Gun Runner, a year later, finally gets his Pegasus shot

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. (AP) Gun Runner will start from one of the outside posts in Saturday’s Pegasus World Cup Invitational, a less-than-ideal situation even for the top horse in the sport right now.

Then again, at least he’ll be out there.

Gun Runner’s connections wanted him in the inaugural edition of the Pegasus a year ago, only to have their entry denied. There was concern that Gun Runner, who was stabled at Fair Grounds – which had barns under quarantine because two other horses were ill with a highly contagious virus – shouldn’t be permitted to be around the Pegasus field because of the potential health risk.

This time, there was no denying Gun Runner’s path to the Pegasus. The only question is if any of the other 11 horses in the field can deny him the $7 million winner’s share of the $16 million purse, as the newly crowned Horse of the Year will be the heavy favorite to win what will be his final race before retirement.

”I think that we all can feel a little loss over the lack of an opportunity to running in it last year,” Gun Runner trainer Steve Asmussen said. ”And hopefully this puts us in a position to correct that.”

The 1 1/8 mile test at Gulfstream Park might not be a cakewalk, not even for Gun Runner – who’ll start from the No. 10 post.

The field is loaded with firepower, with five of the top six finishers from November’s Breeders’ Cup Classic – Gun Runner, Collected, West Coast, War Story and Gunnevera – meeting again. And that doesn’t even include Sharp Azteca, the likely second choice in the wagering and a horse that has finished no worse than third in 13 of his last 14 starts.

”Everybody is going to have their eyes on Gun Runner and Gun Runner is going to have his eyes on everybody else,” said Ron Paolucci, who owns Sharp Azteca as well as War Story. ”It’s going to be an exciting betting race.”

There is no shortage of contenders, even with an overwhelming favorite.

The only filly in the field is Stellar Wind, a six-time Grade 1 winner being sent out for what’s likely her final race before retirement. There’s a horse-for-the-course candidate in Fear the Cowboy, which has four wins at Gulfstream. There’s a formerly retired horse in Toast of New York, who has raced once in the last three years. There’s consistency in Seeking The Soul, which has hit the board in six consecutive outings.

And there are a couple of real long shots. Singing Bullet has never won anything better than an allowance race, and Giant Expectations needed seven starts before getting his first victory. Combined, they’ve won about $600,000 in their careers.

”You want to be a part of this,” Singing Bullet trainer Dale Romans said. ”I want to keep my streak alive. I like to tell everybody I’ve run in every Pegasus World Cup they’ve had. That’s why we’re here, big events, big races. To be one of the best you’ve got to play with the best.”

Without question, Gun Runner is the best.

There were 250 votes cast for Horse of the Year, announced Thursday night at the Eclipse Awards, and Gun Runner got 248 of them. Arrogate, the winner of the Pegasus a year ago, got the other two.

Gun Runner could retire with nearly $16 million in earnings if he wins, which would vault him to No. 2 on the all-time list behind only Arrogate. If all that wasn’t enough, his connections clearly want the satisfaction that would come with winning a race that they couldn’t get into a year ago.

”I very much want Gun Runner to go out the way that we feel that he deserves,” Asmussen said. ”And that would be on top and heralded like he has been since the Breeders’ Cup Classic.”

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