by Ryan Martin, Fair Grounds Race Course
Making a quick transition from one career to another is not an easy thing to do, but for 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner, it was nothing more difficult than anything he had accomplished in the past.
It’s been one whole year since Ron Winchell’s champion and six-time Grade 1 winner made his swan song with a victory in the Pegasus World Cup (G1), which is set to be run for the third time on Saturday. Since then, he’s acclimated exceptionally well to his new career as a stallion at Three Chimney’s Farm in Versailles, Ky., where he stands for a stud fee of $70,000.
“He’s acclimated well and quickly,” said Three Chimneys Farm’s Chief Operating Officer Chris Baker. “He’s probably put on 140 to 150 pounds since he’s been out of training. Just like in everything else he does, he figured out pretty quickly what was expected of him.”
What Gun Runner did in his racing career reached heights that most Thoroughbreds couldn’t come close to touching, but it was not until the very end of his sophomore campaign where he finally captured his first Grade 1 event with a victory in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs. Following the race, his Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen stated that he was confident that it would not be his last Grade 1 victory.
He was right. As a four-year-old, Gun Runner went on to take the Stephen Foster Handicap, Whitney Handicap, Woodward Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic, all Grade 1 races, before a last hurrah in the Pegasus World Cup.
The addition of the prestigious $9 million event at Gulfstream Park has changed the game in terms of how top quality older dirt horses are campaigned. As opposed to retiring following the Breeders’ Cup, remaining in training until the end of January now becomes a legitimate option.
“Historically, most stallion prospects run their last race in the Breeders’ Cup or Thanksgiving weekend and had a period of 60-90 days to transition,” Baker said. “With the addition of the Pegasus, you’ve got California Chrome who ran in it the first year, Gun Runner won it the second year. After the race, they had only two weeks to breed to a larger book of mares.
“To transition from a Grade 1-winning athlete to breeding stallion in two weeks is not a lot of time. What was exceptional about him was how quickly he adapted, took to it, and did it well. It just says so much about him. Being able to do it without missing a beat, he learned the breeding line of work very quickly. In conversations with Steve and (assistant trainer) Scott (Blasi), they said that if you show him anything once, he’s got it down.
“If you’re sound and you’re doing well in training, then there are 9 million reasons to run one more time,” Baker continued. “Either way it’s too big of a pile of money to pass up for a horse that’s fit and sound. Before, what was there to wait for? Its position on the calendar forces horsemen to make racing one more time an option.
“The progression was great to watch as he developed as a race horse,” Baker said. “Steve and Scott managed him so well. He gets here, he’s filled out and looks like most stallions do. Putting on 100-150 pound is normal. He looks great with the weight on him and he loves his routine. He does still like to take his naps in the middle of the day every day. Last year with 171 mares he was breeding four times a day a lot of days. When you do it days, weeks, months on end, it’s a bit of a job.”
In addition to his unbelievable race record, Gun Runner also boasts a very rich pedigree. He is by Candy Ride (Arg) and is out of graded stakes winner Quiet Giant, whose dam Quiet Dance produced 2005 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and Horse of the Year Saint Liam, as well as Grade 1 turf winner Funtastic.
“The pedigree is still very much alive,” Baker said. “Gun Runner’s dam produces a Breeders’ Cup Classic-winning Horse of the Year and his granddam did the same, with Saint Liam. There are no back-to-back generations that have done that before.”
Gun Runner has checked all the boxes in just about every department overall. Racing, pedigree and conformation. Will he do the same in the “proven North American sire” department? Only time will tell.