Saturday, December 30, 2017

A Tale of Two Horses: Arrogate and Gun Runner

Before the 2017 Breeder's Cup Classic, Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey said that Arrogate, the swashbuckling hero of the Dubai World Cup, had left his best races behind him.  Bailey, for the second time on national television, mentioned that the race had taken the measure of Arrogate, had gutted him.  Fans of the horse they call Big Blue were enraged when Bailey also declared that the powerful chestnut horse Gun Runner had surpassed Arrogate.

Arrogate training at Santa Anita in February of 2017

After finishing second to to Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup, Gun Runner reeled off three consecutive GI wins, including the Stephen Foster and Whitney Handicaps and the Woodward Stakes, while Arrogate stumbled to a fourth place finish in the San Diego Handicap and a much improved second in the Pacific Classic.  Before the Breeder's Cup, Gun Runner's career record stood an 10 wins in 17 starts, but he had never won at 10 furlongs (1-1/4 miles).  His trainer, Steve Asmussen said, "He's had a lot of travel, a lot of fast races, and he is better today than he has ever been."

Gun Runner

Arrogate had shown blinding speed, the ability to race on or off the pace, and to win from anywhere on the track surface, regardless of the distance.  But the Del Mar turf was his bugaboo.  Arrogate had already lost twice on the Del Mar surface and his jockey, Mike Smith said that he had difficulty getting a hold of the track. Many looked askance at his world's number one ranking yet still made him the 2-1 co-favorite with Gun Runner entering the Classic.

Dana Barnes aboard Arrogate

While training well at Del Mar, there was guarded optimism in the Arrogate camp, but Bob Baffert, seeming to hedge his bets, arrayed a four horse juggernaut against Gun Runner.  Up and comers Collected, who won the Pacific Classic this summer, West Coast, winner of the Travers Stakes and the Pennsylvania Derby, along with the improving Mubtaahij, winner of the Awesome Again Stakes, would enter the starting gate as well.

Racing from the number one post position, Arrogate veered sharply toward the rail while Gun Runner broke smartly, taking the lead with Collected in hot pursuit.  Reaching Gun Runner from his outside post position and early traffic may well have robbed Collected of the speed and stamina he would need later in the race.

On the back stretch the leaders, having run a half mile in 46 and change were never more than a half length apart.  Rounding the far turn, Collected and Gun Runner began their furious assault on the Del Mar turf, where, according to Jay Privman in a Daily Racing Form article, the jockeys, Martin Garcia on Collected and Gun Runner's Florent Geroux, began shouting at one another.  Garcia turned to Geroux and shouted, " I have a lot of horse."  "Me too," Geroux replied.  And at the quarter pole Garcia said, "Let's go."

Garcia pushed Collected away from Gun Runner because he knew "Gun Runner likes to fight."  But Gun Runner's speed, power and will proved too much.  Garcia said, "I know (knew) he'd respond.  My horse tried.  I couldn't do anything. Gun Runner is a really good horse.  He got good position, and I let my horse run a little early to get position."

A fantastic photo of Gun Runner in training.

Fighting off Collected's bid, Gun Runner pulled away to an expanding 2-1/4 length lead, winning his fifth race in six starts and earning a 117 Beyer Speed Figure, the highest of his career.  By winning the Classic he assured himself of the Horse of the Year and Champion Older Dirt Male titles.

Baffert's horse West Coast finished an improving third, while Mubtaahij drifted back to a disappointing eighth place.

Arrogate, never a factor, finished in a dead heat for fifth place with Gunnevera and afterward was lead away to begin a stallion's career.  Once his sperm was worth millions of dollars, but his fall from grace eroded his fee to $70,000.00, still a healthy price by any standard.

Perhaps Arrogate was never a great horse, but just a very good one.  Maybe our expectations for him were more than he could have ever hoped to deliver.  In a Facebook chat room early in 2017  I wrote, "There is not a horse living today that can beat Arrogate."  It is likely that when all is said and done, the only horse to beat Arrogate was Arrogate himself, broken by his herculean effort on a stifling desert night.

There is a saying, "The king is dead, long live the king."  The old saw speaks of respect for what has gone before and an orderly and respectful succession.  Arrogate is gone, but but Gun Runner remains.

Gun Runner, the Breeder's Cup Classic Champion

Copyright December 30, 2017 by Loren R. Schumacher
All photo credits belong the photographers

Today is the 17th anniversary of my father, Edward C. Schumacher's death.  This article is dedicated to his memory.  Thanks dad.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Lilac Fire/San Luis Rey Training Center/Will you help?

In recent days California has been stricken with devastating wildfires, one of which, the Thomas Fire, has consumed nearly 200,000 acres.  Almost everything in its path has been destroyed, but thankfully as of now, there seem to be no human casualties.

But in San Diego County near Bonsall, California a catastrophic wildfire struck the San Luis Rey Training Center, with tragic results.  

Trainer Martine Bellocq was critically burned trying to save her nine horses from the flames.  To date there have been 46 horses killed and most assuredly there will be more casualties in an area littered with horse farms and facilities.

Sadly one of those horses trained by Peter Miller, 3 year old California Diamond, who in 14 starts won 5 stakes races and finished second in 5 more, succumbed.

California Diamond

In their panic, a small group of horses broke through a "knockdown fence" and vanished into the surrounding hills.  Spokespersons are confident that they will be located and returned to their owners.

Panic stricken, horses flee the flames and smoke.

A volunteer tries to calm an approaching horse.

There were nearly 450 horses at San Luis Rey, and those that have survived owe their lives to the grooms and volunteers who walked into the inferno in order to save them from a hideous and tortured death.

But as always, those who have the least lose the most.  Nearly all of the grooms and other backstretch workers lost all of their possessions trying to save their beloved horses.  Many funds and truckloads of supplies and clothing have been rushed in to assist in the human recovery.

Taylor Made Farm have donated a no-guarantee season with California Chrome and will donate the booking fees before they have been collected.  The money will be used to help the track workers get back on their feet.

Panic in the alleyways of San Luis Rey (SLR).

At one time 260 of the approximately 500 horses were housed at the Del Mar race facility.   Sixty more moved just across the street from SLR to the Trifecta Equine Athletic Center, an equine rehab facility, and in recent days more have been distributed to Santa Anita and Los Alamitos.  While they wait to be reclaimed by their owners, those that need medical attention for burns receive immediate attention.  It remains to be seen what effect smoke inhalation will have on them.

Horses being loaded into trailers at San Luis Rey Training Center.

In the midst of this chaos, we should remember to say a silent prayer for the home and business owners of California, whose lives have been forever altered by the fires.  We hope that they will recover their balance and find the emotional and financial resources to jump-start their lives once more. 

In the ash and rubble of ruined dreams, some smaller stables will cease operations.  Grooms and trainers will find other jobs in the racing community, but they will never again be in charge of their own futures.  But for others, like Peter Miller, sad news was offset by good news.  Miller's horse Calculator, who ran second to American Pharoah in both the FrontRunner Stakes GI and Del Mar Futurity G1, was reunited with the trainer after being missing.



Santa Anita Park, The Stronach Group (owner of Adena Springs Farm) and Del Mar Thoroughbred Club have created a GoFundMe page:  To date more than $598,000.00 have been donated.  No amount is too small and donations are desperately needed.  

I've donated and I hope you will too.

Copyright 12/11/17 by Loren R. Schumacher

All photo credits belong to the photographers

Update 12/15/17

The news is both good and bad with regard to the monstrous wildfires plaguing California.  

The Thomas Fire, already the fourth largest in California history at 250,000 acres, will no doubt grow in the face of Santa Ana and Sundowner winds from Thursday the fifteenth through Sunday the seventeenth.  Sundowner winds are unique to the Santa Barbara area and originate off-shore with wind speeds reaching those of tropical storms, 60 miles per hour.  The Santa Ana winds are expected to range between 15 and 25 miles per hour with gusts to 40 miles per hour.  Not particularly encouraging.

Still more sad news regarding the death of San Diego area firefighter Corey Iverson, 32 years of age.  He leaves behind his wife who is expecting their second child in the spring of 2018 and a 2-year old as well.  Our condolences, of course.

A filly by Grazen x Chelcees Hope, named Scathing, is the first horse from the San Luis Rey fire to race and to the delight of everyone. she won.  Racing last to first in a five furlong race, a distance which is a bit short for her, she split horses in the final furlong to win by one and one-half lengths.  

Symbolic win for Scathing

Scathing was claimed for $8000.00 at Santa Anita on October 6 and had been training well since her removal from San Louis Rey.  Her barn was never threatened and she remained in her stall while panic overcame those who had to be freed in order to save their lives.  By the way, my vet's tech told me that she heard the heat was so intense in the recent fire at San Luis Rey, that the horse's red blood cells exploded among those who perished!


Scathing was cleared for competition after an "auscultation of the lungs and airways" by attending and state veterinarians.  All horses stabled at San Luis Rey will undergo similar tests before being cleared to return to racing.

Scathing at the wire

Finally, Juddmonte Farm auctioned a "no-guarantee" season with Uncle Mo.  The winning bid of $110,000 was matched by Juddmonte.  The money will be donated to Thoroughbred Charities of America's Horses First Fund.

Update copyright 12/15/17 by Loren R. Schumacher
Photo of Scathing copyright belongs to the photographer or race facility.