01/28/2018 11:45AM

Watchmaker: Gun Runner goes out in rare style

Michael Amoruso
Florent Geroux rides Gun Runner to victory in Saturday's Pegasus at Gulfstream.

We saw something rare in Gun Runner’s decisive victory in Saturday’s Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream. And no, I’m not talking about a horse winning from an outside post going 1 1/8 miles on that main track, although Gun Runner did manage to pull that off, too.

No, what I’m getting at is, we saw a true big-time, top-class race horse in Gun Runner conclude his racing career with the two best performances of his life in the races that were intended to be his final starts.

This happens far less often than you might think. I don’t think anyone can dispute that Gun Runner’s Breeders’ Cup Classic almost three months ago was up to that point by far the best performance of his career. Gun Runner took strong pace pressure from the then red-hot Collected, turned him and everyone else away, and did it all while racing on a dead inside part of Del Mar’s main track, becoming the only horse on Breeders’ Cup Friday and Saturday to beat that track bias.

And in the Pegasus, Gun Runner, thanks in part to an excellent ride from Florent Geroux, was able to overcome one of the outside post positions going nine furlongs on dirt at Gulfstream that statistics and years of actual observation have proven are an extreme disadvantage, and he did so while earning a 119 Beyer Speed Figure that was the highest of his career.

In looking for major horses who concluded their careers with a similar flourish, you have to go back to perhaps Invasor, the 2006 Horse of the Year, who in 2007 ended his career with victories in the Donn Handicap (now known as the Pegasus) and the Dubai World Cup. But I think a more analogous example would be Ghostzapper, who concluded his brilliant career with sensational scores in the Breeders’ Cup Classic of 2004, the year he was Horse of the Year, and the 2005 Met Mile.

The thing is, these were not how Ghostzapper’s and Invasor’s careers were originally intended to end. Their careers concluded prematurely. Gun Runner, on the other hand, closed his career on a sharp ascendency in the races that were actually meant to be his last. And that makes what he did even more rare.

This would make a great discussion among racing friends, but I think you have to go all the way back to 1988 and Horse of that Year Alysheba to find the last horse who ended his career in a fashion similar to the way Gun Runner ended his. Alysheba’s last two starts were in races that were meant to be his last two starts, and were victories in the Meadowlands Cup and Breeders’ Cup Classic that were certainly among the best, if not the best, of his prolific career.

I understand the realities of today’s racing industry and the importance of commitments forged months ago, but it still seems almost a shame to see Gun Runner leave the track right when he has gotten so staggeringly good. But it is good Gun Runner is leaving sound, and on his terms, and it says much that he’s leaving us wanting more.


** Florent Geroux was tremendous sending Gun Runner out of the gate to mitigate his tough post draw, and give Gun Runner credit for being a willing accomplice. That approach, and questionable tactics on the part of others, allowed Gun Runner to tuck in comfortably in the two path entering the first turn. Really, once Gun Runner was there and not caught four to five wide into the first turn, this Pegasus was over.

** Singing Bullet was the longest shot on the board in the Pegasus at 135-1, but he is also a horse who not that long ago showed sub-46 seconds-to-the-half sprint speed. Strangely, he never even attempted go from his rail draw. He was taken back, as if to get right out of the way, and get out of the way he did. Conversely, Toast of New York tried to go early, but he simply wasn’t fast enough.

But the tactics of Sharp Azteca were downright weird. Sharp Azteca is a brilliant miler who was trying nine furlongs for the first time in the Pegasus, and he has more than enough speed to have had a many-length lead Saturday if that’s what his people wanted.

I’m not suggesting that would have been the proper approach, but what happened is Sharp Azteca was never sent, was taken in hand, and that put him in a position where he was forced to steady entering the first turn. I don’t understand the thinking. Was Sharp Azteca, in his first attempt going nine furlongs, supposed to outkick Gun Runner? Or, were Sharp Azteca’s tactics more geared toward picking up a minor share of the outsized $16 million purse and conceding the win? The latter would be really bad considering the Pegasus is a race on which many millions of dollars were wagered.

** I’m pleased to say there weren’t as many indefensible first-place Eclipse Award votes this time around as revealed by the vote totals released after Thursday night’s Eclipse Awards dinner. But there were still a few.

Someone thought Champagne Stakes winner Firenze Fire was worthy of the 2-year-old male championship, completely ignoring the fact he was beaten 20 lengths by Good Magic in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Someone also felt Irap’s wins in the Grade 2 Blue Grass and Grade 3 Ohio and Indiana Derbies made him a better candidate for the 3-year-old male title than West Coast, who crushed Irap when he won the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby and Grade 1 Travers, and who also won the Grade 3 Los Alamitos Derby, and finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (and who was easily second-best in the Pegasus).

There was one voter who thought Stormy Liberal’s 30-1 head victory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (a novelty race if there ever was one) made him more worthy of the male sprint championship than Roy H, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, the Grade 1 Santa Anita Sprint Championship, the Grade 2 True North, and who was a very unlucky second the Grade 1 Bing Crosby and should have won, which, if he did, would have given him a perfect season.

It has been said before, but it bears repeating: voting for the Eclipse Awards is a privilege that carries with it a certain responsibility to be serious, informed, and fair. Anything less is not worthy of the privilege.