06/19/2017 1:10PM

Gun Runner hitting best stride

Churchill Downs/Coady Photography
Gun Runner scored the second Grade 1 victory of his career in Saturday night's Stephen Foster.

Gun Runner was an honest and consistent 3-year-old. The winner of the Louisiana Derby and Risen Star, both Grade 2 events, he finished a creditable third behind Nyquist and Exaggerator in the Kentucky Derby, then bounced right back to win the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes.

He spent the summer and fall finishing third behind eventual division champion Arrogate in the Travers, a close second to eventual Grade 1 winner Connect in the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby, and second in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. He then nabbed his elusive Grade 1 win in the Clark Handicap, defeating a field of elders that included Canadian champion Shaman Ghost, now among the top older horses in the country.

As productive as Gun Runner was, though, trainer Steve Asmussen was looking forward to more in his 4-year-old season.

“He’s out of a half-sister to Saint Liam,” Asmussen said. “Saint Liam was [eligible for] other-than at the end of his 3-year-old year and wound up Horse of the Year. He was much better at 4.”

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Indeed, Gun Runner has now won two of three starts through the first half of his 4-year-old campaign after his seven-length romp in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap under the lights Saturday at Churchill Downs. He also won the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap by 6 3/4 lengths. His only loss this year is a runner-up effort to Arrogate, rated the world’s best dirt horse, in the Dubai World Cup.

Gun Runner is one of five horses to win the Clark and the Stephen Foster, Churchill’s two signature dirt races for older horses. Fittingly, the group also includes Saint Liam (2004-05); Blame (2009-10) was the most recent to pull off the feat. Both were Eclipse Award champions.

“We’re seeing the physical growth in the horse – he’s put on some weight, he’s a little thicker, a little bigger, and just keeps coming the right way,” Asmussen said.

Gun Runner, by Candy Ride, is the first foal out of Quiet Giant, a Grade 2 winner at age 4. She is a half-sister to three graded winners led by Saint Liam, who at the end of his 3-year-old campaign was an allowance winner and had finished a well-beaten second in the Iowa Derby. He announced himself as a 4-year-old with a hard-fought second to champion Ghostzapper in the Woodward before scoring his first Grade 1 in the Clark. He went on to win the 2005 Breeders’ Cup Classic and Horse of the Year honors. In total, his record for his 4- and 5-year-old seasons was 11-6-3-1.

Gun Runner races for the partnership of two prominent industry players: Winchell Thoroughbreds, which campaigned and holds an interest in leading sire Tapit, and Three Chimneys Farm, under the leadership of the Brazilian Borges-Torrealba family, which acquired a controlling interest from farm founder Robert Clay in 2013. The colt races in the Winchell colors and eventually will stand at Three Chimneys. First, however, he has big targets for the rest of the season.

“It’s very sportsmanlike of Mr. Torrealba to run a horse like this as a 4-year-old,” Asmussen said.