Updated on 11/28/2016 5:57PM

Winchell Thoroughbreds, Three Chimneys score big with Gun Runner

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Churchill Downs/Coady Photography
Gun Runner earned his first Grade 1 win in last Friday's Clark Handicap.

Neither Winchell Thoroughbreds nor Three Chimneys Farm had an entrant in the 2015 Kentucky Derby. But Ron Winchell and Goncalo Torrealba, the principals behind those respective operations, were in good spirits anyway that day at Churchill Downs as they discussed the sturdy chestnut colt they had recently agreed to race in partnership.

“The partnership was formed that April, and we were here for the Derby,” Doug Cauthen, vice chairman for Three Chimneys, recalled. “[The horse] hadn’t even thought about running yet. And I remember introducing Goncalo to Ron, and they were saying, ‘Boy, wouldn’t it be fun to be back here next year?’ ”

Gun Runner has indeed taken his team back to Churchill Downs – several times. The Louisiana Derby winner finished a creditable third in the Kentucky Derby. More than six months later, he won the Clark Handicap in the shadow of the twin spires, scoring an elusive first Grade 1 victory to cap a hard-knocking season.

Gun Runner is the first collaboration between two prominent industry players: Winchell Thoroughbreds, which campaigned and holds an interest in North America’s reigning leading sire, Tapit; and Three Chimneys, a stallion and breeding operation now 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 with the colt’s 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, who owns Winchell Thoroughbreds with his mother, Joan.

“The majority of horses at Three Chimneys we’ll consider going to auction,” Cauthen said. “[But we’re] often looking for partners in horses. This is a situation where Ron and his team liked the horse, we liked the horse, and the idea was thrown out, ‘Hey, what about partnering up?’ And it just happened that it worked.”

With his Clark Handicap win over elders last Friday, Gun Runner has now won or placed in eight graded stakes for the partnership and has pushed his career earnings past the $2 million mark. The colt runs in the Winchell Thoroughbreds colors.

“The deal was we race him, and they stand him,” Winchell racing and farm manager David Fiske said. “It’s nothing formal.”

Gun Runner is the latest standout from a prominent family, as his dam is a half-sister to 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam, Grade 3 winner Congressionalhonor, stakes winner Dance Quietly, Grade 1-placed Miss Besilu, Grade 2-placed American Dance, Grade 1 producer Beatem Buster, and stakes producer Quiet Now. Fiske gives some of the credit for the colt’s toughness to broodmare sire Giant’s Causeway.

“[Owner] 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!’ ”

Gun Runner will eventually join the stallion roster at Three Chimneys, but first there is his eagerly anticipated 4-year-old campaign, which could begin in the $12 million Pegasus World Cup in late January at Gulfstream Park. The partnership would need to acquire a starting slot in the race but won’t have a lack of offers.

“A lot of the Pegasus placeholders have been reaching out to Three Chimneys and to Ron, so I think there’ll probably be a bit of lobbying to maybe get him to do it,” Cauthen said. “He deserves a break, but he keeps showing up, so who knows? I think you’ve got to consider it. It’s a crazy amount of money, and he’s getting better and better.”

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