucky Downs riding champ Florent Geroux.

Asmussen’s horses are famous for staying on a pattern. Part of that is having an easy half-mile workout five days before they run, with the major work coming a week earlier. That easy half generally is in the 49- or 50-second range, such as the work in 50 at Saratoga five days before the Pennsylvania Derby. 

So Gun Runner working in 48.40 seconds Sunday under exercise rider Sergio Quevos caught people’s attention. Daily Racing Form’s Mike Welsch caught the Louisiana Derby winner going the first quarter-mile in 24.41 and the second in 24.12 for 48.53, galloping out the five-eighths of a mile in 1:02.05.

“He was off smooth and looked fast — good time to look fast,” Blasi said. “I was happy with the way he was away from the pole and relaxed, covering ground. I thought that was more important than the actual time this morning. And Steve was very happy with it.

“He’s such a talented horse, I think he touts himself. But I do think he’s very sharp right now.”

Blasi was at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans all winter with Gun Runner. 

“He’s matured a lot physically from the Risen Star to even how he looked this summer,” he said. “He’s filled out and gotten deeper. He just seems to have gotten faster as the year has gone on.”

Winchell and Asmussen teamed to win the 2012 Dirt Mile at Santa Anita with 15-1 shot Tapizar. They also were second in the 2014 Dirt Mile at Santa Anita with the 3-year-old Tapiture, who ran in the Kentucky Derby, won the Matt Winn and finished second in the Pennsylvania Derby.

“Obviously he’s tried a mile and a quarter a couple of times,” Winchell said of opting for the Dirt Mile over the Classic with Gun Runner. “He ran well; he didn’t win. That comes into play. I think next year, a mile and a quarter will be within him, if he stays in training. Right now, maybe it’s a little bit premature to go a mile and quarter. I think he can develop into that horse.”

Jennie Rees is a racing communications specialist from Louisville. Her Breeders’ Cup coverage, which concentrates on the Kentucky horses, is provided free for media use as a service by Kentucky Downs, Ellis Park, the Kentucky HBPA and