Gun Runner turns back older foes in Clark

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

November 25th, 2016

The 142nd edition of the $500,000 Clark H. (G1) at Churchill Downs was won in wire-to-wire fashion, but not necessarily by the horse many handicappers would have expected to win that way. After the speedy Noble Bird missed the break, Gun Runner, the only three-year-old in the field of 10, seized control from his inside post and led his nine older rivals on a merry chase for 1 1/8 miles.

The 2-1 favorite in the Clark under Florent Geroux, Gun Runner stamped himself as one of the leading older horses for next year after setting sensible fractions of :23.72, :48, and 1:11.89 over a fast track. Shaking off a bid from Noble Bird, who raced wide and made a middle move around the far turn, Gun Runner was not seriously challenged late and drew off to score by 2 3/4 lengths in a time of 1:48.50 and paid $6.20.

Breaking Lucky, a 46-1 longshot who raced within striking distance throughout, loomed at the top of the stretch but couldn't catch the winning favorite. He was a clear second by 3 1/2 lengths over Shaman Ghost. Among the also-rans were 2014 Clark winner Hoppertunity (fourth), 2015 Clark winner Effinex (sixth) and Noble Bird (seventh).

Gun Runner's third win in five starts at Churchill follows earlier stakes wins in the Risen Star (G2), Louisiana Derby (G2), and Matt Winn (G3), with significant placings in the Kentucky Derby (G1), Travers (G1), Pennsylvania Derby (G2), and Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1). Owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm, he's by Candy Ride and out of the Giant's Causeway mare Quiet Giant, a half-sister to Horse of the Year Saint Liam.

Gun Runner was bred in Kentucky by Besilu Stable and has earned $2,037,880 from a line of 12-6-2-2.

Quotes from Churchill Downs

Trainer Steve Asmussen on the victorious Gun Runner: “I’m so proud of him. Walking him over, the horse has such confidence about him. He’s kept his strength and his weight with the thousands of miles he’s traveled this year on the stages that he’s been on. For him to beat this year’s Woodward (G1) and Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) winners at the end of his 3-year-old year I think speaks wonderful things for him. Obviously, we will get together with Mr. Torrealba and the Three Chimneys group as well as Mr. Winchell and David Fiske and decide how to proceed with him.”

On the decision to go to the Clark after the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile: “We were aware of this race and we liked the prospects of this race. After the Breeders’ Cup … it was kind of a ‘tweener race. We were a little bit concerned about the possibility of weather this time of year and the fact he hadn’t handled an off track before. But we definitely were aware of this race being here. We saw an exceptional horse beat an exceptional field.

“He deserved it. With all the Grade 1 winners he has beaten and for this to be his first Grade 1, I feel very confident it will not be his last.

“I thought that (jockey) Florent (Geroux) gave him a dream trip today and we had discussed the fact that we thought we had adjusted a little bit too much to who we were running against in the last two races and today to let people adjust to him and let him run his race.”

Winning rider Florent Geroux: “I was pretty confident up front. He was always a good horse when he’s forwardly placed and when Noble Bird wasn’t there, I just took it from there and just let my horse do his thing and let him be comfortable and turning for home he showed me a super kick.”

Jockey Luis Contreras on runner-up Breaking Lucky: “I had a perfect trip. My horse broke right there. Last time I was a little far behind and today I tried to keep him closer. He gave me everything, though. At the quarter pole I swung outside and I thought I might kick on by but the 1-horse (Gun Runner) just kept running. We were just second best today.”

Jockey Javier Castellano on third-placer Shaman Ghost: “I had a good trip. I expected a little more speed in the race and they slowed down the second half to :48; I expected a little more speed from the 6-horse (Noble Bird), who didn’t break out of the gate. All of the strategy changed a lot after that. Now I had to chase a little bit and took some momentum away to ask my horse earlier than usual. I think that might have cost me the race a little bit. I don’t know if we could beat the winner, who was much the best in the race, but we maybe could have been second. Still, I am very satisfied with the way he did it.”

Hall of Famer John Velazquez on fourth-placer Hoppertunity: “I tried to keep him in the clear. It takes a little while to get him going but he was in a nice rhythm. Down the lane he just weakened a little bit. That’s about it.”

Jockey Junior Alvarado on Effinex, sixth as the defending champion: “He couldn’t keep up with the pace at the beginning so I just tried to see if he could settle wherever he wanted to be. He keeps trying but he couldn’t keep up with them. By the three-eighths pole I tried to put him in the clear to see if he could pick it up from there but I guess it wasn’t his day today. He didn’t give me his best today. I know he’s better than that. He wasn’t feeling it.”

Trainer Mark Casse on seventh Noble Bird: “We know how this happens. This is the way he is. When he doesn’t break and get his way, he doesn’t fire. And that was today.”

Jockey Julien Leparoux on Noble Bird: “He’s done this twice now. He just didn’t break. He stayed in the gate, and when that happens, he doesn’t run as good. I’m disappointed about the start. After that I let him run free but just didn’t have any horse after that.”

(Wendy Wooley/EquiSport Photos)