Gun Runner capped off an almost perfect year by winning the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic as the Breeders’ Cup World Championships wrapped up at Del Mar, which hosted the two-day series of races for the first time.
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A crowd of 37,692 people watched as the 4-year-old chestnut colt won by 2 1/4 lengths over a pair of Bob Baffert-trained horses, Pacific Classic winner Collected, who finished 2 1/4 lengths behind in second, and Travers winner West Coast, who finished another 1 1/4 lengths back in third.
The 56-1 longshot War Story came in fourth, with the bettors’ 2-1 favorite and last year’s defending Breeders’ Cup Classic champion, Arrogate, in a dead heat for fifth with Fountain of Youth winner Gunnevera, who went off at 15-1.
Gun Runner came into the race with four wins in five starts, with his only loss this year coming to Arrogate in the $10 million Dubai World Cup in March. The victory brings his career record to six wins, four seconds and a third in 13 starts.
Arrogate has not won since he returned from Dubai, finishing fourth in the San Diego Handicap in July and second in the Pacific Classic to his stablemate, Collected.
Gun Runner’s trainer, Steve Asmussen, said earlier this week that he marveled at the colt’s self-confidence and inner fortitude and that he thinks the colt is now better than he’s ever been.
“The year that this horse has put together is a little hard to top,” he told reporters shortly after the race.
Gun Runner has been ranked the No. 1 horse in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s Top Thoroughbred Poll for weeks, and Asmussen was confident in the way he had trained up to the race.
“Letting him be who he is put him on this stage and made him, undoubtedly, the Horse of the Year,” said Asmussen, who had previously trained Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame member Rachel Alexandra and 2007 Breeders Cup Classic winner Curlin, who were each named Horse of the Year.
Gun Runner — who went off as the second choice at just over 2-1 — paid $6.80 to win, $4.40 to place and $3.20 to show. He completed the 1 1/4-mile race in 2:01:29 with jockey Florent Geroux aboard
The 11-horse field also included the Irish-bred Churchill, who came in seventh in his first start in the United States for trainer Aidan O’Brien; Baffert’s fourth starter, Awesome Again winner Mubtaahij, in eighth, European shipper War Decree in ninth, Smarty Jones winner Pavel in 10th and Win the Space in last.
Local trainer Peter Miller — who had wins in two Breeders’ Cup races — called it an “unbelievable day” and a “dream come true.” His first winner was Stormy Liberal, who won the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at odds of just over 30-1. Another of Miller’s trainees, Richard’s Boy, finished a head back in second in that race, while the betting favorite, Lady Aurelia, finished a disappointing 10th in the field of 12.
“To run one-two here for my first Breeders’ Cup and here at home, I live 10 minutes away in Encinitas, is special,” the trainer said after the Turf Sprint. Miller noted that he felt his horses “needed the home-court advantage, which I think we had.”
Two hours later, Miller was back in the winners’ circle with Roy H, who won the $1.5 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint as the second choice. It was Roy H’s fifth win in six starts this year after a winless campaign in 2016. Imperial Hint finished second, with Mind Your Biscuits in third.
Last year’s defending champion, Drefong, went off favored, but came in sixth.
Another local trainer, San Diego County native Mick Ruis, owns and conditions Bolt d’Oro, who finished third as the 3-5 favorite in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile after three consecutive wins.
Good Magic — who went off at 11-1 and finished second in his first two starts — won the Juvenile for trainer Chad Brown and owners e5 Racing Thoroughbreds and Stonestreet Stables LLC.
It marked the second Breeders’ Cup win of the weekend for Brown and e5 Racing, with Rushing Fall winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf on Friday. — World Approval was the first Breeders’ Cup favorite on the card to win, finishing 1 1/4 lengths ahead of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Lancaster Bomber in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Mile at odds of just under 3-1. The California-based Blackjackcat finished third.
World Approval’s trainer, Mark Casse, said he realized none of the day’s Breeders’ Cup favorites had won up until that point, noting that he told his son, Norman, “Sooner or later, a favorite’s has to win so let’s hope it’s this time.”
Casse called the 5-year-old gray/roan gelding the “heavyweight” in his bar, saying that they were “saving the best for last.” — The French shipper Talismanic — making his first start in the United States — won the $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf at odds of 14-1. Beach Patrol was in second, with defending champion Highland Reel in third. — Bar of Gold won the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at odds of nearly 67-1, rewarding her supporters with her second win this year in nine starts.
Ami’s Mesa finished second and Carina Mia finished third, both at double- digit odds. Unique Bella, the California-based favorite for the race, finished in seventh. — Longshot Caledonia Road, at odds of just over 17-1, won the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies by 3 1/4 lengths over second- place finisher Alluring Star. Blonde Bomber finished back in third, with the bettors’ favorite, Moonshine Memories, finishing in seventh to end her three- race win streak.
Caledonia Road’s trainer, Ralph Nicks, said he had ridden years ago as an apprentice jockey with Mike Smith, who was aboard the 2-year-old filly for her second win in three starts. — Wuheida, a 3-year-old filly from Great Britain who was sent off at odds of 11-1, got her first victory this year in the $2 million Filly and Mare Turf.
Another filly from Great Britain, Rhododendron finished in second, while Cambodia — who had won her last two starts at Del Mar — was in third. Lady Eli, both the bettors’ choice and the sentimental favorite after a comeback from a potentially life-threatening hoof condition, finished in seventh.
In Friday’s marquee race, Forever Unbridled kept her perfect record this year in tact with a win in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
— City News Service
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