11/30/2013 8:02PM

Hawthorne Gold Cup: Last Gunfighter rallies wide for victory

Four-Footed Fotos
Last Gunfighter, with Joe Bravo riding, wins the Hawthorne Gold Cup by a length.

STICKNEY, Ill. – Last Gunfighter might have made the last start of his 4-year-old season when he finished a solid fifth in the Nov. 2 Breeders’ Cup Classic, but instead of sending the colt to a farm for a winter rest, owner-breeder John Gunther and trainer Chad Brown altered their original plan and targeted the Hawthorne Gold Cup. Brown, pleased with Last Gunfighter’s physical condition coming back to New York after the Breeders’ Cup, reasoned Last Gunfighter had at least one more solid performance in his season.

And Brown, as so often is the case these days, reasoned right. The Grade 2, $350,000 Gold Cup turned into a slog – not the first long-distance stakes race here to come out that way – and Last Gunfighter was up for it. Racing wide and from behind a slow pace, Last Gunfighter made the lead at about the eighth pole and went on to a one-length victory over Mister Marti Gras. Street Spice finished another two lengths back in third, while Alpha set a slow pace but faded to fourth.

Last Gunfighter ($3.80), by First Samurai, came around quickly during the fall of 2012, winning six races in a row between October and May after Brown took over his training. Last Gunfighter’s win streak ended when he ran into Flat Out in the Suburban in July at Belmont, but he came right back to win the Iselin at Monmouth in his next start and bounced back from a fifth-place finish in the Jockey Club Gold Cup to rally stoutly in the Breeders’ Cup.

That resume made Last Gunfighter the 4-5 favorite Saturday, and he did not disappoint, despite a somewhat challenging journey under Joe Bravo. Racing sixth as Alpha and Eddie Castro backed up an already tepid opening quarter-mile pace and went his first half in just 51.13 seconds, Last Gunfighter added another degree of difficulty by going wide around the far turn.

But the outside of the Hawthorne track might have been the best part of the surface Saturday, and Last Gunfighter moved up steadily without working too hard at it. Street Spice, wide on both turns, passed Suns Out Guns Out and a fading Alpha before the quarter pole and took a slim lead, but Last Gunfighter soon was on him. As Street Spice ran awkwardly for several strides, turning his head and appearing to shy from his jockey’s crop, Last Gunfighter took control. Last Gunfighter got one final mild scare as Mister Marti Gras loomed wide, but despite a final quarter-mile in a moderate 25.31, Last Gunfighter was going away at the finish and galloped out well clear.

The Gold Cup, run over a fast  track producing moderate times, came up slow, with Last Gunfighter timed in 2:06.11 for 1 1/4 miles. Pool Play won last year’s race in a slower time, 2:06.36.