01/22/2017 3:43PM

Testing requirement makes Gun Runner unlikely for Pegasus

Churchill Downs/Coady Photography
Gun Runner wins the Clark Handicap in November.

The Grade 1 winner Gun Runner is not expected to start in Saturday’s $12 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park because of a disagreement between the horse’s owners and Gulfstream officials over a requirement to test negative for equine herpesvirus through both a blood test and a nasal swab, officials for both sides said Sunday.

Officials for both sides described the development as “disappointing,” and neither cast blame on the other. Gulfstream officials said that they had told the owners of the 4-year-old colt about the dual requirement for testing negative, but the owners said that they were not willing to take the risk of the nasal swab returning a false positive, a distinct possibility.

“We tried really hard, both sides tried very hard,” said Tim Ritvo, the chief operating officer of The Stronach Group, which owns Gulfstream Park. “That horse would have probably been the third choice, and this race was made for a horse like that, so it’s disappointing to both sides.”

Gun Runner is stabled on the Fair Grounds backstretch, which has been under quarantine for the past three weeks after two horses tested positive for the neuropathic strain of equine herpesvirus, a highly contagious disease, shortly before the New Year. However, state agriculture officials lifted the quarantine on most of the barns on the backstretch yesterday, citing no new positives for the neuropathic strain since the first two.

Gun Runner, who won the Grade 1 Clark Handicap in November in his last start, had been targeted by groups holding slots to the Pegasus since last year, but hopes for securing the colt wilted in the face of the Fair Grounds quarantine. With news of the possible lifting of the quarantine early last week, groups began seeking out Gun Runner’s co-owners again to strike a deal. Mick Ruis Sr., a California-based ex-trainer with a Pegasus slot, reached an agreement for the horse as his Pegasus starter on Thursday.

David Fiske, the racing manager for Winchell Thoroughbreds, which co-owns Gun Runner with Three Chimneys Farm, said that Gun Runner tested negative for the disease in his blood test. However, he said that lab directors had told him there was a 15 percent chance the horse would return a false positive through the nasal swab test. The co-owners did not want to risk having the horse returned to quarantine if the test came back positive, he said, especially if the test was a false negative.

“We feel [the blood test] should be sufficient,” Fiske said. “At this point, barring any dramatic change of heart on the position of Gulfstream, I would say he’s a no-go.”

Ritvo said that Ruis and Gun Runner’s co-owners were notified of the two-test requirement Thursday, as part of a list of conditions distributed to Ruis for the horse being allowed on the Gulfstream backstretch.

Ritvo also said that Gulfstream required all horses in an equine-herpesvirus quarantined barn at Gulfstream Park last year to test negative through both tests before the quarantine was lifted. There are approximately 1,500 horses on Gulfstream’s backside, and that population regularly mixes with populations of ship-ins from local stabling and training areas owned or managed by Gulfstream.

“We didn’t feel it was correct to change our policies” by making Gun Runner an exception, Ritvo said.

The Pegasus field is led by the one-two finishers in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, Arrogate and California Chrome, and both are likely to be around even money. Gun Runner likely would have been between 12-1 and 15-1 to win.

Ruis had previously designated a horse he owns, War Envoy, as his Pegasus starter. With Gun Runner out of the running, War Envoy will likely draw into the field Monday. War Envoy last started in an optional claiming race.

Frank Stronach, the owner of The Stronach Group, purchased a slot in the race and plans to start a homebred, Shaman Ghost. The first-place purse of the Pegasus is $7 million. Second-place is worth $1.75 million, while third-place is worth $1 million. Fourth through 12th is worth $250,000. This is the first running of the race.

Fiske said they plan to regroup with Gun Runner.

“We didn’t start in the Pegasus last year, so it’s not that big of a deal that we won’t start in this one,” Fiske said. “It’s a long year.”