Gun Runner primed to be a hit in new role after final fling on the track
Nancy Sexton on Three Chimney Farms' new recruit and the world's richest race
Tradition dictates that a celebrated stallion prospect is safely ensconced at stud by the time the new year opens. But the landscape of racing is ever changing and in 2017 there came the launch of a race that challenged convention, its incentive so great that it successfully prompted a major stallion operation, Taylor Made Farm, to delay the retirement of their star recruit California Chrome.
The race in question is the Pegasus World Cup, the world’s richest race that sits perilously close to the covering season.
Run in 2018 on January 27 at Gulfstream Park and the brainchild of the Stronach Group, it offers a purse of $16 million and has caught the imagination by its very structure – 12 shareholders each pay $1m to purchase a slot, which is then theirs to either use, lease, contract, share or sell.
Each of the 12 slots for the inaugural running were sold within a week of the race’s launch in May 2016.
Top of the list of investors were California Chrome LLC, the ownership group behind the popular Art Sherman-trained Kentucky Derby winner. Coolmore were also quick to purchase a slot, which they subsequently sold to Juddmonte Farms, owners of the eventual winner Arrogate.
Race organisers couldn’t have asked for a better way to launch the Pegasus than by offering fans another showdown between Arrogate and California Chrome, particularly as the latter was slated to begin his stud career several weeks later in Kentucky at Taylor Made Farm.
And this year, it has attracted another star in Steve Asmussen’s Gun Runner, the outstanding four-year-old of 2017 who romped home in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
As with California Chrome, the Pegasus is set to serve as Gun Runner’s swansong, with the son of Candy Ride scheduled to stand the 2018 season at Goncalo Borges Torrealba’s Three Chimneys Farm.
Such a short turnaround between racing and stud duty could be challenging for some horses. That window between retirement and the start of the covering season often provides ample time for the horse to let down and adapt to a different life, while for breeders there is that valuable chance to view new horses; a number of farms would probably agree that the open houses during the winterbreeding stock sales are one of the most productive times for business.
But there are the rewards to consider; in the case of California Chrome, victory would have pushed him over a whopping $21m in earnings. In the event, he turned in a rare off-the-board finish behind the impressive winner Arrogate.
Almost a year on and breeders are eagerly awaiting his first crop of foals. The son of Lucky Pulpit ended up covering 145 mares at Taylor Made at a fee of $40,000 and later shuttled to Haras Sumaya in Chile, where he has been similarly well received. On the face of it, delaying his retirement to take in the Pegasus made little difference to the horse but his successful transition was also the result of careful management.
“The horse was at Taylor Made for a period before he went back into training for the race,” says Ben Taylor, vice president of Taylor Made Stallions, “and we knew by his behaviour then that he was interested in mares.
“It was also around that time that a lot of people were able to view him. And when he went back into training, we were still able to interact with clients via the video shots we’d taken.”
The fact that Taylor Made is home to such a large and varied band of mares also helped, as Taylor explains.
“We had mares at Taylor Made lined up for him – they were mares we knew well, we knew their history and they would be easy enough to breed.
“One thing about such a short turnaround is that if you end up having a shy breeder, you might miss mares. And we did warn breeders for the first few weeks that we might not breed maidens unless he took to it straight away. But it went about as well as you could hope for. He didn’t miss a beat. The thing about this horse is that he’s so smart and it showed straight away.”
Gun Runner was denied the chance to contest last year’s Pegasus World Cup when caught up in the EHV-1 outbreak that paralysed the Louisiana track Fair Grounds last January.
The four-year-old, who is owned in partnership by Ron Winchell’s Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC and Three Chimneys Farm, swiftly made up for lost time, however, winning the Stephen Foster Handicap, Whitney and Woodward Stakes en route to his win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Armed with earnings of just shy of $9m, he deservedly takes top billing among the potential Pegasus field. All the while, Three Chimneys are putting together a first book of mares worthy of a horse whose talent is also supported by an excellent family – from a noted Edward P. Evans line, he is out of a half-sister to champion Saint Liam, who sired Horse of the Year Havre De Grace in his sole crop.
“Targeting the Pegasus was an easy decision with the timing and race conditions,” says Chris Baker, the chief operating officer of Three Chimneys. “The hard part was deciding to breed Gun Runner versus race him for 2018. Both partners are racing men at heart and when you have a sound, healthy and fast horse who is excelling at Grade 1 level, it’s tough to decide to stop.”
Plans call for Gun Runner to train with Asmussen at Fair Grounds up until the Pegasus. Breeders did, however, have the chance to view Gun Runner at the farm during the Keeneland November Sale.
“We made the extra effort, with Steve Asmussen’s help, to show him to breeders the week after the Breeders’ Cup and it was well worth it since breeders will not get to see him while he trains for the Pegasus,” says Baker.
“The reaction from breeders was overwhelmingly positive. His accomplishments on the track are easy to appreciate and are well known. But when breeders got to see how well balanced, athletic, clean limbed and attractive he is, along with his fluid movement and extension, it really hit home as to why he’s been such a sound, durable and fast racehorse.”
Three Chimneys expect Gun Runner to breed around 150 mares during his first season and both partners have pledged to support him with numerous Graded stakes-winning and producing mares.
Baker adds: “As Three Chimneys is in a bit of a renaissance under new ownership and management, building on the Seattle Slew, Rahy, Dynaformer days of the past, we see the addition of Gun Runner on top of leading young commercial sires like Will Take Charge and Strong Mandate as another leap in the right direction.
“In the modern, polarised world of thoroughbred breeding and racing where quality is sought after and appreciated in both sales and racing, Gun Runner has it all – he’s an outstanding physical specimen who will suit a broad range of mares on phenotype, he has an extremely deep yet current pedigree and he’s a five-time Grade 1 winner who won and competed in stakes races at two, three and four years. What more could you ask for in a stallion prospect?
“Gun Runner is the horse who can take Three Chimneys to great places as a stallion just as he has done as a racehorse. We recognise this opportunity and will give him every opportunity to reach his full potential at stud.”
The scene is set at Three Chimneys. Now it remains for Gun Runner to consolidate his position as the leading US runner in the world’s richest race.