Nov. 4 (UPI) -- Gun Runner did all the running in Saturday's $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic, leading from the start, gunning down 10 rivals and capping a remarkable year with a decisive victory.
Collected and West Coast, both trained by Bob Baffert, finished second and third in the biggest race of the Breeders' Cup World Championships at Del Mar, north of San Diego. But Baffert's defending champion, Arrogate, broke slowly from the inside gate and never reached contention, finishing in a dead heat for fifth as a narrow favorite over Gun Runner.
Neither of two Irish runners, Churchill and War Decree, was involved at the end of the 1 1/4-miles race as Gun Runner led at a good clip before finishing in 2:01.29.
I can't tell you how proud I am of Gun Runner," said winning trainer Steve Asmussen. "What a stage to show he's the best."
"He's just a beast," added winning rider Florent Geroux.
Gun Runner started his season trapped at Fair Grounds in New Orleans because of a barn quarantine. That forced him to miss the $10 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park in January, which Arrogate won. The two finally met in the Dubai World Cup, where Arrogate missed the break badly, then passed them all to win going away with Gun Runner second.
After that, things went different ways. Gun Runner, a 4-year-old colt by Candy Ride, returned to the United States and, after a short rest, reeled off three consecutive Grade I victories, all by big margins. Arrogate did not win another race, finishing second twice at Del Mar before the Classic.
"The year that this horse has put together is hard to top," Asmussen said, predicting the outcome of the Classic "made him undoubtedly the Horse of the Year."
Before the Classic, Asmussen discussed the possibility of giving Gun Runner at crack at the 2018 Pegasus. After the race, neither he nor the owners would make a commitment. "I'm looking forward to the party right now," Asmussen said with a laugh.
Arrogate will retire to stud duty. Baffert said he cannot blame Arrogate's decline "totally on the track. But he's so much better ... He's one of the greatest horses I've ever trained. It's disappointing to see him go out like that."
The Classic was the highlight of a day whose dirt races saw some surprising candidates emerge for next year's Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks.
Roy H edged clear of a stretch duel with Imperial Hint and ran on to win the $1.5 million TwinSpires Breeders' Cup Sprint by 1 length. Imperial Hint held on for second, 2 lengths in front of Mind Your Biscuits. Defending champion Drefong joined the crowded ranks of the day's defeated favorites, finishing sixth.
Roy H, with Kent Desormeaux riding for trainer Peter Miller, covered 6 furlongs on the fast main strip in 1:08.61. The 5-year-old More Than Ready gelding gave Miller and his part-owner, Rockingham Ranch, a sweep of the day's Breeders' Cup dirt sprints, following Bar of Gold's 66-1 upset win in the Filly & Mare Sprint (see below).
Roy H, running exclusively in California, worked his way up from the optional claiming ranks to win the Grade I Santa Anita Sprint Championship in his previous start. He now is 5-for-6 for the year and 6-for-17 for his career, showing marked improvement this season.
"I feel like Chad Brown. I feel like Bob Baffert, one of those guys," Miller said, referring to some of the top trainers on the racing scene. "You never think you're going to win a Breeders' Cup race. The horses are too good. But anyone who asked, I'd say, 'My horses are all live. Use them all.'"
"These two rascals at my side (the owners) want to take him to Hong Kong," Miller said, referring to the US$4 million Longines Hong Kong Sprint Dec. 10. "I'm trying to convince them he's not a machine. We'll see."
Filly & Mare Sprint
In a day marked by some massive upsets, Bar of Gold provided the biggest in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. As the even-money favorite, Unique Bella, coughed up the lead at the top of the lane, it was Bar of Gold who came running outside fellow long shot Ami's Mesa to score by nose from that rival. Bar of Gold paid $135.40 for a $2 win ticket. Carina Mia finished third, completing a trifecta that returned $6,926.75 for a 50-cents investment. Unique Bella faded to get home seventh.
Bar of Gold, a 5-year-old mare by Medaglia d'Oro, scored only her second win of the year, following a restricted stakes at Saratoga at 1 1/16 mile. She was sixth in her last start at Keeneland over a sloppy track and finished Saturday's race in 1:22.63 with Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard for trainer John Kimmel.
"These were the instructions to Irad in the paddock: 'You're on your own,'" Kimmel said. "I had no idea how this race would unfold because there was so much speed ... We were starting to run out of vocal cords by the time she hit the eighth pole."
Good Magic, a runner-up in his two previous starts, kicked away from the field in the stretch run of the $2 million Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile, winning off by a confident 4 1/4 lengths. Solomini, who seized the lead on the turn, had no answer to Good Magic's run but held on for second, 1 length in front of the favorite, Bolt d'Oro, who could not overcome a wide post position and slow start.
Good Magic, a Curlin colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.34 with Jose Ortiz up for trainer Chad Brown. As with any Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner, the colt by default becomes an early favorite for the 2018 Kentucky Derby.
In his first start, in August at Saratoga, Good Magic finished 1 length behind Hazit. Idle until Oct. 7, he was second behind Firenze Fire in the Grade I Champagne at Belmont Park. Hazit and Firenze Fire finished well up the track in the Juvenile.
"He almost won his last race, a Grade I," said Barbara Banks of Stonestreet Farms, part owner of the winner. "He'll get a little refresh at Stonestreet," Banke said. Asked about Derby favoritism, she said, "Yahoo!"
Caledonia Road, under Mike Smith, came powering down the stretch in the $2 million 14 Hands Winery Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, breezed by Alluring Star and drew off to win by 3 1/4 lengths over that rival in a race that often previews Kentucky Oaks contenders and future champions. Blonde Bomber was third. Caledonia Road, a Florida-bred filly by Quality Road, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.05. She won at first asking at Saratoga for trainer Ralph Nicks, then finished second in the Grade I Frizette at Belmont Park in her only other previous start.
Nicks, who picked up his first Breeders' Cup victory, said the outside, No. 12 post position wasn't ideal and noted jockey Mike Smith wasn't able to get over toward the rail in the first turn. "She just stayed, put her run in and was much the best ... In the middle of the (stretch) turn, I could tell the front-runners were being hard pressed at the time and if she could just maintain her momentum, she'll get there," the trainer said.
"I don't know what the ceiling is," Nicks said, noting the winner of this race is "usually the favorite for the 3-year-old championship and the Kentucky Oaks. We'll just hope everything keeps going okay."