Heroes of Churchill Downs: Gun Runner

Apr 17, 2023 Sara Dacus TwinSpires.com

Gun Runner, one of the best Thoroughbreds in the world during the past decade, has evolved into one of the leading North American sires of today. From his debut win under the storied Twin Spires to a final career win in the world’s richest race, Gun Runner’s racing career was truly remarkable.

Gun Runner is a son of Candy Ride, the former Argentinian galloper who was undefeated in six starts, crowned by track record-setting performance in the Pacific Classic S. (G1) at Del Mar. Gun Runner was born and raised at WinStar Farm near Versailles, Ky.

“He was bright and inquisitive as a young horse, never much trouble and never sick or injured,” Chris Baker, who was general manager at the time, said.

When the chestnut colt was two, he was sold privately to Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm, and Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen took up the training duties. Florent Geroux became Gun Runner’s regular rider at the start of his sophomore season, and the pair was together for his remaining 16 races.

Gun Runner burst on the 2016 Kentucky Derby trail at Fair Grounds, winning the Risen Star S. (G2) and taking the Louisiana Derby (G2) by 4 1/2 lengths. In the Run for the Roses, he was never worse than third, and he gained the lead at the mile mark. However, Nyquist took over in the upper stretch, opened a daylight margin, and held off Exaggerator to win. Gun Runner was third.

Following the Derby, Gun Runner remained consistent, winning Churchill’s Matt Winn S. (G3) and finishing third in the Travers S. (G1), 15 lengths behind Arrogate, whose jaw-dropping performance set a Saratoga track record. Gun Runner was second in the Pennsylvania Derby (G2) and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1).

But an explosive streak began in his final race of his three-year-old campaign, the Clark H. (G1). He outran his elders on the Black Friday program at Churchill Downs. Leading from the start, he turned back a challenge by Canada-based 46-1 longshot Breaking Lucky and pulled away in the final yards to win by 2 3/4 lengths, earning his first Grade 1 win.

The wins kept coming in his four-year-old season. With the exception of a second place finish to an amazing last-to-first performance by Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup (G1), the colt never lost again, amassing five more Grade 1 victories.

He notched a second Grade 1 at Churchill in the Stephen Foster H., where he took the lead shortly after the start. This time, he rolled to a dazzling seven-length victory and earned a place in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) starting gate.

“I think it was key taking our time with this horse,” Asmussen said after the race. “We always thought he would get better with age and he’s proving that to us right now.”

Next, Gun Runner solidified his reputation as one of the top older males in the country by picking up a 5 1/4-length score in the Whitney S. (G1), the traditional focal race for the handicap division at Saratoga. This was another “Win and You’re In” race for the Classic, making him doubly qualified.

The victory margins grew even larger. Scoring a second consecutive win at Saratoga, he opened up through the stretch to win by 10 1/4 lengths in the Woodward S. (G1).

The Breeders’ Cup Classic shaped up to be a showdown between Gun Runner and Arrogate. But while Gun Runner improved and won three races since the two met in the Dubai World Cup, Arrogate suffered two losses and wasn’t the same horse he had been. When the contest began, Gun Runner grabbed the lead early and never let go of it. Pacific Classic (G1) winner Collected stayed close behind, but he was never able to challenge Gun Runner, who cemented his position as the 2017 Horse of the Year. Arrogate finished fifth.

Gun Runner had one final agenda item in his career: the Pegasus World Cup, which in 2018 was the world’s richest race with a purse of $16.3 million. He was originally scheduled to start in this race in 2017, but a restriction placed on horses stabled at Fair Grounds as a result of an outbreak of equine herpesvirus Type-1 caused him to miss the contest.

After the break at the starting gate, he settled into second behind Collected, who finished second to him in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Collected tired near the three-eighths pole, and Gun Runner took over. West Coast issued a late challenge, but he was no match for Gun Runner, who was victorious by 2 1/2 lengths. His $7 million share of the purse moved him into second on the all-time earnings list behind Arrogate, whose 2017 Pegasus win and Dubai World Cup victory placed him at the top.

He retired to stud at Three Chimneys and is achieving tremendous success in his second career. He sired six first-crop G1 winners, including Preakness S. (G1) champion Early Voting and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) winner Echo Zulu.

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