It’s the world’s richest race and America’s top horse is the one to beat. Gun Runner will make his final career start in Saturday’s $16 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) at Gulfstream Park and the mighty chestnut has been installed as the 4-5 morning line favorite among 12 contestants.
Owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm, Gun Runner stretched his Grade 1-winning streak to four recording a smashing victory in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Del Mar on November 4. He’s registered massive BRIS Speed ratings of 113 and 114 in the last two outings and will break from post 10 with regular rider Florent Geroux.
After placing in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and two other Grade 1 events in 2016, the son of Candy Ride really blossomed at age 4 for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. He rolled to convincing wins in five of six starts last season, the lone setback a respectable second to Arrogate in March’s Dubai World Cup (G1), and boosted his career earnings to nearly $9 million.
Gun Runner has won his last four starts at the 1 1/8-mile Pegasus distance by a combined 25 lengths. He captured the Classic wire to wire but has proven tractable in previous starts. And given the speed to his inside in the starting gate, Gun Runner figures to be sitting just off the leader during the early stages Saturday.
Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up Collected and Grade 1-winning miler Sharp Azteca come next on the morning line at 6-1.
Collected is one of two entered for Hall of Fame conditioner Bob Baffert, who captured last year’s inaugural Pegasus with Arrogate. A five-time graded stakes winner, Collected posted his biggest victory when taking the $1 million Pacific Classic (G1) wire to wire in his final Breeders’ Cup tune-up but the 5-year-old son of City Zip will be attempting to rebound from a disappointing third as the 1-5 favorite in the December 26 San Antonio.
And considering Collected has dropped his last two starts when not making the early lead, the 5-year-old figures to be sent from post 5. Mike Smith will be up on the possible pacesetter.
Sharp Azteca possesses plenty of quickness, generating triple-digit BRIS E1 Pace numbers winning one-turn stakes, but the 5-year-old showed nice versatility rating in third before drawing away to an outstanding 5 ¼-length tally in the December 2 Cigar Mile (G1) at Aqueduct. He netted a 114 BRIS Speed rating last time and while the son of Freud may not be determined to make the front from post 4, Sharp Azteca won’t be too far back during the opening stages with new rider Irad Ortiz Jr.
The Jorge Navarro pupil will be making his first start at 1 1/8 miles but Sharp Azteca has performed admirably in previous two-turn events, winning the 1 1/16-mile Monmouth Cup (G3) by 7 ¼ lengths last summer and finishing a close second in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Del Mar from a disadvantageous inside post.
West Coast also hails from the Baffert shedrow and could be poised for a terrific 4-year-old campaign after ending last year on a strong note, recording decisive wins in the Travers (G1) and Pennsylvania Derby (G1) and a third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The stalker appears primed to receive the right set-up behind a hot and/or contested pace and Javier Castellano sticks with the Flatter colt over Sharp Azteca.
Listed as 8-1 fourth choice, West Coast appears well-drawn in post 2.
Gunnevera rallied belatedly to dead-heat for fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and should appreciate returning to his South Florida base. The Antonio Sano trainee recorded a pair of stakes wins at Gulfstream last year, including the Fountain of Youth (G1), and also placed in the Florida Derby (G1) and Holy Bull (G2). Gulfstream’s leading rider, Luis Saez, takes over the reins on the confirmed closer and Gunnevera is an early 15-1.
Toast of New York certainly represents an intriguing storyline. A nose second in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic, the English-based horse returned from a three-year absence to win going away in a December 6 allowance event on Lingfield’s synthetic track. He’s shipped overseas for Jamie Osbourne and Frankie Dettori will be along for the ride.
Seeking the Soul has won two straight for Dallas Stewart, including his first graded success in the November 24 Clark (G1) at Churchill Downs, and John Velazquez retains the mount. Stellar Wind will make her first start for new connections after being purchased for $6 million at the Keeneland November sale. Now trained by Chad Brown, the 6-year-old mare has win 10-of-16 career starts and was named champion 3-year-old filly in 2015. Joel Rosario gets the call.
Completing the main body of the field are San Antonio upsetter Giant Expectations; multiple Grade 3 scorer Fear the Cowboy; Grade 2 winner War Story, who finished fifth in the 2017 Pegasus; and Grade 2-placed Singing Bullet.
A pair of also-eligibles, Game Over and Giuseppe the Great, are on stand-by in case of any defections.