Trainer Steve Asmussen calls a section of his barn "the showoff corner" and the morning of Sept. 24, multiple grade 1 winner Gun Runner demonstrated why.
As he readied for his five-furlong move over the Churchill Downs surface Sunday, the chestnut son of Candy Ride took turn after turn inside his conditioner's shedrow while on his best behavior. Just before he emerged under regular rider Florent Geroux for his final local work before shipping to California, Gun Runner hit the aforementioned corner in the barn, got on his toes, and gave a little preview of how much he was feeling himself at the early morning hour.
The full display of Gun Runner's good vibes came during his outing with stablemate Gettysburg, as the 4-year-old colt put in his typically rock-solid work, with a five-furlong bullet in :59 4/5, the fastest of 47 drills at the distance.
After he broke off about two lengths behind his workmate, Gun Runner clocked splits of :24 2/5 and :35 3/5, and finished up just in front of Gettysburg—who was clocked in 1:00 1/5—with a gallop out to six furlongs in 1:13. It was the same old, same old from the horse who rattled off three straight grade 1 wins and has spoiled his connections with his ability to keep taking steps forward without seemingly ever having an off day.
"I've told Steve before you could put a green screen behind (Gun Runner) with any racetrack in the country and every time he works, it just looks the same," said David Fiske, manager of Winchell Thoroughbreds, which co-owns Gun Runner with Three Chimneys Farm. "He's got his work buddy and they seem to be a pretty well-matched pair. It's not like you can just pull anybody out of the barn to work with him. You have to have someone that has some talent. But everything went according to plan and he's scheduled to fly to California (Sept. 25)."
Gun Runner is slated to ship to Santa Anita Park to get acclimated to the California weather in preparation for the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) at Del Mar Nov. 4. In the wake of his victories in the Stephen Foster Handicap (G1), Whitney Stakes (G1), and Woodward Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1), the consistent colt has moved to the forefront of the handicap ranks with form that is as tractable as it is reliable.
As good as Gun Runner was as a 3-year-old—when he won four graded stakes, including the grade 1 Clark Handicap over elders—Geroux now says he has a partner this year that gives him the confidence to handle virtually any race scenario. Leave him alone on the lead and he can turn the race into an exhibition, as he did during his seven-length win in the Stephen Foster. Those who have tried to put the heat on Gun Runner lately have been met with a foe who can shut off and relax, then accelerate on cue, as he demonstrated during his 10 1/4-length Woodward triumph Sept. 2.
"I think it's pretty incredible to have a horse to maintain this kind of form all year long, even since last year," Geroux said. "He doesn't throw any bad races, especially at different tracks, which is important. He's just more mature. It feels like he was a teenager last year and now he's a man. He has a lot of confidence in himself and when I'm on his back it feels like, 'All right. Don't worry. I've got it.'
"It's like he's always under control. Whether he has the horses in front of him or behind him, it feels like no one can touch him."
With champion Arrogate dropping two straight races since he bested Gun Runner in the March 25 Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1), the latter now is in control heading into the Breeders' Cup regarding year-end honors.
"Forecasting that this kind of campaign falls into place ... I don't know that we'd ever dream that big," said Chris Baker, chief operating officer for Three Chimneys Farm. "We knew the potential was there and fortunately he has stepped up, followed through, and thrived on it."