(Gun Runner at work / Photo Courtesy of the Fair Grounds & Hodges Photography)
I was sitting at the sports bar at Tampa Bay Downs today when the video from the Fair Grounds suddenly clicked away from studio host John G. Dooley and his sidekick (and my good friend), Joe Kristufek, to catch the great Gun Runner getting ready to work over the main track and in front of the racing fans collected for the day’s races.
It didn’t take long to see why the son of Candy Ride has become the world’s best racehorse.
It didn’t take long to see what the colt can do when he sets his mind and his legs to it.
It didn’t take long to see why Three Chimney’s Farm, which will become the colt’s new stallion home as soon as he finishes off the rest of his competition over at Gulfstream Park in his last race, is so thrilled to have this guy join its’ stallion roster.
Wow. That was a wow performance.
Here is what Ryan Martin, from the news staff at the Fair Grounds had to write:
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen’s emotions following Horse of the Year finalist Gun Runner’s last work over the Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots main track on the afternoon of Sunday, Jan. 14 can best be described in one word: appreciative.
Appreciative of Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic winner’s stellar career, appreciative of his ability to do things so easily and appreciative of the track’s condition for Gun Runner’s final work over a surface that he has familiarized himself since the beginning of his 3-year-old campaign.
Fair Grounds racing officials reserved the racetrack for Gun Runner just shortly after noon. He stepped onto the racetrack under sunny skies with regular rider Florent Geroux in the irons and work mate Gettysburg alongside. The move was a six furlong breeze in 1:11.00 and clockers caught Gun Runner in eighth-mile fractions of 12.60, 24.40, 36.20, 48.20, 59.40 before galloping out seven furlongs in 1:23.80 and one mile in 1:37.00.
“He’s an amazing horse and I thought that he went beautiful today,” Asmussen said. “I’m very appreciative of (Track Superintendent) Pedro (Zavala) and (Senior Director of Racing) Jason (Boulet). The racetrack was in just pristine, perfect condition for a work that we felt was this important.”
Asmussen has conditioned Gun Runner throughout a career that has seen five Grade I victories. He rounded out his 3-year-old campaign with a win the Gr. I Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs in Nov. 2016 and the next year returned to the Louisville oval for his second Grade I win in the Stephen Foster Handicap. He added two more Grade I wins at Saratoga to his resume in the Whitney Handicap and Woodward Stakes and then shipped to the west coast to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar, a triumph that likely locked up his Horse of the Year honors.
Once Gun Runner’s 4-year-old campaign concluded, and he shipped to the New Orleans oval to prepare for his swan song in the Pegasus World Cup, it really began to hit the Hall of Fame conditioner that the fantastic journey that Gun runner has taken him and the rest of the barn on will soon come to an end.
“I have (felt emotional) all winter,” Asmussen said. “I just want to focus on the positives and be appreciative of the horse and all that he has done for us. He’s so special to himself and to all of us that have been lucky enough to have been around him. He is capable of doing things that we are not able to do for ourselves. It’s amazing how a horse can make you feel.”
Gun Runner isn’t the first horse to make Asmussen feel that way. Just a decade ago, eventual Hall of Famer Curlin did the same thing for Asmussen having won Horse of the Year honors two consecutive years in 2007-08 and became the first North American Thoroughbred to break $10 million in career earnings.
“The only similarity (between Curlin and Gun Runner) is the uniqueness and just how strong they are mentally to themselves,” Asmussen said.
Gun Runner will breeze once more for the Pegasus World Cup, but it will take place at Gulfstream Park in preparation for the lucrative event. He is scheduled to fly out to Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, Jan. 18.
In other news at the Fair Grounds:
LECOMTE WINNER INSTILLED REGARD EXITS LECOMTE VICTORY IN GOOD ORDER; NEXT START TO BE DETERMINED
OXO Equine LLC’s Instilled Regard exited his triumph in the Lecomte Stakes in fantastic fashion according to Christina Jelm, the assistant for Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
“I would say he came out better than he did going in,” Jelm said. “He was not tired at all and it was as if he went out for a regular morning gallop. He wouldn’t have blown out a candle after the race. He wasn’t breathing hard and he kind of wanted to go around there again. He took to the track very well.”
A next start has yet to be determined for the son of Arch, but Jelm said that Hollendorfer and owner Larry Best would put their heads together to find the right spot.
“(Owner Larry Best) educates himself to the extreme and he really does his research,” Jelm said. “After this the I think he’ll come up with some ideas and then Jerry will have some ideas since he has done this for a while, but they will come up with a plan for the next step moving forward.
It’s apparent that the horse gets over this surface well and it didn’t take anything out of him. If anything, it put a lot more into him. It put a lot more confidence into him and took his fitness level to a higher level. He’s a very professional horse and very classy.”
Instilled Regard was a lucrative $1.05 million purchase at the 2017 Ocala Breeders’ Sale in March 2017.
“Physically he is exactly that,” Jelm said. “He is unbelievable able physically and his pedigree is dreamy.”
Following his victory in the Lecomte, Instilled Regard currently sits at No. 6 on the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard with 14 points. The next of the local preps on Churchill Downs’ Road to The Kentucky Derby is the Gr. II $400,000 Risen Star Stakes which awards the Top 4 finishers qualifying points on a 50-20-10-5 scale.
Meanwhile, Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen discussed future plans for his trio of runners Principe Guilherme, Snapper Sinclair, and Zing Zangwho ran a respective second, third and fourth in the Lecomte.
“I’m really happy with how all of them came back,” Asmussen said. “Obviously I’ll see how they go back to the racetrack and go from there. They ran well without the perfect outcome but they ran solid and are still in the mix. They’ll all go back to the track here, whether they all go back in the Risen Star or find other places have yet to be determined.”
The Lecomte was the first try on dirt for Snapper Sinclair since a well-beaten sixth in his career debut at Saratoga. Asmussen switched surfaced with the horse and two starts later won the Fasig-Tipton Turf Showcase Juvenile Stakes at Kentucky Downs in September.
“(Snapper Sinclair) is a talented horse and he is a quality City Zip which leads towards versatility,” Asmussen said. “We are anxious for the races to go further (with Zing Zang).”
Fern Circle Stables’ Stronger Than Ever emerged from her 33-1 shocker in the Silverbulletday in fine form as well
“She’s fine,” said Greg Geier, assistant to trainer Kenny McPeek. “She ate up everything, walked the shed row well so everything is good with her.”
Geier was unsure where she would run next but stated that the Gr. II $200,000 Rachel Alexandra Stakes on Feb. 17 (50-20-10-5) would be “the next logical step”.
Should the daughter of Congrats opt for the next local prep on Churchill Downs’ Road To The Kentucky Oaks she could possibly face the favorite and runner-up finisher of the Silverbulletday, Wonder Gadot, according to trainer Mark Casse’s assistant David Carroll.
“She ran a very gallant race and closed on a fast pace,” Carroll said. “She just didn’t have enough to hold on but she came out of the race very well and we are very happy with her. Hopefully we can move on to the Rachel Alexandra.”
Casse also started Grade I winner Heavenly Love, who finished fifth.
“She came out of the race well also,” Carroll said of Heavenly Love. “She came out of the race at a crucial time. In hindsight she ran no race in the Breeders’ Cup (Juvenile Fillies, 11th) so basically this is her first run since the (Grade I) Alcibiades you could say. I think she got a little but tired at the end. Most importantly, she cleaned up her feed and she was sound this morning so (owner) Mrs. (Debby) Oxley and Mark will determine what direction to go in next. Most importantly, she came out of the race well.”
Stronger Than Ever sits at No. 11 on the Oaks Leaderboard with 10 points while Wonder Gadot boasts 14 points and is No. 2. She previously earned 10 points from her victory in the Gr. II Demoiselle at Aqueduct. Heavenly Love did not acquire any points in the Silverbulletday, but earned 10 from her Darley Alcibiades victory in October and sits at No. 6 on the Leaderboard.
Third-place finisher of the Silverbulletday, Missive also is probable for the Rachel Alexandra, according to trainer Mike Stidham who stated that at some point further down the road she could see racing action on turf. Her dam, Bedanken was a three-time graded stakes winner on grass and also won Oaklawn Park’s Gr. III Honeybee Stakes on dirt as a 3-year-old.
“We had in the back of our mind that we wanted to get her on the grass,” Stidham said. “But first time out she ran well enough on the dirt to where we figured that she’s showing she can run on the dirt and certainly dirt options open up a lot more doors than turf. That’s why we’ve stuck with the dirt and getting a stakes placing on her was huge with that pedigree, that was a big step forward. Down the road, we’ll definitely go to the grass but there really isn’t much of a three-year-old turf program here. As long as she’s doing well, we’ll probably come back in the (Rachel Alexandra).”
Stidham then briefly spoke of recent Fair Grounds allowance winner Supreme Aura and stated that he is still under consideration for the Risen Star, but will also nominate for the Gr. III $500,000 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Feb. 19 (50-20-10-5).
STIDHAM HAS GRADE II NEW ORLEANS HANDICAP IN MIND FOR ULTRA-CONSISTENT CEDARTOWN
Following a victory in the Louisiana Stakes on Saturday evening, Stidham has his eyes set on the Gr. II $400,000 New Orleans Handicap for Godolphin LLC’s Cedartown, who has never been worse than second in seven career starts.
The son of Candy Ride (Arg.) and half-brother to three-time graded stakes winner Danzing Candy previously won the Zia Park Derby in New Mexico prior to Saturday’s win. The next graded stakes event for older males on the main track is the Gr. III $150,000 Mineshaft Handicap on Feb. 17. Stidham did not completely rule out a start in said race.
“He had plenty of time between Zia and this one and seemed to do well,” Stidham said. “Our goal is the New Orleans Handicap and if we feel like skipping the Mineshaft is going to be a benefit to get us to that race then we’ll do it.”