With 400 meters to go in the $10 million Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1), owner Ron Winchell saw his horse on the lead, striding out as powerfully as he ever has.
What Winchell saw next confirmed that even the race of Gun Runner's life wasn't enough to defeat the gray beast considered the best in the world.
"I thought he had a pretty good chance (in the stretch), then you kind of saw it slipping away," Winchell said. "Then you realize it's Arrogate and are like, 'Yeah, it's probably slipping away.'"
Gun Runner lost the battle March 25, finishing second to champion Arrogate's run for the ages. But connections of the son of Candy Ride are already planning for at least one rematch in the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) Nov. 4 at Del Mar.
Last season, Gun Runner ran second in the Las Vegas Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Santa Anita Park, as his camp felt the eight-furlong distance was more in his wheelhouse at that point than 1 1/4 miles. Though the grade 1-winning chestnut still has yet to win at 10 furlongs—he finished third in both the 2016 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) and Travers Stakes (G1)—the fact it took the best horse in training to run him down in the stretch of an over 2,000-meter race, confirmed to his team that the 4-year-old version of Gun Runner is improving as hoped.
"The Breeders' Cup is the ultimate goal. And it will be the Classic," said Winchell, whose Winchell Thoroughbreds co-owns Gun Runner along with Three Chimneys Farm. "I think the plan last year was going to the Dirt Mile knowing that he was going to progress and probably get a little better and probably go Classic this year."
Gun Runner's second-place outing in the Dubai World Cup was also notable because it showed the Steve Asmussen trainee was no longer an automatic toss running over a wet track.
With a rare bout of rain soaking the area both the day before and day of the Dubai World Cup card, concerns abounded as Gun Runner's only two off-the-board efforts had come over sloppy surfaces. He had little issue getting a hold of the Meydan surface labeled muddy, however, racing in his preferred position just off the pacesetter and advancing on cue under jockey Florent Geroux.
Winchell said immediately after the race they would assess the colt's energy level upon his return to the states before deciding where he might race next. He also left the door open that, should Gun Runner make it to the Breeders' Cup, it might not be the last fans see of his methodical form.
"Probably not," Winchell said when asked if the Breeders' Cup would be Gun Runner's final start. "But I don't know until we get there."
Bred by Besliu Stables, Gun Runner has won seven of 14 starts and has $4,337,800 in earnings.