Those who were eager to proclaim Arrogate the greatest horse of all time will have a harder time making their case. Gun Runner defeated Arrogate in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic, a race promoted as the definitive contest between the two horses. Gun Runner now seems poised to claim Horse of the Year honors and enter retirement with more than $8 million in earnings.
The Battle of the Century
Not since the famed match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral was a horse racing contest so eagerly anticipated and hyped. The two first met in the 2016 running of the Travers Stakes at Saratoga. Gun Runner’s trainer Steve Asmussen had high hopes for his horse that day, but would watch in stunned silence as Arrogate won in dominant fashion while setting a track record. Arrogate then went on to capture the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the inaugural running of the Pegasus World Cup in Florida. Those victories began the talk that Arrogate was even better than Secretariat.
The two would meet a second time at Meydan Racecourse for the Dubai World Cup in March of 2017. Although the race was more competitive than their previous affair, Arrogate once again bested Gun Runner on a muddy track. Gun Runner was beaten but ran a creditable second, and many believed the wet track affected his chances to win. The stage was now set for a final meeting between the two horses in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Del Mar in November 2017.
For Arrogate the race shaped up as nothing less than a chance to validate the claims of greatness. For Gun Runner, winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic would be vindication for the two previous defeats. It would also call into question Arrogate’s own record as the all-time money leader. Many had pointed to the fact that Arrogate’s earnings were inflated by wins in the three richest races offered for thoroughbreds.
On November 4, 2017 the horses entered the starting gate at Del Mar as co-favorites. Both were offered at a price of 2-1. Many thought the event was a two-horse race. As things turned out, it was Collected who stepped up to challenge Gun Runner while Arrogate could only manage a third-place finish. Gun Runner was in the lead from the beginning and eventually pulled away to win by more than two lengths.
Arrogate’s jockey Mike Smith was quick to make excuses for his horse’s poor performance. He indicated that Arrogate may have been unhappy with the track surface. For Smith, making excuses after a Breeders’ Cup Classic defeat are becoming a habit. Smith was also aboard Zenyatta when she lost the race to Blame in 2010.
Gun Runner Rises to The Top
While Arrogate has been on a downward spiral ever since his win in Dubai, Gun Runner has continued to excel. It has been quite a ride for trainer Steve Asmussen and the owners of Gun Runner since the horse emerged as a strong threat in 2016. Gun Runner captured the Risen Star Stakes and Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans before finishing third in the Kentucky Derby.
The best was yet to come, however. Many thoroughbred race horses do not mature until their fourth year and this was the case with Gun Runner. At age four the horse won four major stakes events including the Stephen Foster Handicap and Whitney Handicap. Arrogate, on the other hand, was serving up less than par performances after the Dubai win. We will never know the full reason for Arrogate’s sudden decline. One could compare his rise and fall to that of Robert Griffin III in the NFL.
Gun Runner now moves closer to retirement with earnings of $8,988,500. It was originally intended that the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic would be the horse’s final race. But, this plan may change. Asmussen has stated that Gun Runner will race in the 2018 Pegasus World Cup. A victory in that event could push Gun Runner past Arrogate in earnings. It is unclear whether the Pegasus World Cup will be Gun Runner’s last event.
What is almost a certainty is that Gun Runner has wrapped up Horse of the Year honors. The Eclipse Awards will be held in January of 2018 and Gun Runner is a shoe in to win the award. This must be very disappointing for the connections of Arrogate who expected to claim the award for themselves.
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