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.

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