Gun Runner might not be a household name, not a horse who gained permanent fame by winning the Kentucky Derby or any of the other Triple Crown races.
But he’s stamped his own legacy as the best horse in the nation.
On Saturday, he’ll try to prove it one last time in the richest race in the world, the $16 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park. Gun Runner is the 4-5 favorite to win what will be the final race of his career before heading off to stud duty.
“Nothing would be better than for him to go out on top,” said his trainer, Steve Asmussen. “[It has been] a very emotional week for all of us knowing it’s his last run.”
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After finishing third in the Kentucky Derby of 2016, Gun Runner blossomed into the giant of his sport, an indefatigable superstar who has improved with age.
“He steps on a racetrack like this is who I am and this is what I want to do with a consistency that is hard to match,” Asmussen said.
Gun Runner will be crowned “Horse of the Year” during Thursday’s Eclipse Award ceremony. He’s owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm.
On Saturday, he’ll take on 11 challengers in the second running of the Pegasus, a 1 1/8-mile stakes in which the winner receives $7 million. To put that staggering sum in context, Always Dreaming earned $1.6 million for winning the Kentucky Derby in May.
It’s a boatload of money, and it’s the reason that Gun Runner stuck around for one last race after capping off his sensational 2017 racing season with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in early November.
“I love the concept, thinking out of the box,” Asmussen said of the Pegasus. “It’s great for the sport. I’m glad I have Gun Runner to try it with.”
There is no shortage of challengers, not with that much money at stake.
The top five finishers from the Breeders’ Cup Classic — Gun Runner, Collected, West Coast, War Story and Gunnevera — are all returning for a second showdown nine weeks after facing off at Del Mar in Southern California.
One horse from that race who isn’t taking a shot at the Pegasus is Arrogate, who won the inaugural running of the race last year. After finishing in a dead heat for fifth in the Classic, Arrogate was retired to stud.
But his trainer, Bob Baffert, is returning with Collected and West Coast.
On paper, Gun Runner stands out against the rest. But he drew an unfavorable outside post position (No. 10) and would prefer that the weather cooperate. Only twice in 18 career races has Gun Runner finished worse than third, and both defeats occurred on “sloppy” tracks.
There is a 20 percent chance of rain in Saturday’s forecast.
“We’re good,” Asmussen said, dismissing the poor post. “I’ve always said you don’t complain about a post position until after the race is run. It might work out perfectly for him.”
The field for the Pegasus is also expected to contain the 6-year-old mare Stellar Wind and the flashy Sharp Azteca, who has been sharp in his recent races.