John Gunther's homebred Last Gunfighter, away since his victory in the Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. II) last November, had plenty of ammunition for his return with a gutsy nose victory in the $200,000 Mountainview Handicap at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course May 31 (VIDEO).
Trained by Chad Brown and ridden by Javier Castellano, Last Gunfighter won for the ninth time in 16 starts. He won five stakes, including three grade III events, in 2013.
"We won this race last year with Easter Gift, and we were happy to participate this year," Brown said. "It's a great place to race and it has a safe surface. In his last three breezes it looked like (Last Gunfighter) turned the corner. He may be better than he ever has been."
The Mountainview, for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles, was left with a field of six after the early scratch of Golden Ticket and the late scratch of Taptowne with just minutes to post after an examination by the track veterinarian. Last Gunfighter went off heavily favored at 7-10, with Valid the second choice at 5-2.
Valid broke quickly from the rail under Orlando Bocachica and set pressured fractions of :23.80 for the opening quarter-mile, :47.92 for the half-mile, and 1:12.43 for six furlongs while being hounded by Percussion. Last Gunfighter, meanwhile, was rated in fourth and eventually guided four-wide by Castellano.
Valid opened his lead a bit heading into the stretch and past the mile-marker in 1:37.58 as several foes began to gain. Last Gunfighter emerged from the pack to get his nose in front in 1:50.55 on a fast track, with Valid second and Sailor's Revenge three-quarters of a length back in third. Arlo, Ruler On Ice, and Percussion rounded out the order of finish.
"It was a funny race," Brown said. "From the half-mile to the three-eighths, he cruised up in hand. I said, 'Wow, he's just going to blow by them. Then when he kind of idled, I was a little concerned, because he can be a bit one-paced.
"He's a bit of a grinder. As you saw, down the lane he had to grind out the win all the way down to the wire, but all in all it was a great performance."
Last Gunfighter, the 121-pound highweight, paid $3.40, $2.20, and $2.10 across the board. Valid, fifth in the Pimlico Special (gr. III) in his previous start, paid $3.20 and $2.60, while Sailor's Revenge returned $3.80. The $2 exacta was worth $8 and the $2 trifecta $26.60.
Last Gunfighter, who cleared the $1 million mark in earnings with his Hawthorne Gold Cup win last year, is a 5-year-old horse by First Samurai out of the Sir Cat mare Saratoga Cat. Brown said the horse's next start could come in the $500,000 Suburban Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont Park July 5.