Gun Runner went out in a blaze of glory in the $16 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park in the highlight of weekend racing while a pair of Group 1 races in Hong Kong turned up a candidate for Dubai and a 3-year-old filly won the Sun Met in South Africa.
There were some gentle hints about the Kentucky Derby and Oaks, now barely more than three months away. Gulfstream Park, Sam Houston, Laurel Park, Oaklawn and Santa Anita all had important stakes.
But it was all about Gun Runner, so we start with:
The Flying Horse
When the bell rang for Saturday's $16 million Grade I Pegasus World Cup, jockey Florent Geroux gunned Gun Runner right toward the front from his dreaded outside gate and, for all intents and purposes, the race was over. After racing second behind Collected while under a snug hold, Gun Runner surged to the lead on the stretch turn and drew off to win by 2 1/2 lengths.
West Coast, who was third behind Gun Runner and Collected in the Breeders' Cup Classic last fall, closed right behind Gun Runner but could never threaten him and finished second. It was more than 10 lengths back to Gunnevera in third. Collected, who was second in the Breeders' Cup, faded to finish seventh in the Pegasus -- his second straight disappointing start.
The race was the last of Gun Runner's racing career as he heads off to breeding duties at Three Chimneys Farm near Versailles, Ky. He exits with five straight wins and seven in his final eight starts. The only loss in that skein came in the $10 million Group 1 Dubai World Cup last March -- to Arrogate, who also won last year's Pegasus. Oh, and he was named 2017 Horse of the Year on Thursday night in ceremonies at Gulfstream.
While Gun Runner, a 5-year-old son of Candy Ride, was the most accomplished horse in the field, there were concerns because the No. 10 gate in a 9-furlongs race, thanks to a short run to the turn, had been a virtual kiss of death since Gulfstream Park was rebuilt in 2006.
"We had some concerns about that No. 10 post position," admitted winning owner Ron Winchell. "He got to that first turn and my concerns left."
"We're blessed to be in his presence," said winning trainer Steve Asmussen, who throughout the week had expressed a profound hope that Gun Runner go out a winner.
West Coast, a Flatter colt trained by Bob Baffert, turned in a gutsy performance that puts him at the top of the top of the division going forward. Before the Breeders' Cup, he had won five straight races, including the Grade I Travers and the Grade I Pennsylvania Derby. Last year, Baffert parlayed Arrogate's win in the inaugural Pegasus into a trip to Dubai, where Arrogate also won the $10 million Dubai World Cup. The trainer said Sunday West Coast's owners have not decided on his course for the spring.
Belinda Stronach, president of the Stronach Group, which owns and runs Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita and Laurel Park, said the Pegasus will return to South Florida for a third year in 2019, ending speculation it might move to Santa Anita. She also hinted at some further innovations around the race, potentially including a companion event on the turf.
Kentucky Oaks preps
Midnight Disguise ran by pacesetter Oldfashioned Style turning for home in Thursday's $100,000 Busanda Stakes at Aqueduct and drew off smartly to win by 4 1/4 lengths. Oldfashioned Style held second, 3 3/4 lengths in front of the favorite, Hail. Midnight Disguise, a Midnight Lute filly, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track with Trevor McCarthy up for trainer Linda Rice, earning 10 points toward a potential Kentucky Oaks start. She has three wins from four starts and a second in the East View Stakes in her previous start.
Rice said she's still not sure how far Midnight Disguise's talents might take her. "The distance, whether it's two turns or one turn, will be key," she said. "We're just trying to find what makes the most sense and gives her the most opportunity and let her learn and improve and not try and set the bar too high for her."
Limited View jumped to the lead in the lane in Saturday's $100,000 Marshua Stakes at Laurel Park and held on to win by 3/4 lengths over Last True Love. Enchanted Ghost was third and the favorite, Enrage, was never engaged, finishing well back in fourth. Limited View, a daughter of Freedom Child, finished 6 furlongs in 1:10.99 with Edgar Prado riding. She had won three in a row before a ninth-place finish in the Gin Talking Stakes in her previous start.
Strategic Dreams required some firm handling by jockey Manny Franco in Sunday's $100,000 Ruthless Stakes at Aqueduct. But once straightened out, she ran by the leaders in the lane to win by 3 1/4 lengths as the odds-on favorite. Blushing Justine finished second, a head in front of pacesetting Danyelli. Strategic Dreams, a daughter of Archarcharch, ran 7 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:27.02. It was her third straight win and fourth from five starts.
Blamed was quickly out front in Sunday's $65,000 El Paso Times Stakes at Sunland Park in New Mexico and extended the advantage throughout, winning by 4 1/2 lengths over Laudation. Harking was a neck behind that one in third. Blamed, a Maryland-bred daughter of Blame, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.42 with Ken Tohill up.
Kentucky Derby preps
Still Having Fun took over the lead from the favorite, Wentz, and rolled on to win Saturday's $100,000 Frank Whiteley Jr. Stakes at Laurel Park by 4 1/2 lengths. Wentz held second, 1/2 length to the good of V.I.P. Code. Still Having Fun, an Old Fashioned colt, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.05 under Feargal Lynch. It was only his third start. After winning at first asking in November, he finished second, beaten just a neck, in the Maryland Juvenile Futurity.
It pays to keep an eye on New Mexico where Runaway Ghost ran away with Sunday's $100,000 Riley Allison Stakes at Sunland Park, winning by 7 3/4 lengths. The Kentucky-bred Ghostzapper colt, with Tracy Hebert up, broke sharply, took back and came again when asked. Beautiful Game rallied late to finish second, a neck in front of early leader Fortified Effort. The 1 mile on a fast track went in 1:36.02. Runaway Ghost won the Golden Nugget Stakes over the Golden Gate Fields all-weather course in November, then finished fifth in the Grade I Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity in his 2-year-old finale. He has been based at Sunland Park since mid-December and Sunday's race marked the first start of his 3-year-old campaign.
Florent Geroux added another big paycheck to his weekend earnings Sunday at Sam Houston Race Park in Texas, riding Tiger Moth to a last-to-first upset win in the $400,000 Grade III Houston Ladies Classic. The 6-year-old Street Sense mare was last of eight as the field hit the stretch turn but rallied five-wide and was up in the final strides to win by a neck over the odds-on favorite, Actress. Martini Glass was another 1 length back in third. Tiger Moth finished 1 1/16 miles on a good track in 1:46.01. It was her first start since finishing second in the Grade II Falls City Handicap at Churchill Downs last Nov. 23.
Sunday's $200,000 Grade III John B. Connally Turf Cup at Sam Houston came down to a stretch battle between the odds-on favorite, Bigger Picture, and Some in Tieme, with Bigger Picture prevailing by 1 length. Chicago Style came running late to take third. Bigger Picture, a 7-year-old Badge of Silver gelding, settled in mid-pack under Jose Ortiz, rallied three-wide and struck the lead late in the stretch run. He finished 1 1/2 miles on good turf in 2:31.13. Winner of the Grade I United Nations at Monmouth Park last summer, Bigger Picture was making his return from a 12th-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Turf.
Oscar Nominated returned to the winner's circle after Saturday's $200,000 Grade III W.L. McKnight Handicap at Gulfstream Park for the first time since taking the Grade III Kentucky Turf Cup at Kentucky Downs in September. The 5-year-old Kitten's Joy ridgling, with Jose Ortiz up, was never far from the lead, went to the front in the stretch and survived a scramble in the final yards to win by 1/2 length. Nessy, Bullard's Alley and Gold Shield were right behind and only about 1/2 length apart. Oscar Nominated ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:30.08, scoring his first win since the Grade III Kentucky Cup Turf at Kentucky Downs in September.
Filly & Mare Turf
Texting rallied from well back in Saturday's $200,000 La Prevoyante Handicap, then prevailed in a long stretch battle by 3/4 length over pacesetting Daring Duchess. Taralena was third and the favorite, Apple Betty, faded to finish sixth after contesting a reasonably quick pace. Texting, a 5-year-old Candy Ride mare, finished 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:27.88 over firm turf. Texting, trained by Chad Brown, posted her first win since taking an optional claimer at Belmont Park in September of 2016. "She's a horse who has always been knocking on the door," Brown said. "It maybe took a little time for her to just get the right trip and come around a little bit more. We've obviously thought enough of her to try her in a stake before."
Rainbow Heir was roused five-wide at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $175,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint and kicked away to win by 2 lengths over long shot Oak Bluffs. California invader Richard's Boy looked like the winner early in the stretch run but settled for third. Rainbow Heir, an 8-year-old son of Wildcat Heir, ran 5 furlongs on firm going in 55.47 seconds with Irad Ortiz Jr. up. It was his first start since winning the Turf Sprint Championship at Aqueduct Nov. 25.
Girls Know Best set a pressured pace in Saturday's $175,000 Ladies Turf Sprint at Gulfstream Park and held on to win by 3/4 length. Just Talkin and Cherry Lodge were second and third, a pair of necks behind the winner. The favorite, Blue Bahia, stumbled at the eighth pole while challenging for the lead and was taken up by jockey Paco Lopez but walked off the track under her own steam. Girls Know Best, a 4-year-old filly by Caleb's Posse, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.45 seconds under Javier Castellano, scoring her fourth win from her last five starts while climbing out of the claiming ranks. Trainer Eddie Kenneally, who claimed Girls Know Best for $40,000 last October, commented, "We've claimed some bad horses in the past, but fortunately we got a good one this time."
In Saturday's $125,000 South Beach Stakes for fillies and mares at Gulfstream Park, Stormy Victoria was bumped soundly at the start and got away last of 11. She raced at the back of the field until the turn, when jockey Joel Rosario put the pedal to the metal and the 6-year-old French-bred daughter of Stormy River passed them all, winning by 3/4 length over the favorite, Celestine. I'm Betty G was in the mix until the final yards but finished third. Stormy Victoria ran 7 1/2 furlongs on the green course in 1:29.03.
Hogy, the odds-on favorite, started next-last in Sunday's $75,000 Frontier Utilities Turf Sprint at Sam Houston Race Park, saved ground and then came with a rush under Jose Ortiz to win by 2 1/4 lengths. American Sailor led briefly and held on for second, 2 lengths ahead of Medal of Courage. Hogy, a 9-year-old Offlee Wild gelding, ran 5 furlongs on good turf in 58.20 seconds.
Calculator took the lead in Sunday's $100,000 Clocker's Corner Stakes down the Santa Anita hillside, jumped while crossing the dirt course but held on to win by 1 length over Fly to Mars. Perfectly Majestic finished third. Calculator, a 6-year-old son of In Summation, finished the gravity-aided 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:12.08 under Flavien Prat.
Tommy Macho went to the lead at the quarter pole in Saturday's $175,000 Grade III Fred W. Hooper Stakes and held off Conquest Big E, winning by 3/4 length. Tale of Silence was third in the 1-mile heat, timed in 1:36.10. Luis Saez rode Tommy Macho for trainer Todd Pletcher. While not a frequent winner of late, the 6-year-old son of Macho Uno scored his third win from five starts on the Gulfstream dirt.
Great Stuff blew by the pacesetting duo in the lane to win Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Toboggan Stakes at Aqueduct by 2 1/2 lengths. Vulcan's Forge rallied right behind the winner to finish second with the early leaders, Takaful and Green Gratto fading to finish fourth and sixth, respectively. Great Stuff, a 6-year-old son of Quality Road, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.15 with Dylan Davis up. It was his first stakes win and seventh overall. Davis said while watching the speed duel, "My plan was not to get too far out of it and ride the rail as long as I could. Turning for home, he had a lot of momentum and he just was very determined to get it done."
Afleet Willy was plenty fleet enough to dominate Saturday's $100,000 Native Dancer Stakes at Laurel Park, leading from the start and winning by 5 lengths as the even-money favorite. Bodhisattva was best of the rest, 3 1/4 lengths ahead of John Jones. Afleet Willy, a 5-year-old Wilburn gelding, toured 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.78 with Jomar Torres in the irons.
Edwards Going Left, last seen finishing second in the Grade I Malibu, got away from the competition in the final furlongs of Saturday's $150,000 Donald Valpredo California Cup Sprint for state-breds and won by 6 lengths. B Squared was second, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Tough Sunday. The favorite, Masochistic, retreated throughout, finishing fifth of six. Edwards Going Left, a 4-year-old Midnight Lute gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.47 toting Tyler Baze.
Filly & Mare Sprint/Mile
Saturday's $175,000 Grade III Hurricane Bertie Stakes for fillies and mares was strategically situated right in the middle of some big multi-race wagering sequences. So the sound of tickets being torn up was deafening after Jordan's Henny, at odds of 59-1, got through between rivals in the final yards to win by 3/4 of a length over the favorite, Curlin's Approval. Rich Mommy was third, also at double-digit odds. Jordan's Henny, a 4-year-old daughter of Henny Hughes, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.68 with Tyler Gaffalione in the irons. She probably didn't deserve the long odds after finishing third in her previous start, the Dogwood Stakes at Churchill Downs. She also was second in the Grade II Davona Dale and third in the Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks last year.
Swing and Sway led from gate to wire over a sloppy track in Saturday's $125,000 American Beauty Stakes at Oaklawn Park and kicked away late to win by 7 3/4 lengths. Summer House and Barbary Hall filled out the trifecta with the favorite, Chanteline, reporting fourth. Swing and Sway, a 4-year-old Mclean's Music, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.68. Winning jockey David Cabrera summed it up: "She broke sharp, she liked it on the front end and she finished very well." Swing and Sway also ran well at Oaklawn last spring but her only win since that meeting came at Finger Lakes in the $50,000 Niagara Stakes.
In the Navy Now sailed from last to first to win Saturday's $100,000 Nellie Morse Stakes for fillies and mares at Laurel Park by a neck from Line of Best Fit. Sky Flower was third and the favorite, Julerette, wilted in the final sixteenth, fading from the lead to finish last of seven. In the Navy Now, a 5-year-old Midshipman mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.61 with Julian Pimentel up. She had posted five straight runner-up finishes before winning in her last outing.
In other action:
How About Zero was along late to land Saturday's $150,000 Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf Sprint, finishing 2 1/4 lengths to the good of Barbara Beatrice. The favorite, Miss Sunset, led and faltered, finishing third. How About Zero, a 4-year-old Square Eddie filly, got the hillside turf trip in 1:13.10 on firm going with Mario Gutierrez at the controls.
Heck Yeah ran his record to 2-for-2 with an off-the-pace win in Saturday's $100,000 California Cup Turf Sprint for state-bred 3-year-olds. The Acclamation colt, with Drayden Van Dyke up, got the lead three-wide in the stretch and edged away, winning by 2 1/2 lengths over Psycho Dar. Campaigner was third. Heck Yeah went off a slight favorite after winning his first start at Los Alamitos in December by 5 1/2 lengths.
Rye rallied from the back of the pack to take Saturday's $100,000 Unusual Heat Turf Classic by a head over Camino Del Paraiso and another head over Accountability. Rye, a 5-year-old son of English Channel, ran 9 furlongs on firm going in 1:48.01 with Kent Desormeaux up. Rye and Camino Del Paraiso also finished 1-2 in a 9-furlongs turf race at Golden Gate Fields last October.
Mav Master stalked the pace in Saturday's off-the-turf $50,000 Richard King Turf Stakes for Texas-breds, blew by the leaders and held off Special Praise to win by a neck. P Miller's Clock led much of the way and finished third. Mav Master, a 5-year-old Mizzen Mast gelding, was clocked in 1:54.44 over a sloppy main track with Lindey Wade riding.
Zippit E rallied to the lead on the turn in Saturday's $50,000 Yellow Rose Stakes for Texas-bred fillies and mares, then ran on to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Prada's Bling. The odds-on favorite, Archer City, was another neck back in third. Zippit E, a 5-year-old My Golden Song mare, finished 6 furlongs in the slop in 1:12.27 with Wade at the controls.
Ima Bling sparkled in Saturday's $50,000 Spirit of Texas Stakes for state-breds, cruising over the sloppy track to win by 11 lengths. Witt'sdollarnight was second, a neck to the good of Reflector. Ima Bling, a 5-year-old gelding by Too Much Bling, ran 6 sloppy furlongs in 1:10.26 with Quincy Hamilton riding.
Witt's Town came from last of 10 to win the off-the-turf $50,000 San Jacinto Stakes for fillies and mares by 3 1/4 lengths over Sexy Dance. Dagny completed the trifecta. Witt's Town, a 4-year-old daughter of Drums of Thunder, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:47.89 with Ernesto Valdez-Jiminez in the irons.
Wade rode the first stakes winner on Sunday's card, too, steering 44-1 shot Swift Shock to a 2 1/4-lengths victory in the $50,000 Groovy Stakes for state-bred 3-year-olds. The favorite, Dial Direct, was second, well in front of Gold Label in third. Swift Shock, a My Golden Song gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a good track in 1:12.54.
Red Dress got by pacesetting Howboutthiscowgirl late in Sunday's $50,000 Bara Lass Stakes for state-bred 3-year-old fillies and ran on staunchly to win by 1/2 length over that rival. It was another 2 3/4 lengths back to the odds-on favorite, She's Pretty Lucky, with Florent Geroux taking his first mount since winning the Pegasus World Cup the day before in Florida. Red Dress, a Too Much Bling filly, covered 6 furlongs on the good main track in 1:12.74 with Iram Diego in the irons.
Sully's Dream was in front all the way in Sunday's $50,000 Houston Distaff and won by 1 length over Peru. Susie Bee was third as the favorite. Sully's Dream, a 4-year-old Colonel John filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on good turf in 1:45.80 with David Cabrera up.
On the international front:
Seasons Bloom saved ground in the middle of the pack in Sunday's Group 1 Stewards' Cup, found a way through between the leaders after entering the stretch and edged clear to win by 1/2 length. Fifty Fifty, one of Hong Kong's rising stars, answered his class question with a late rally that nipped former Horse of the Year Werther for second. The 1-mile fixture, despite its lofty status, was a preliminary bout for upcoming events that likely will see significant international competition.
Seasons Bloom, a 5-year-old, Australian-bred gelding, finished fourth in the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Mile in December, trailing Beauty Generation, Western Express and Helene Paragon, all of whom missed the frame in the Stewards' Cup.
Trainer Danny Shum, recovering from broken ribs suffered in a stable accident two weeks ago, celebrated his first Group 1 win since Little Bridge took the King's Stand at Royal Ascot in 2012. Seasons Bloom's win was one of four on the day for Shum, who reflected on his accident and subsequent good fortune: "In Chinese they say, 'If you don't die this time, luck follows you.'"
Shum said Seasons Bloom might try the 2,000-meters Hong Kong Gold Cup next or cut back to the 1,400 meters of the Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup.
In the companion Group 1 Centenary Sprint Cup, D B Pin came with a rush down the middle of the course to win by a neck. The favorite, Mr Stunning, dead-heated with Beat the Clock for second and third. All three are trained by John Size. In their last meeting in the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint Dec. 10, Mr Stunning edged D B Pin by a neck.
"Since I've been on D B Pin's back, John has improved him a lot," said winning rider Olivier Doleuze. "His run in the Sprint in December was very good and today, I was hoping for confirmation. It seems that the horse is still heading the right way."
Size said D B Pin might well use the race as a springboard to the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen on World Cup night, March 31, at Meydan. "We'll see how he goes. He's obviously got the rating to travel now and he's a high-rated sprinter so he's got the figure where he could be competitive," Size said. "That race is on dirt. He's won a race here on the dirt track and we'll certainly consider it."
United Arab Emirates
Promising Run kicked clear of rival Rehana early in the stretch run in Thursday's Group 2 Cape Verdi and ran on to win by 4 1/2 lengths over that rival. It was the third of four wins on the night for host Godolphin. With Pat Cosgrove up, Promising Run settled behind Rehana into the turn. That pair was well in front of the rest of the field by the time they straightened for home and Promising Run wasted no time in putting the matter to rest. Rehana barely held second, a short head in front of Aljuljalah.
"As I said in the week, this mare shows us very little at home in the mornings but produces on the track," said winning trainer Saeed bin Suroor. "We were hopeful, but you can never be confident given the way she trains. The Balanchine, over 1,800 meters in three weeks, is the likely next target. As well as Dubai, she has also won Group races in England and Turkey so is clearly a smart performer."
The UAE 2000 Guineas Trial was so popular it split into two divisions. Godolphin won the first with Gold Town, a Charlie Appleby trainee, who reported 4 1/4 lengths ahead of his closest rival, Roland Rocks. Roy Orbison fans were crying when he could do no better than finish third. Gold Town is a 3-year-old Street Cry gelding.
In the second division, El Chapo chased down another Godolphin runner, Racing Country, winning by 1/2 length.
One of the questions going into Saturday's Group 1 Sun Met at Kenilworth was whether any up-and-coming sorts could challenge the established stars of South African racing. Question answered as Oh Susanna, an Australian-bred 3-year-old filly, ran on late to score her second straight Grade I victory, defeating more renowned older horses, Marinaresco and Legal Eagle, who finished second and third.
The race actually was well within the grasp of Legal Eagle's talons with 100 meters left in the 2,000-meters course as he surged to the lead after a stalking trip. But Oh Susanna, with 26-year-old Grant Niekerk up, came surging through between horses to snatch the winner's share. Marinaresco was running well late to take third.
The win may not be definitive as Oh Susanna benefited from a big weight swing thanks to her age and gender while Legal Eagle was further handicapped by an unfavorable outside post. But the signs were there that Oh Susanna, a Street Cry filly, can represent the vanguard of a youth movement.
The last 3-year-old filly winner of the Sun Met was Black Bess in 1905.