05/29/2014 1:38PM

Last Gunfighter returns from six-month layoff in Mountainview Handicap

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Last Gunfighter, shown winning the Hawthorne Gold Cup in November, will make his first start since that race in Saturday's $200,000 Mountainview Handicap at Penn National.

Thoroughbred racehorses are supposed to be volatile and tempestuous, but Last Gunfighter read like an open book during his 2013 campaign.

He won the races he was supposed to win – the Evening Attire, the Excelsior, the Pimlico Special, the Iselin, and the Hawthorne Gold Cup. He lost the races he was expected to lose – the Suburban to Flat Out, the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Last Gunfighter launches his 2014 season Saturday night in the $200,000 Mountainview Handicap at Penn National, and if he maintains his admirable consistency, he should be formidable.

The 121-pound highweight, Last Gunfighter faces seven foes in the Mountainview, a 1 1/8-mile dirt race. His best performance lays over six of his rivals, and Last Gunfighter’s ceiling appears to be higher than that of his major rival, Golden Ticket.

Trained by Chad Brown for owner and breeder John Gunther, Last Gunfighter hasn’t started since he won the Hawthorne Gold Cup on Nov. 30. That race came four weeks after a creditable fifth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and Brown knew that extending Last Gunfighter’s campaign one race beyond the Breeders’ Cup likely would lead to a later start this spring.

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“When I got him back this year, he did have a little more rust on him than I would have liked. It took a couple weeks for him to loosen up, and I got behind,” said Brown, who won the 2013 Mountainview with Easter Gift. “He’s a very workmanlike horse that’s steady in his training. Is he fit enough to run his ‘A’ race right off a layoff? He’s probably not going to run his best figure of 2014, but he is training very well. We’re using this race to get to other objectives down the road.”

Last Gunfighter prefers racing from midpack, and he could get a great setup Saturday under Javier Castellano. Valid, Arlo, Taptowne, and Percussion all have some degree of early speed, and the early and middle splits should fall somewhere between honest and demanding.

Golden Ticket also is in line for a favorable journey, and, having started three times already this year, he should hold a fitness edge on Last Gunfighter. Golden Ticket has lost his last six starts, but his most recent try lower than the Grade 1 or Grade 2 level produced a romping victory at Prairie Meadows last summer.