01/05/2018 12:16PM

2017 Eclipse Awards: Gun Runner

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Barbara D. Livingston
Gun Runner

Large shadows are hard to escape. Alydar won major races by large margins, and yet his name seems forever attached to Affirmed’s chestnut hip. Gun Bow was a match for the great Kelso and then some, but he is remembered only in passing for their few memorable encounters. And pity the memory of a horse like Coaltown, a flame-throwing Hall of Fame champion in his own right, who is referred to more often than not as merely Citation’s stablemate.

It took the better part of 14 months for Gun Runner to shake free from the shade thrown by Arrogate, the champion 3-year-old of 2016, when he won the Travers in track record time and defeated Horse of the Year California Chrome in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Gun Runner was among the battered in Arrogate’s Travers, and he was no more than a bit player in that year’s Breeders’ Cup, when he finished second in the Dirt Mile without fanfare.

Gun Runner’s 2017 campaign was stunted before it could begin, when an outbreak of equine herpesvirus kept him in Louisiana lockdown instead of in the starting gate for the inaugural running of the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park. The race went easily to Arrogate when California Chrome failed to fire, and the conversation was comprehensively turned – without Gun Runner.

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The Dubai World Cup buried Gun Runner even further beneath the avalance of Arrogate fan worship. The race went perfectly for Gun Runner, while Arrogate overcame a poor start and won by 2 1/4 lengths. In the immediate wake of the loss, trainer Steve Asmussen believed Gun Runner had produced the best race of his life. That was cold consolation, but it was something on which the rest of the campaign could be built.

There is something to be said for working quietly in the wings, rehearsing lines, perfecting cues. One by one, Asmussen’s subsequent targets fell. Gun Runner won the Stephen Foster by seven lengths, the Whitney by 5 1/4, and the Woodward by twice that margin. Arrogate, in the meantime, was losing twice in California, a baffling twist that played havoc with the script. Suddenly, their rematch in the Breeders’ Cup Classic meant something more than a chance for Arrogate to beat Gun Runner again at a mile and a quarter.

Gun Runner’s thoroughly professional score in the Classic, combined with Arrogate’s desultory dead heat for fifth, left little question as to the identity of the older horse with the best campaign of 2017. If the Eclipse Award goes his way, as expected, Gun Runner will join Tight Spot as champions campaigned by Ron Winchell and his father, the late Verne Winchell, whose first major stakes horse was the 1961 Champagne Stakes winner, Donut King.

By Candy Ride out of Quiet Giant, Gun Runner was bred by Besilu Stables. He is owned by Winchell and Three Chimneys Farm.