Gun Runner flies to Pegasus World Cup title

Gun Runner flies to Pegasus World Cup title

January 30, 2018 3:00 AM
by

This past weekend, a single horse became the dominant story in Thoroughbred racing.

That horse, of course, was Gun Runner, who was named the 2017 Horse of the Year and followed that up with his relatively easy victory on Saturday in the $16 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park.

The fact that Gun Runner completed his career with those dual triumphs certainly will help his stud career as he leaves the racetrack and heads to Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky to take on the role as the nation’s most prominent new sire.

Trained superbly by Steve Asmussen and flawlessly ridden by Florent Geroux, Gun Runner retires with total earnings of $15,988,500, second to last year’s Pegasus Cup winner, Arrogate, who completed his career with $17,422,600.

While I personally doubted in this space last week that Gun Runner was that good and I did bet against him in the Pegasus, I still believe in the sound betting notion it is a losing strategy to favor short-priced horses in any race in which there are potential viable contenders.

So how good was Gun Runner? Well, his 119 Beyer Speed Figure on Saturday was the best of his career and one of the top Figures earned in the past several years. Bob Baffert’s West Coast, the Champion 3-year-old of 2017, finished a respectable second to earn a 115 Beyer, his best to date.

Gulfstream Park also was a big winner on Saturday, setting a single day wagering handle record of $41,983,882 for the South Florida track. That surely will spur owner Frank Stronach to schedule a 2019 Pegasus and who knows, it might even carry a $20 million purse.

As I have previously pointed out about this very rich race, I wish Mr. Stronach would re-think his attention-getting master stroke. To run such a rich race so early in the year is to cast a giant shadow over so many other races worth $500,000 to $1 million during the next several months.

In my judgment, such a rich race could serve horse racing much better if it were run during the late-summer or early-fall, with a direct link to the season-ending championship events – the Breeders’ Cup, which might benefit from a modest Stronach-inspired purse increase.

While the Pegasus World Cup still is in its infancy, I believe Mr. Stronach should seriously consider at least one more suggestion: It is my stern belief no championship quality Thoroughbred race ever should be carded at 1-1/8 miles.

It is simple fact that for more than a century, all the top horses seeking to establish themselves as true, indisputable champions have been better served by races run at the true classic distance, 1-1/4 miles. That’s the distance for the top 3-year-old races – the Kentucky Derby and Travers Stakes and for horses of all ages in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

While many other 1-1/4-mile championship caliber races could be cited to amplify this point, it is simple truth that no race at 1-1/8 miles – even one with such a rich pot – can be a legit forum designed to identify potential champions.

As for the seven other stakes on the Pegasus card:

• The 5-furlong, $175K Gulfstream Turf Sprint was won by Rainbow Heir with a solid 105 Figure, the top number earned by any winner of the seven supporting stakes on the day. This victory was especially sweet for trainer Jason Servis, given Rainbow Heir finished second by a nose in this same race last year! The 2-1 betting favorite, Pay Any Price lost a speed duel and finished eighth.

• The $200K, 1-1/2 mile La Prevoyante Stakes on the grass for fillies and mares was won by 7-1 shot Texting who rallied from more than six lengths back to catch front running Daring Duchess inside the final 100 yards.

• The $175K, 5 furlong Ladies Turf Sprint was won wire to wire by 5-1 shot Girls Know Best.

• The $175K, Fred Hooper stakes at one mile on the main track, was won by the 2-1 betting favorite Tommy Macho, who stalked the pace and gamely held off 15-1 shot Conquest Big E in deep stretch.

• The $200K, William McKnight Handicap at 1-1/2 miles on the grass was won by 7-2 shot Oscar Nominated, who raced near the pace before taking over and holding off a pair of fast closing rivals – Nessy and 2-1 favorite Bullards Alley.

• The $175K, Hurricane Bertie at 7 furlongs for fillies and mares on the main track was the forum for the day’s most shocking upset. It was scored with a last-to-first rally by 59-1 shot Jordan’s Henny, whose previous claim to fame was three in the money finishes in Graded route stakes last year; 17-10 favorite Curlin’s Approval finished second.

• The $125K, South Beach stakes at 7-1/2 furlongs for fillies and mares on the grass was won by 3-1 second choice Stormy Victoria, with the favorite Celestine, second.

Next week: I’ll take a look at this year’s early developing 3-year-olds.