July 17, 2018

Post-Pegasus retirement for Gun Runner avoids historical risks

Gun Runner and jockey Florent Geroux easily win the Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) by seven lengths at Churchill Downs on Friday, June 16, 2017 (c) Churchill Downs/Coady Photography

The announcement Tuesday afternoon that likely Horse of the Year Gun Runner would race once more before standing the 2018 breeding season at Three Chimneys Farm came as no surprise.

Presently at the Versailles, Kentucky, farm for inspection, last weekend’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner will soon return to trainer Steve Asmussen’s stable at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, where the four-year-old son of Candy Ride will prepare for the $16 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) at Gulfstream Park on January 27.

While racing fans undoubtedly would have appreciated seeing Gun Runner shoot for a full campaign next year, especially as the Breeders’ Cup will be held at his home track of Churchill Downs, history hasn’t always been kind to the entire colts and future broodmares that sought to defend their Horse of the Year titles.

Since the Eclipse Awards were introduced in 1971, only Secretariat (1972-73), Affirmed (1978-79), Cigar (1995-96), who later proved sterile, and Curlin (2007-08) successfully repeated the following year. California Chrome (2014, 2016) won non-consecutive titles, but even he had an abbreviated 2015 season and was up the track in last year’s Pegasus World Cup in his career finale, a result the connections of Gun Runner hope to avoid.

Tiznow (2000-01) was good enough to be named champion older male at four after winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic a second time, but was out-polled by three-year-old Point Given for the top honor. Seattle Slew (1977-78) was also named champion older male but was outvoted by Triple Crown winner Affirmed.

Invasor (2006-07) came back to win the Donn H. (G1) and Dubai World Cup (G1), but injury cut short his repeat bid, as was also the case with Sunday Silence (1989-90) and Holy Bull (1994-95). Ferdinand (1987-88) and Favorite Trick (1997-98) simply weren’t as good the year after their championship campaigns.

Asmussen has seen both sides. While he enjoyed the exploits of Curlin, he also witnessed the filly Rachel Alexandra (2009-10) not show the exact same spark after her historic three-year-old campaign. Azeri (2002-04) won two more divisional championships but was never a serious Horse of the Year candidate in either season. Havre de Grace‘s (2011-12) five-year-old campaign was cut short by injury, while All Along (1983-84) and Lady’s Secret (1986-87) were simply not as good as they had been before.

The risks seem to outweigh the rewards trying to squeeze another season out of Gun Runner. One more race shouldn’t hurt, though, and a huge monetary reward awaits him if he can negotiate one lap of Gulfstream faster than anyone else 2 1/2 months from now.

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