For a fleeting moment in the 2016 Kentucky Derby, Gun Runner looked as if he might challenge Nyquist to win the world’s most prestigious race before finishing third. Eighteen months later, Gun Runner looked as if no one could challenge him when he won the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 4 at Del Mar.
Gun Runner is just the second Derby runner since 2008 to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic, with Triple Crown champion American Pharoah the other when he completed the newly dubbed “Grand Slam” in 2015 comprised of the Derby, Preakness Belmont and Classic.
Amazingly, the previous two Derby starters to go on to win the Classic had also finished third in their races: Curlin in 2007 and Cat Thief in 1999. All three of the aforementioned Derby-starting Classic winners did so in the same year. Gun Runner is the first since Skip Away (1996-1997) to do it in the following year.
“A lot of travel this year, a lot of fast races, but he’s better today than he’s ever been,” said Steve Asmussen, who trains Gun Runner for Ron Winchell.
Gun Runner’s Classic win turned the tables on last year’s Classic winner, Arrogate, who had defeated 2014 Derby winner California Chrome in a thriller and had beaten Gun Runner in their previous three meetings.
“The amount of success we’ve had with him since we stopped worrying about who’s going to be in with him – we just let him be him,” Asmussen said. “The way he trained into this race is special. The year this horse put together is hard to top; he’s better than he’s ever been.”
Gun Runner’s only loss this year was a runner-up finish to Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup. His other five wins came by a combined 30 1/4 lengths, including a seven-length score in the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs where he’s based until Asmussen ships his string to Oaklawn Park in Arkansas.
Gun Runner was not the only Derby alumnus in this year’s Classic field. Gunnevera was seventh in the Derby on May 6 and finished in a dead-heat with Arrogate for fifth in the Classic.