Gun Runner passes his final test, wins the Pegasus
By TIM REYNOLDS
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. (AP) This was the scenario that Gun Runner's team envisioned a year ago: Get a perfect ride at Gulfstream Park and win the sport's richest race.
It didn't get the chance last year.
The wait was most certainly worthwhile.
Gun Runner went into retirement as not only the reigning Horse of the Year, an award he picked up two nights before his racing finale, but now a winner of the biggest paycheck in the game. The 5-year-old pulled away from West Coast in the stretch to win the Pegasus World Cup Invitational on Saturday, taking home $7 million of the $16 million purse and ending his career on a five-race winning streak - all of them Grade 1 tests.
"Just so proud of the horse," trainer Steve Asmussen said. "What a dream come true he is."
Gun Runner started from the No. 10 post in a 12-horse field, and typically at Gulfstream starting that far from the rail can prove to be tough to overcome. But jockey Florent Geroux eliminated the problem masterfully and quickly, getting Gun Runner to settle in behind only Collected very early in the race.
From there, Geroux merely bided his time for when to ask the Breeders' Cup Classic winner for his best stride.
The move came with about three furlongs to go. Gun Runner poked his head to the front, and he was gone. West Coast stayed within 2 1/2 lengths for second place, and Gunnevera was third - albeit more than 13 lengths behind the winner. Gun Runner returned $4.20 for the win, finishing the 1 1/8 miles in 1 minute, 47.41 seconds.
For his career, Gun Runner raced 19 times, winning 12, finishing second three times and third twice.
"He's improved with every opportunity that he got," Asmussen said. "Even when he didn't have success, he moved forward from it. He's just a special individual and we're so blessed to be in his presence."
Gun Runner will retire with nearly $16 million in earnings. Only the now-retired Arrogate - Gun Runner's top rival in 2017 and the winner of the inaugural Pegasus a year ago - won more money in his career.
"There's no other horse like him," Geroux said.
Gun Runner wasn't permitted to run the Pegasus last year because of health concerns. He was stabled at Fair Grounds around this time last year, when some of the barns were under quarantine because two horses were dealing with a contagious virus. Pegasus organizers and Gun Runner's team never found common ground to get him cleared, so the horse didn't get to Gulfstream for the inaugural race.
He won't be at next year's Pegasus, either. There's nothing left to prove.
But the race is coming back in 2019, Stronach Group President and Chairman Belinda Stronach said after the race - on a day when Gulfstream saw bettors wager nearly $42 million, up 4.4 percent from Pegasus day a year ago. She said more complementary races may be added to the program but that the biggest-money race of all will be held again.
"Stay tuned," she said. "More to come."
The win capped an emotional time for Geroux as well.
Geroux's father was seriously injured on Christmas Eve and died five days later. Meanwhile, Geroux - who has lived in the U.S. for a decade - was waiting to hear when he would be given the chance to take his U.S. citizenship test. It ultimately was scheduled for Friday in Chicago, one day before the Pegasus.
Geroux passed that test.
He and Gun Runner passed with flying colors on Saturday as well.
"A fairytale ending," Asmussen said, "to a beautiful story."
Updated January 27, 2018