November 19, 2018

Gun Runner, Stellar Wind headline Pegasus preparations; Sharp Azteca joins the field

Gun Runner breezes four furlongs in :51.40 with exercise rider Angel Garcia aboard on December 3, 2017, at Fair Grounds (c) Lou Hodges Jr./Hodges Photography

Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) hopefuls took to the track this weekend, with presumptive 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner and champion Stellar Wind topping the list for the $16 million event on January 27 at Gulfstream Park.

Gun Runner breezed six furlongs in company with Gettysburg on Sunday over Fair Grounds’ fast main track. The Steve Asmussen-trained chestnut started a couple lengths behind his stablemate and clocked splits of :12.20, :24.40, :36.40 and :49.20 before going the last quarter in :24 to record a final time of 1:13.20.

With jockey Florent Geroux aboard, Gun Runner galloped out seven furlongs in 1:25.80 and a mile in 1:39.80 to finish in front of Gettysburg, who was caught in 1:13.60.

“It was a great work,” Geroux said. “He broke a little bit off the pacemaker Gettysburg and (was) nice and relaxed during the first part and breezed strong and galloped out great.

“He feels like he progresses all the time. He’s just stronger and faster and does things so easily. He always breezes like a freight train. He’s a good working horse and takes things so easy. He came back after the breeze and wasn’t even blowing; it just shows how good he really is.”

Gun Runner and Gettysburg also worked together last week, breezing the bullet for three-quarters in 1:10.60.

“They worked head-and-head last week, and this week we chose to back him off Gettysburg early and just let him settle,” Asmussen said. “I thought he handled it really nicely and galloped out really good. It wasn’t as intense of a work as last week, and I feel good about it. He was probably two or three (lengths) off of Gettysburg away from the pole, engaged him probably by the three-eighths pole and Gettysburg carried him to almost the sixteenth pole.”

Gun Runner is scheduled to have one more breeze next Sunday, January 14, at Fair Grounds before shipping to Gulfstream Park for his final Pegasus move.

The Candy Ride five-year-old makes his final career start in the Pegasus, and brings four straight Grade 1 wins into the nine-furlong affair. He finished second in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1) last March before going on to capture the Stephen Foster Handicap (G1), Whitney Stakes (G1), Woodward Stakes (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).

Gun Runner will take up stallion duties at Three Chimneys Farm, which co-owns the Kentucky-bred with Winchell Thoroughbreds.

Also working at Fair Grounds on Sunday for the Pegasus was trainer Dallas Stewart’s Charles Fipke-homebred Seeking the Soul, who breezed five-eighths in 1:03.20 under Emerson Chavez.

The five-year-old son of Perfect Soul clocked a half-mile in :48 last Sunday at the New Orleans venue.

“It was a good work,” Stewart. “He moved forward well from last week. We went easier with him but he looks great. I’m real happy.”

Seeking the Soul closed out 2017 with a half-length triumph in the Clark Handicap (G1) at Churchill Downs under jockey John Velazquez, who is slated to ride in the Pegasus.

The Kentucky-bred bay is scheduled for two more works before shipping to Gulfstream Park.

“That’s pretty much what we’ve been doing,” Stewart said. “I’m happy with him here. We’ll go down there and be ready to rock and roll. This is a freaking nice race. Maybe Gun Runner is in a class by himself right now. But when you get down to it, it’s a horse race. He’s got to go around there and run.”

Six-time Grade 1 queen Stellar Wind readied for the Pegasus, and her first start against males, at Palm Meadows Training Center on Sunday for new trainer Chad Brown.

The newly turned six-year-old mare was caught in 1:01.50 breezing five furlongs in company with Grade 3 victor Shagaf over the fast dirt. She traveled a half-mile in :48.90 last Sunday at Palm Meadows.

“She worked terrific. She worked with Shagaf, a horse who’s on the comeback trail and who’s a nice horse, and I thought she did really well,” Brown said. “She particularly galloped out super. So, right now we’re on target for the Pegasus.

“We’re just going to keep moving forward,” he added. “She had a serious work today and she’ll probably have a similar work next week to be sure we know where we’re at with her. So far I like what I see.”

Stellar Wind recorded three straight Grade 1 victories in 2017 before closing out the year with a subpar eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) on November 3. The chestnut daughter of Curlin passed through the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale and was purchased by Coolmore for $6 million as a broodmare.

However, plans changed and the operation put her back in training, but with Brown instead of former conditioner John Sadler.

One of Stellar Wind’s new workmates is Mask, who romped by 6 1/4 lengths in Saturday’s Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream.

“They worked together a couple of times. I thought they would be a good matchup,” Brown said. “They both got a lot out of it and, as you saw, Mask got a lot out of those works. Hopefully she does as well.”

The Daily Racing Form’s Mike Welsch reported Sunday that Loooch Racing Stables’ Ron Paolucci has completed a deal to lease Sharp Azteca from owner Ivan Rodriguez for the Pegasus World Cup.

“I just completed details on a deal with Sharp Azteca’s owner Ivan Rodriguez to lease the horse on a one race basis to run in my spot,” Paolucci told the DRF.  “My partners and I have already leased War Story to run in one of Frank Stronach’s spots in the race.”

Paolucci expects Rodriguez to sign off on the deal Monday.

Sharp Azteca just missed by a half-length in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Del Mar in early November and closed out his four-year-old campaign with a 5 1/4-length romp under Javier Castellano in the Cigar Mile Handicap (G1) at Aqueduct on December 2.

He, along with the Loooch Racing co-owned War Story, are trained by Jorge Navarro, and the pair each worked Sunday at Gulfstream Park West.

Sharp Azteca breezed five furlongs in 1:00.20 with Castellano aboard and galloped out strongly. Grade 2-scoring six-year-old War Story, who has finished fourth behind Gun Runner in his past three including the Breeders’ Cup Classic, completed five-eighths in 1:03.40.

“It looked like to me (Sharp Azteca) got stronger as he went. Javier was trying to pull him up a little on the backside and he wanted to keep going,” Paolucci said. “It’s a great sign if you’re going a mile and an eighth.”

On Saturday, Grade 2-winning millionaire Gunnevera breezed a bullet five furlongs in 1:00 over the fast main track at Gulfstream Park West in company with Contormar.

The Dialed In four-year-old had jockey Luis Saez aboard for the first time during the move and trainer Antonio Sano has tabbed that rider to take over from Edgard Zayas for the Pegasus.

“He worked pretty nice. He’s a very nice horse. He’s doing perfect,” Saez said. “He switched leads and did everything very good, so I think he’s ready for the race.

“I’ve seen him all the time when he’s been running and I know how he likes to run, so we’ll see what happens. It’s exciting.”

“He galloped out in 1:14 and a fraction. The jockey, Saez, liked the horse very well,” Sano said. “It was a very good work.”

In other Pegasus World Cup news, trainer Mark Casse said Saturday that Canadian Grade 3 winner Leavem in Malibu is under consideration for the race.

A decision will come on the Canadian classic-placed four-year-old’s participation following a breeze Monday at Palm Meadows.

“There’s a good possibility that we’ll have him in the Pegasus,” Casse told the DRF. “We’re looking to close a deal.”

Leavem in Malibu, an Ontario-bred son of Malibu Moon, last breezed a half-mile in :48.60 at the Casse Training Center on December 27.

There are now 10 entrants for the Pegasus: Collected, Giant Expectations, Gun Runner, Gunnevera, Seeking the Soul, Sharp Azteca, Stellar Wind, Toast of New York, War Story and West Coast. Other horses under consideration include Fear the Cowboy, Game Over and Giuseppe the Great.

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