12/07/2017 10:26AM

Gun Runner a strong addition to Three Chimneys roster

Barbara D. Livingston
Gun Runner will make his final career start in the Pegasus World Cup before entering stud at Three Chimneys.

After Gun Runner gamely turned back Collected to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar, co-owners Three Chimneys Farm and Winchell Thoroughbreds were reminded that they had yet to announce the horse’s plans for 2018.

“We meant after the party,” Three Chimneys’ Goncalo Torrealba promptly responded to the crew gathered for the post-race press conference.

“Great answer,” trainer Steve Asmussen said with a laugh.

But now, the party is almost over.

Gun Runner, a virtual lock to be voted Horse of the Year, is wintering at Fair Grounds in New Orleans as he targets the $16 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational in late January. That will mark his final career start, after which he will head to Three Chimneys Farm in time for the Northern Hemisphere breeding season that begins in mid-February. One of the continent’s most anticipated new stallions of 2018, Gun Runner will debut for an advertised fee of $70,000.

There was initially “a lot, a lot, a lot,” of talk, according to Torrealba, about campaigning Gun Runner for a full season as a 5-year-old, potentially concluding with the 2018 Classic at his home track, Churchill Downs. But once he won the 2017 Classic – with a Beyer Speed Figure of 117 – those discussions changed, with the risk and economic factors ultimately too prohibitive to consider running him beyond the Pegasus. The Pegasus, slated for Jan. 27, falls just two days after the Eclipse Awards ceremony at Gulfstream Park.

“I’ll be sad not to see him race next year, because, frankly, he’s doing phenomenal,” said Ron Winchell, who operates Winchell Thoroughbreds with his mother, Joan. “It’s not easy to put something away that is working so good. He doesn’t have any nagging problems, he’s 100 percent sound, healthy. The economics [are a factor], plus the fact he’s accomplished about all he can accomplish – he really doesn’t have anything to prove at this point.”

Regardless of the Pegasus result, Gun Runner’s team will look back on his career with pride. The consistent son of Candy Ride currently sports a career mark of 11-3-2 from 18 starts and earnings of $8,998,500. He posted his first Grade 1 score against older horses in last year’s Clark Handicap, and this summer and fall ripped through top-level tallies in the Stephen Foster Handicap by seven lengths, Whitney by 5 1/4 lengths, and Woodward by 10 1/4 lengths before the Classic. His four other graded stakes victories are led by the 2016 Louisiana Derby. His notable stakes placings include a runner-up effort to Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup, a second in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, and a game third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, not wilting after running on a hot pace.

“He doesn’t owe us anything,” Asmussen said.

Gun Runner represents the first partnership between the Winchell family, which campaigned and holds an interest in leading sire Tapit, and Three Chimneys, under the leadership of the Brazilian Borges-Torrealba family, which acquired a controlling interest from farm founder Robert Clay in 2013. Three Chimneys acquired Gun Runner as a yearling in a package deal from breeder Besilu Stables. The latter had purchased his dam, Grade 2 winner Quiet Giant, out of the record-breaking dispersal of the stock of the late Edward P. Evans at the 2011 Keeneland November breeding stock sale. The following spring, Besilu principal Benjamin Leon bred the mare to Candy Ride.

The resulting foal, Gun Runner, was originally slated to be sold at auction as a 2-year-old, but the colt caught the eye of Ron Winchell, and a partnership was forged.

“I have been fortunate enough to own several great horses, but Gun Runner is clearly at the top of my list,” Winchell said. “He is the horse of a lifetime. His brilliance was recognizable early and improved with every season. His consistency, soundness, and race recovery were comparable to none. These traits should serve him well as a stallion.”

Kentucky-bound stallion prospects who made their final starts in the Breeders’ Cup immediately headed for their respective farms in order to take advantage of the opportunity to be showcased to domestic and international breeders in town for Kentucky’s major mixed-market sales in November. This presented a hurdle for Gun Runner, who was to remain in training. But since the colt got a week of downtime following the Classic, his schedule was adjusted to give him an abbreviated window of showing. Instead of spending the week walking Asmussen’s shed row at Churchill Downs, he instead spent it about an hour away in Lexington at Three Chimneys, accompanied by a team led by assistant trainer Scott Blasi, so as not to upset his routine. He shipped from there to Fair Grounds.

“We wanted to do what’s best for the horse,” said Grant Williamson, director of stallion nominations and sales at Three Chimneys. “He knows those guys, those guys know him very well. They’ve been with him for three years. We were making changes anyway, bringing him to the farm, you don’t want to make too many chances at once.”

Williamson said breeders were impressed by Gun Runner’s physical condition and level of energy following the Classic.

“You really want to get people in the door to see him in the flesh, because when you run a race like that, and he comes off the van and looks the way he looks, it makes a big impression on people,” he said.

Racetrack accomplishments aside, Gun Runner is bred to be a stallion. His sire is Argentinian champion Candy Ride, a son of Ride the Rails who came to the United States to win the Pacific Classic. Perennially among the nation’s top 10 sires, Candy Ride is showing promise as a sire of sires. His son Twirling Candy was the second-leading freshman sire of 2015, behind only record-setting Uncle Mo, and has continued to produce, represented by graded winners Danzing Candy, Finley’sluckycharm, and Morticia this year alone. Sons Sidney’s Candy and Misremembered have both sired graded stakes performers. Candy Ride has two other sons coming to stud in Kentucky this year in unbeaten Grade 1 winner Mastery at Claiborne Farm and graded winner Unified at Lane’s End, alongside his sire.

Gun Runner’s “pedigree is an outcross to every good North American mare,” Torrealba said. “Candy Ride, I think he belongs to America now. He’s a marvelous outcross to Tapits, to A.P. Indys, you name it.”

Gun Runner also has a chance to carry on the family line of 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam, among the several stakes-performing half-siblings to Quiet Giant. Saint Liam stood only one season at stud before a freak, fatal accident in which be broke his leg rearing while being led to his paddock. His lone crop of 98 foals included 10 stakes winners and another eight stakes-placed runners, led by 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace and graded stakes winners Buddy’s Saint, Liam’s Dream, and Upgrade.

“I am a big believer in top families, and with two Horses of the Year in his first two dams, one could make a case that there is no more active or relevant pedigree in the stud book today than that of Gun Runner,” Torrealba said.

Asmussen has often referenced Saint Liam while discussing Gun Runner’s career trajectory, noting that the 2005 champion was a later-developing horse who won his first Grade 1 at age 4 and had his best season at age 5.

Gun Runner “obviously is bigger, stronger [in 2017], everything that his pedigree indicated would happen,” Asmussen said. “Being a Candy Ride out of a Giant’s Causeway mare, he’s half to Saint Liam, who was best as an older horse, had to obviously come to fruition. And he’s a bigger, stronger, better version. That’s a lot of travel this year, lot of fast races, and I think he’s better than he’s ever been.”

David Fiske, longtime manager for Winchell Thoroughbreds, also has given credit to broodmare sire Giant’s Causeway, who stands at Coolmore’s Ashford Stud, for Gun Runner’s toughness and durability.

“Coolmore ran a whole ad campaign about Giant’s Causeway being ‘The Iron Horse,’ and I think that’s where [Gun Runner] gets it from,” Fiske said. “He’s just as tough as they come. He’s like one of those guys in a movie – you knock him down, he gets right back up and goes, ‘Bring it on!’ ”

While most of the family is later-developing, Williamson noted that Gun Runner displayed some of the precocity that is valued in the American bloodstock market. The colt won his first two career starts as a juvenile, then finished fourth in a salty edition of the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, running on a wet track, which is responsible for his only two unplaced efforts.

“We have reason to think he can get earlier types of horses,” Williamson said. “He did show up at 2, and he’s just had a constant development each year.”

Williamson also pointed to Gun Runner’s physical build and conformation as an indicator of future success in the market.

“He’s a beautiful horse. He’s bigger than people think – we sticked him at 16.2” hands, Williamson said. “He’s a very clean-limbed horse. He’s got great balance. He uses himself phenomenally well. When you watch him walk, he really does have a great low action, which you see translates to him on the racetrack. He’s got a phenomenal stride. He’s a very even horse all through his motions. I think he’s so balanced he’s going to fit a lot of mares, which is always important.”

As for those mares, Winchell and Torrealba said they both plan to launch Gun Runner’s stud career by supporting him with top mares from each of their respective broodmare bands. Torrealba, specifically, said that he will breed the dams of champion La Verdad and Grade 1 winner Twirling Candy to the young stallion, along with Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Stopchargingmaria and Grade 1 winners Malibu Prayer and Pure Clan.

Gun Runner will be a major addition to the young stallion roster at Three Chimneys. Only two of the six stallions on the roster – Sky Mesa and Caleb’s Posse – currently have foals of racing age. Champion Will Take Charge and Strong Mandate both have yearlings who were well received this sale season, while Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice and Fast Anna have their first weanlings this year.

“It’s gaining its legs right now,” Williamson said of the roster. “Gun Runner is obviously a very significant addition to it, but it was already heading in the right direction. I feel that the yearlings we saw go through this year were kind of indicative of what we’ve been seeing since they were foals. You stand horses with those kind of physicals, that’s what you hope to produce, and the market responded. That’s what we’re trying to do.

“We’ve got to be very deliberate in our selection process,” he continued. “You’re projecting four or five years out, which is the challenge.”

With Gun Runner, the party at Three Chimneys may be just getting started.

– additional reporting by Joe Nevills