Coverage with contenders and odds,
ARCADIA, Calif. – Gun Runner arrived in California nearly two weeks ago in advance of the Breeders’ Cup, and he brought a whole advance team with him.
Steve Asmussen’s top assistant, Scott Blasi, is overseeing Gun Runner’s daily preparation at Santa Anita toward the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 4 at Del Mar. Exercise rider Angel Garcia, groom Gabino Gutierrez, and hotwalker Juan Gonzalez also have temporarily relocated to California. And the horse Gettysburg was brought along as a workmate for Gun Runner in his next two drills, both at Santa Anita.
Gettysburg, a winner of just 1 of 13 starts, is an interesting addition to Gun Runner’s entourage. Now 4, he may be best remembered for being transferred by WinStar Farm to Asmussen from Todd Pletcher the week of the 2016 Belmont Stakes to act as a pacemaker for Creator, who was trained by Asmussen and owned by WinStar and Bobby Flay. Gettysburg did his job well, taking just enough out of Destin in the early going to enable Creator to get up in the final jump.
Gettysburg has been with Asmussen ever since. He’s lost all five of his starts since that Belmont, but with value as an excellent work horse, he recently was acquired by the team that owns Gun Runner – Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm – to act as a prompter in his next two workouts.
“We’re not leaving it to chance at this stage,” Asmussen said this week at Santa Anita.
Asmussen currently has his main string in Kentucky, but as usual he has American Airlines on speed dial. He was at Santa Anita for Gun Runner’s work on Monday, he’ll be back for the next two works, and he’ll be bringing Florent Geroux, Gun Runner’s regular jockey, along for those works. Both of those drills will be at Santa Anita and will be in company.
Gun Runner’s final work, scheduled for Oct. 30, five days before the Classic, will be at Del Mar, but Asmussen – who will be settled in California by then, too – never makes that more than an easy breeze under the exercise rider. The serious moves are the next two.
“We’ll be at Del Mar before you know it,” Asmussen said.
After spending the summer at Saratoga, where he won the Whitney and the Woodward, Gun Runner had a brief stay at Churchill Downs before heading to Santa Anita.
Gun Runner headed west early last year prior to running in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, but that Breeders’ Cup was at Santa Anita. Even though this year’s races are at Del Mar and the Del Mar stable area doesn’t open until Oct. 22, Asmussen thought it best to again get out to California early.
“I wanted him out here to get him on the clock,” he said.
From all indications, Gun Runner has settled in well for the race, which will decide Horse of the Year and champion older dirt male. When he worked on Monday, all eyes were on him. In addition to several trainers in the stands or on the apron, there were four people on their ponies from the finish line to the sixteenth pole, all intently focused on Gun Runner, the only one having direct association with Gun Runner being Blasi. Everyone else just wanted to watch.
Gun Runner looked fresh coming off the track, as if the work took nothing out of him.
“He’s got a resiliency and quality to him that’s really admirable,” Asmussen said as Gun Runner bounced through the paddock en route to the stable area. “He’s kept a tremendous amount of confidence in him even when things haven’t gone his way.
“He walks into a room like he owns it. And he always gives an effort. After the Derby” – in which Gun Runner finished third last year – “he came back to be unsaddled, and you could tell he had given an effort, but you could not believe it was the same horse an hour later. He bounces back. I’m so impressed with how this horse responds.”
In other Classic developments:
◗ Breeders’ Cup officials said that the lone European who could run in the Classic is War Decree, trained by Aidan O’Brien. War Decree, 3, is a colt by War Front who won a Group 3 on Polytrack at Dundalk in Ireland on Sept. 29. O’Brien never has won the Classic but finished a close third with Declaration of War, another son of War Front, in 2013 at Santa Anita.
◗ Arrogate, the defending Classic winner, worked five furlongs at Santa Anita on Tuesday in 1:00.20.
Gun Runner, shown after winning the Grade 1 Woodward last month, will breeze with stablemate Gettysburg at Santa Anita.