The tan suit trainer Steve Asmussen wears to big races is so thin and outdated that his wife and children make fun of it. But Asmussen has no intention of buying a new one even if his Gun Runner breaks the bank in the richest race in the world, Gulfstream Park’s $16 million Pegasus World Cup.
“The suit,” Asmussen said, “will not retire.”
Gun Runner is the odds-on favorite to close out his racing career with a victory in the 1 1/8-mile stakes. There is little to suggest that he’ll disappoint and deny the silver-haired Asmussen a chance to wear his lucky suit into the winner’s circle one more time.
The 4-year-old colt reeled off four consecutive wins in major stakes — including the Breeders’ Cup Classic — to conclude a 2017 racing campaign that culminated Thursday with his being named the nation’s “Horse of the Year.” He’ll face 11 challengers, including the first four horses to follow him across the wire in the Classic.
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“This horse has spoiled us with his consistency,” Asmussen said. “We realize we’ve got one more run with him. It’s a little bittersweet.”
Gun Runner is a model of consistency. He’s won 11 of his 18 races and only twice finished worse than third. He’s won in Kentucky, New York, California and Louisiana.
Now he’ll be seeking his first win in Florida before heading back home to Kentucky to launch his stud career.
“Just to be in his presence, to be around him, to have the privilege to train him as well as run him, it’s a dream come true,” Asmussen said.
Asmussen has trained some great horses. He saddled filly star Rachel Alexandra to a victory in the 2009 Preakness. He trained Curlin, a two-time Horse of the Year.
But Gun Runner might be the best of them all.
Gun Runner is a late-bloomer who missed out on a chance at lasting fame when he came up short — finishing third — in the 2016 Kentucky Derby. He didn’t race in either of that year’s other two Triple Crown races.
But he’s come on strong since. He’s won six of his past seven races, with his only defeat in that stretch coming in last year’s Dubai World Cup when Arrogate — winner of the inaugural Pegasus at Gulfstream last year — rallied from last to beat him by 2 1/4 lengths.
Gun Runner turned the tables on Arrogate in the Classic, though, pulling away for a 2 1/4-length win and cementing his status as the nation’s best horse. His career earnings to date: a touch shy of $9 million. He’d add $7 million to that career total with a win Saturday.
He’ll take on familiar foes in Collected, West Coast, War Story and Gunnevera. They were the second, third, fourth and fifth-place finishers in the Classic.
Standout mare Stellar Wind is also entered in the Classic, as is Sharp Azteca, who has been sharp in recent races, including a bang-up victory in the Cigar Mile Handicap at Aqueduct on Dec. 2.
But Gun Runner is clearly the horse to beat.
And Asmussen will be wearing his tan suit.
“I’m just stupid superstitious,” Asmussen said.