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Impressive Gun Runner wins Breeders’ Cup Classic

Joe Conforto arrives for the Breeders' Cup horse

Joe Conforto arrives for the Breeders' Cup horse races, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, in Del Mar, California. Credit: AP / Denis Poroy

DEL MAR, California — Gun Runner had only one thing left to prove at the climax of a brilliant 4-year-old season. Could he stay 1¼ miles? He was 0-for-3 at the distance, and the rangy chestnut colt answered that question loudly in Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. He did it the hard way, which for a great thoroughbred is the best way.

Collected pressured front-running Gun Runner relentlessly through hot fractions – 22.50 seconds for a quarter-mile, 46.31 for a half-mile, 1:10.50 for 6 furlongs and 1:35.01 for a mile. Nothing was happening behind them, so when Gun Runner, on the inside, turned into Del Mar’s stretch a head in front, the year’s $6-million grand finale was between the two.

Gun Runner began edging away and cracked Collected inside the eighth pole as 37,692 screamed a salute. He drew off by 2¼ lengths in a triumph that guaranteed Eclipse Awards as older male and Horse of the Year. “He’s a magical horse to ride,” Florent Geroux said. “He’s just a beast.”

Trainer Steve Asmussen did a magnificent job by keeping his superstar in peak form since February. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of Gun Runner,” he said. “What a stage for him to show he’s the best. I think this definitely makes him Horse of the Year.”

The son of Candy Ride ran hard for 2:01.29 and paid $6.80 for his sixth win in seven 2017 starts and 11th in 18 career races. He earned $3.3 million, raising his total to $8,988,500 for Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC and Three Chimneys Farm.

Arrogate, who overpowered Gun Runner in last year’s Travers and the Dubai World Cup, never was a factor. He broke inwardly from the rail under Mike Smith and dead-heated for fifth with Gunnevera, 6¼ lengths behind. Arrogate, at 2.10-1, was favored narrowly over Gun Runner (2.40-1).

“He broke very awkwardly,” Smith said, “and he just doesn’t seem to get a hold of this track.’’

It was Arrogate’s third consecutive loss at Del Mar after a seven-race surge of domination made him the richest horse ($17.3 million plus) in North American history. Collected, third-place West Coast and Arrogate are trained by Bob Baffert, whose streak of Classic victories ended at three.

The Classic capped a bizarre day when seemingly impossible long shots won and millions were burned by five consecutive losing favorites. “Where the Turf Meets the Surf” is Del Mar’s song, but Saturday it was “Where the Chalk Meets the Wall.” Moonshine Memories (2-1, seventh, Juvenile Fillies); Lady Aurelia (4-5, 10th, Turf Sprint); Unique Bella (even-money, seventh, Filly and Mare Sprint); Lady Eli (3-2, seventh, Filly and Mare Turf) and Drefong (7-5, sixth, Sprint) all went down. So did Bolt d’ Oro (3-5, third, Juvenile) and Highland Reel (7-5, third, Turf).

Caledonia Road ($36.60, Juvenile Fillies); Stormy Liberal ($62.40, Turf Sprint); Bar of Gold ($135.40, Filly and Mare Sprint) and Wuheida ($24.40, Filly and Mare Turf); Good Magic ($25, Juvenile) and Talismanic ($30.20, Turf) enriched longshot players. When favored World Approval ($7.40) took the Mile, the logical result seemed out of place.

Then Gun Runner redeemed the chaos. Even if you didn’t bet on him, it was what you wanted to see.

“The year he’s put together is hard to top,” Asmussen said, “and I think today he’s the best he’s ever been. And that was the plan all year.”

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