01/25/2018 11:20PM

Gun Runner overwhelming winner as Horse of the Year

Barbara D. Livingston
An emphatic victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic helped to clinch Gun Runner's Horse of the Year title.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – The wave of support for Gun Runner has reached from sea to shining sea. An award he secured at Del Mar in the Breeders’ Cup Classic more than two months ago was officially made his on Thursday night at Gulfstream Park, when Gun Runner was announced as the Horse of the Year for 2017 at the 47th annual Eclipse Awards dinner.

Gun Runner also was named champion older dirt male, downing Arrogate – the only horse to finish in front of him in 2017 – in both categories.

Gun Runner won five times in six starts last year, his lone loss a second-place finish behind Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup, a setback Gun Runner avenged in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He is trained by Steve Asmussen, who has now trained the Horse of the Year four times in the last 11 years, an unprecedented feat since the Eclipse Awards began in 1971. Florent Geroux is the regular rider of Gun Runner, who is owned by a partnership of Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm.

“I’m extremely proud of that,” Asmussen said earlier this week in anticipation of another Horse of the Year title. “That was the goal when he went into training last year.

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“The video of my reaction when he won the Breeders’ Cup Classic,” Asmussen said, referring to his wild gesticulations captured by NBC, “shows how much we knew was on the line. It was there for the taking, and he stepped up.”

This could be a heady 48 hours here at Gulfstream Park for Gun Runner, who is scheduled to make the final start of his career Saturday in the $16 million Pegasus World Cup.

The Eclipse Awards in the 12 equine and five human divisions are voted on by members of Daily Racing Form, the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. There were 269 eligible voters, of whom 250 returned ballots. All votes are pooled.

Gun Runner received 248 votes for Horse of the Year. Arrogate was second with two. Gun Runner got 247 votes for champion older dirt male to three for Arrogate.

The two awards won by Gun Runner, along with champions in several other categories, seemed mere formalities going into the evening, but there were a handful of divisions that looked like genuine toss-ups and provided the closest votes.

None was closer than champion 2-year-old male, in which Good Magic downed Bolt d’Oro by just 18 votes, 131-113. Good Magic was soundly supported by Daily Racing Form, which went for him 41-25, but Good Magic had razor-thin support from the other two voting blocs, with the NTWAB going for him 70-69, and the NTRA preferring him by 20-19.

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In the female sprint division, Unique Bella outpolled fellow finalists Paulassilverlining and Bar of Gold, as well as Ami’s Mesa. Unique Bella got 90 votes to 60 for two-time Grade 1 winner Paulassilverling, 41 for Ami’s Mesa, and 36 for Bar of Gold, who beat all three in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. Unique Bella was the beaten favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, but rebounded to win the Grade 1 La Brea on Dec. 26 at Santa Anita, a late-year victory that helped complement her early season success.

And in the wide-open steeplechase division, in which no horse won more than one Grade 1 race, Scorpiancer defeated runner-up All the Way Jose by just 22 votes, 92-70.

The other equine divisional champions were Caledonia Road (2-year-old filly), West Coast (3-year-old male), Abel Tasman (3-year-old filly), Forever Unbridled (older dirt female), Roy H (male sprinter), World Approval (male turf horse), and Lady Eli (female turf horse). Caledonia Road represents the first champion trained by Ralph Nicks, Forever Unbridled is the first trained by Dallas Stewart, and Roy H is the first trained by Peter Miller.

The Breeders’ Cup, racing’s year-end championship event, played a large role in many divisions. Gun Runner, Good Magic, Caledonia Road, Forever Unbridled, Roy H, and World Approval all were Breeders’ Cup winners at Del Mar.

Chad Brown, who trained divisional champs Good Magic and Lady Eli – as well as runner-ups Rushing Fall (2-year-old filly), Paulassilverlining (female sprint), and Beach Patrol (male turf) – won the Eclipse Award as champion trainer for the second straight year. He received 215 votes to 16 for runner-up Bob Baffert – trainer of divisional champs West Coast and Abel Tasman – and 13 for Asmussen.

Jose Ortiz was named champion jockey for the first time in his career. He received 189 votes to easily outpoll runner-up Mike Smith, who had 45.

Southern California-based Evin Roman was a runaway winner as champion apprentice, receiving 232 votes to 4 for runner-up Katie Clawson.

Clearsky Farms, which bred Arrogate and Abel Tasman, was voted champion breeder, beating runner-up WinStar 141-72.

Juddmonte Farms was named champion owner, even though none of its runners won a divisional title. Juddmonte’s best runners were divisional runner-ups Arrogate and Paulassilverlining. Juddmonte received 143 votes. Second was Gun Runner’s ownership group, with 31.

Brown, Ortiz, Roman, Clearsky, and Juddmonte all were the earnings leaders for 2017 in their respective categories, which obviously carried plenty of weight with voters.

Also Thursday night, Eclipse Awards that had been previously announced were presented, including the Eclipse Award of Merit, two Special Awards, and for excellence in media.

Owner, breeder, and racetrack operator Frank Stronach received the Eclipse Award of Merit. Representatives from San Luis Rey Downs training center and Camarero Racetrack in Puerto Rico received a Special Award for their response to recent tragedies at their facilities, and the NTRA received a Special Award for helping push across the finish line tax legislation that benefits bettors.

Media awards went to NBC for live television, NBCSN for television feature, Daily Racing Form for audio/multi-media and internet, Denise Steffanus of Trainer magazine for news/enterprise writing, Jason Frakes of the Louisville Courier-Journal for feature writing, and Nancy Rokos of the Burlington (N.J.) County Times for photography.