01/20/2017 1:16PM

Gulfstream considers allowing Gun Runner to ship from Fair Grounds for Pegasus

Churchill Downs/Coady Photography
Gun Runner, shown winning the Clark Handicap, may be allowed to travel from Fair Grounds if the quarantine at the New Orleans track is lifted this weekend.

Gulfstream Park racing officials began mobilizing Friday to assess the risks of allowing Gun Runner to travel from Fair Grounds in New Orleans to Gulfstream to compete in the Pegasus World Cup on Jan. 28, seven days after a quarantine of the Fair Grounds backstretch was expected to be lifted.

Officials for Gulfstream and the track’s parent company, The Stronach Group, said on Friday that Dr. Robert O’Neill, the company’s equine health and safety director, would travel to Fair Grounds over the weekend to discuss the quarantine with Louisiana veterinary officials. The state’s Department of Agriculture and Forestry has said that a quarantine of most of the barns on the Fair Grounds backstretch was to be lifted Saturday provided no horses in any of those barns tested positive for the neuropathic form of the equine herpesvirus, a highly contagious disease.

“We’d love to have the horse here,” said Tim Ritvo, Gulfstream’s president. “We’ll do anything we can to get him without taking any risks whatsoever to the horse population here.”

P.J. Campo, Gulfstream’s general manager and vice president of racing, said on Friday that he expected Gulfstream to require negative tests for all the horses in the barn that Gun Runner has occupied. He said there are 1,250 horses on the Gulfstream backstretch, another 1,250 at the company’s nearby Palm Meadows training center, and another 400 at the former Calder Race Course in Miami, with the populations intermingling each day during a live Gulfstream race card.

“I have responsibilities for all those horses,” Campo said.

Gun Runner, who won the Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs last November, had been aggressively targeted by the owners of Pegasus starting slots last year, but the outbreak of equine herpesvirus in late December at Fair Grounds had pushed the horse nearly out of contention for a slot. When Louisiana agriculture officials announced this week that the quarantine might be lifted, the horse got back in play.

On Thursday, Mick Ruis Sr., a California-based former trainer and horse owner, reached a deal with the colt’s co-owners to use his slot in the Pegasus for Gun Runner, provided the 4-year-old is released from quarantine and allowed onto the grounds of Gulfstream, according to Ruis and representatives of Gun Runner’s co-owners. The draw for the Pegasus is Monday.

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Gun Runner, who is co-owned by Three Chimneys Farm and Winchell Thoroughbreds and trained by Steve Asmussen, has 6 wins from 12 career starts and earnings of $2.04 million. Prior to the Clark Handicap, he was second in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

With a purse of $12 million, the Pegasus will be the richest race in the world. The race is the brainchild of Frank Stronach, the owner and breeder who controls The Stronach Group. The purse is being funded by the money raised last year when 12 entities purchased a right to start a horse in the race for $1 million each. Stronach was one of the original buyers of a slot.

Reached on Thursday night, Ruis would not discuss financial details of the deal to start Gun Runner. He said the deal came together quickly Thursday after another Pegasus slot owner dropped out of talks to start the horse.

Ruis had previously designated a horse he owns, War Envoy, as his Pegasus starter. War Envoy last started in an optional-claiming race. If Gun Runner does not make the starting gate, War Envoy will be the Pegasus starter for Ruis.

The Pegasus field is led by the one-two finishers in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, Arrogate and California Chrome, and both are likely to be around even-money. If Gun Runner makes the race, he likely will be considered among the distant second-tier horses in the race, going off somewhere between 12-1 and 15-1.

According to officials involved in negotiating deals for Pegasus horses in recent weeks, many owners of horses recently targeted by Pegasus slot owners have been able to reach revenue-sharing deals that do not require the horse owners to put up any money for the right to start. Those deals are structured so that the horse owner and the slot owner split any purse earnings in the race under percentages set in the agreement.

The first-place purse of the Pegasus is $7 million. Second place is worth $1.75 million, while third place is worth $1 million. Fourth through 12th are worth $250,000.

Gun Runner has been stabled at Fair Grounds all winter. In recent weeks, the horse has been trained as if his next start would be in the Pegasus, a 1 1/8-mile race. His next scheduled work is Sunday, though David Fiske, the racing manager for Winchell Thoroughbreds, said the work may be dependent on the local weather forecast. Fiske was traveling on Friday to Fair Grounds to check up on Gun Runner and watch horses owned by Winchell perform in the track’s Saturday stakes races.

“Right now, it’s all up to the veterinary officials,” Fiske said.

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch