Presumptive Horse of the Year Gun Runner sizzled six furlongs in a bullet 1:10.60 at Fair Grounds Sunday morning, ratcheting up preparations for his grand finale in Gulfstream Park’s $16 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) on January 27.
The winner of four straight Grade 1s, capped by the championship-clinching Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), the Steve Asmussen charge was given a stiffer work in company with Gettysburg by design.
“We have a little pending weather coming, and we’re most likely going to miss a couple of days,” the Hall of Fame trainer explained. “I really wanted him to get something out of this, in case the weather lingers around. So we did ask him to pick it up today.”
And pick it up he did, signaling that he’s maintaining his razor-sharp form. With jockey Florent Geroux away in France, sadly due to his father’s death, Gun Runner had exercise rider Angel Garcia in the saddle for the drill.
Taking to the fast track at 6:10 a.m. (CST), Gun Runner was caught in swift fractions of :12.40, :24.00, :35.20, :47.60 and :58.20. He edged Gettysburg, who shared the 1:10.60 bullet for six furlongs, by far the fastest time on the morning. Four other horses posted works at the distance, none better than 1:13.00. Gun Runner went on to gallop out seven furlongs in a brisk 1:24.60 and polished off a mile in 1:39.20.
Here is a brief video, courtesy of D.J. Fiske, racing manager for co-owner Winchell Thoroughbreds.
— DJFiske (@DJFiske) December 31, 2017
“He worked amazing,” Asmussen said. “Time to pick it up with him, and obviously he’s very willing. He looked wonderful and cooled out great. He’s just fast.”
As Jennie Rees noted, Gun Runner’s times were considerably faster than the norm for Asmussen workers, and by Fair Grounds standards. Rees cited the Brisnet.com stats showing that Gun Runner’s 1:10.60 was quicker than all but nine of 78 races held at that six-furlong trip during the current meet (through Saturday). And his half-mile and five-eighths splits were both faster than the Sunday bullet moves at those distances, respectively :47.80 and :59.20.
“He worked super, he’s special,” the Hall of Famer added. “Glad we got in today. The weather has been a little iffy.
“If all is perfect, we’ll have two more works here before we go to Gulfstream.”
Plans call for Gun Runner to fly out January 18. After the Eclipse Awards gala on January 25, and the Pegasus, the newly turned five-year-old will enter stud at co-owner Three Chimneys Farm near Midway, Kentucky.
Also at Fair Grounds Sunday, Pegasus rival Seeking the Soul negotiated four furlongs in :48 for Dallas Stewart. The recent Clark H. (G1) hero tied for the fourth-best time of 93 at the distance.
“Very good. Sharp. Looked good,” Stewart said. “Came back great. Galloped out in a minute and change, so I feel good about it. I just wanted him to be sharp. He’s been galloping sharp and I figured the work would be sharp. He’s getting ‘there’ and I’m very happy with him.”
Seeking the Soul is scheduled to ship in the middle of Pegasus week, January 24. Hall of Famer John Velazquez, who rode him to his breakthrough in the Clark, has the return call.
In other New Year’s Eve works for the Pegasus:
Champion Stellar Wind, last seen trailing in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), toured a half-mile in :48.90 over a fast track at her new base of Palm Meadows. Sold to Coolmore for $6 million at Keeneland November, the Curlin mare is now with Chad Brown.
At Gulfstream Park West, trainer Jorge Navarro sent out his Pegasus hopefuls Sharp Azteca (who’ll need to strike a deal with a stakeholder to get a slot in the starting gate) and War Story (already with his slot).
Sharp Azteca, in his first work back since his romp in the Cigar Mile (G1), sped five panels in :59.00 – easily the best of a quartet on the day.
“After this video (of the work), I think somebody’s going to jump on this horse,” Navarro said.
“Yes, it was fast, but he has come out of the race so good I can’t be mad at the workout. He did it easy. The kid was just sitting on him. That’s the way he’s training. He wants to do something.”
Navarro has an alternative plan in case Sharp Azteca doesn’t land a Pegasus berth – the one-mile Fred Hooper (G3) on the Pegasus undercard. That would serve as a stepping stone to his next objective, the Godolphin Mile (G2) on Dubai World Cup night, in which he was third last year.
“We have a prep at the end of the month if we don’t decide to go to the Pegasus,” he said. “We’re sitting on the mile from last year and we’re sitting on the (Pegasus). We’ve got good plans for the horse.”
Brooklyn Invitational (G2) hero War Story, coming off a fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), covered the same ground in 1:01.20.
“This is what you’re going to see in the morning from him,” Navarro said. “He goes out there and does his job. He’s a professional. He knows what he’s doing.”
Navaro believes that War Story can do better than his fifth behind Arrogate in the inaugural Pegasus last January.
“When I had him for the Pegasus last year I only had him for four weeks,” the trainer said. “I got a phone call and I had to get him ready for that race. Eddie Nunez was getting on him to work him. This year, Nunez said he is a different horse.
“When he came to my barn he was a bad child. He was mean, wanted to kick. I met the racing manager at the Breeders’ Cup and he asked my wife, ‘What has your husband done to this horse? He’s a sweetheart now.’ It’s just keeping him happy with these kinds of workouts. He knows what he’s doing already.”
War Story has also been mentioned as a possible candidate for Dubai World Cup night.