Alums of the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Kentucky Oaks (G1) were well represented at Thursday night’s Eclipse Awards, led by the newly minted Horse of the Year and champion older dirt male, Gun Runner.
Among the leaders of the 2016 three-year-old division, Gun Runner turned the Louisiana Derby (G2)/Risen Star (G2) double at Fair Grounds en route to thirds in the Kentucky Derby and Travers (G1). The Steve Asmussen trainee concluded his productive sophomore season with a victory over older horses in the Clark (G1) back at Churchill Downs.
But Gun Runner was sensational in 2017, beginning with the Razorback (G3) at Oaklawn Park. Best of the rest behind Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup (G1), Gun Runner never lost again. His streak comprised Churchill’s Stephen Foster (G1), the Whitney (G1) and Woodward (G1) at Saratoga, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Del Mar. He signed off with another sparkling performance in Saturday’s $16 million Pegasus World Cup (G1), the world’s richest race.
Retiring with a bankroll to the tune of $15,988,500, Gun Runner has overtaken California Chrome in second on the list of North America’s all-time leading earners. Only Arrogate’s total of $17,422,600 is higher. Gun Runner now enters stud at Three Chimneys Farm, which raced him in partnership with Winchell Thoroughbreds.
The corresponding title of champion older dirt female went to Forever Unbridled, a daughter of 2006 Kentucky Oaks winner Lemons Forever. Like mom, she is trained by Dallas Stewart, but didn’t emulate her dam when only 11th in her Kentucky Oaks bid in 2015.
The Charles Fipke homebred improved with maturity and reached her peak as a five-year-old in 2017. After winning her comeback in the June 17 Fleur de Lis (G2) at Churchill – on the same Stephen Foster card that featured Gun Runner – Forever Unbridled caught Songbird in the Personal Ensign (G1) at Saratoga. She clinched an Eclipse Award in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), where she beat current Oaks victress Abel Tasman.
Although second best to the older Forever Unbridled, Abel Tasman ranked as the leading three-year-old filly and accordingly took home a championship in that division. Aside from her rousing Kentucky Oaks, the Bob Baffert pupil captured the Acorn (G1) and Coaching Club American Oaks (G1). The early Oaks favorite who missed the first Friday in May due to injury, Unique Bella, was honored as champion female sprinter thanks to her December 26 score in the La Brea (G1).
The 2017 Kentucky Derby hero, Always Dreaming, finished a long-way second in the Eclipse voting for champion three-year-old male to West Coast. Too immature for the Triple Crown, West Coast came on in the second half of the season for Baffert. Third in the championship balloting was Battle of Midway, the third-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby and ultimately winner of the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1).
Looking ahead to the 2018 Derby and Oaks, the pro tem points leaders both reign as divisional champions. Derby contender Good Magic, who broke his maiden in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) over Solomini and Bolt d’Oro, was crowned champion two-year-old male. The previously unbeaten Bolt d’Oro made the voting close (by a margin of 131-113). Now Good Magic will try to join Street Sense (2006-07) and Nyquist (2015-16) by turning the Juvenile/Derby double. Oaks hopeful Caledonia Road’s first stakes win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) crowned her champion two-year-old filly.
Read all about the 2017 divisional champions, including turf stars World Approval and Lady Eli, in the Eclipse Awards section on Brisnet.com.
Gun Runner, shown winning the Stephen Foster at Churchill, courtesy Coady Photography