Gun Runner stuns rivals with superstar show in world's richest race
Report: USA, Saturday
Gulfstream Park: Pegasus World Cup Invitational (Grade 1) 1m1f | dirt | 4yo+
The mighty Gun Runner dismissed all-comers with an outstanding performance to win the second running of the Pegasus World Cup, the world's richest race, at Gulfstream Park on Saturday.
In the end, it was an impossible dream after all for British visitor Toast Of New York, who faded out of contention on the far turn after hanging on to the coat-tails of the leaders in mid-division down the backstretch. He finished last of 12 under Frankie Dettori.
At the other end of the $16 million affair, Gun Runner – an absolute model of consistency at the top level – demonstrated precisely why he had been voted America's Horse of the Year ahead of world champion Arrogate almost unanimously at Thursday night's Eclipse Awards.
With the Breeders' Cup Classic hero breaking alertly from gate ten, jockey Florent Geroux shone as he effortlessly moved Gun Runner across towards the rail to sit just behind the Bob Baffert-trained Collected, who surprisingly got the lead as sprinter-miler Sharp Azteca slightly missed the kick.
Gun Runner was eased to the front three furlongs out on the far turn as Collected cried enough, only for West Coast to loom a serious threat on his flank.
However, despite his early exertions, Gun Runner dug deep to turn him away in the manner of a horse with a heart as big as his massive talent as the pair drew clear of the remainder. He scored by two and a half lengths in a time of 1min 47.41sec.
"It's very emotional being his last race after everything he's done for us," said trainer Steve Asmussen. "For him to come through everything like he did today, to overcome that draw, we're just so proud of the horse.
"What a dream come true he is," added the trainer. "He's improved with every opportunity that he got; even when he didn't have success he moved forward. He's just a special individual and we're so blessed to be in his presence. This memory will be with us forever. What a special horse."
Gun Runner, who now retires to stud at Three Chimneys, was barred from running in the inaugural Pegasus 12 months ago owing to quarantine restrictions at Fair Grounds racetrack where he was stationed after an outbreak of equine herpesvirus.
With his $7m prize-money for winning the Pegasus, the son of Candy Ride – owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys – moves into second place on the all-time US earnings list behind only Arrogate with a career total just short of $16m. He was returned an 11-10 shot on the Gulfstream pari-mutuel. "A fairytale ending to a beautiful story," said Asmussen.
The five-year-old has won five straight races since being beaten at Meydan, all of them Grade 1 events; he has won six Grade 1s in all.
"There's no other horse like him," said Geroux, who was granted US citizenship on Friday after a decade in the States.
Pegasus runner-up West Coast, who wins $1.6m for his connections, was returned a 7-2 chance; a further 11 lengths back in third, but still winning $1.3m, was late-running 14-1 shot Gunnevera, while Coolmore's runner Stellar Wind was sixth.
Somewhere a long way behind them was Toast Of New York, whose amazing fairytale did not find a happy ending. The seven-year-old used up his petrol to sit in midfield on the rail down the backstretch but was soon backpedalling once push came to shove and was allowed to come home in his own time.
A disappointed Dettori reported: "He got tired. A mile and one [eighth] is too sharp for him and I was always on my back foot chasing the pace."
The seven-year-old's trainer Jamie Osborne said: "It just went horribly wrong. He had to get out of his comfort zone early on just to lay up and he got an awful lot of kickback and realistically he lacked the pace to travel in a nine-furlong race of that nature. Maybe a tad of rustiness played its part as well.
"He swallowed a lot of sand and was coughing like a 60-a-day man after the race," added Osborne. "The fundamental is we lacked pace and these horses over here are different gear out of the gate. The winner is a machine."
Like the other 11 runners, Toast Of New York raced on Lasix. None of the runners took advantage of a 7lb weight concession under race conditions for any horse racing clean of the anti-bleeding medication.
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