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Gun Runner ends career in style with convincing win in Pegasus World Cup

Newly named Horse of the Year Gun Runner capped a triumphant week and career by turning the world’s richest horse race into a very lucrative farewell victory lap.

Florent Geroux rode the 5-year-old chestnut to a convincing win Saturday in the $16 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park to take the $7 million winner’s purse into retirement.

Gun Runner, the solid favorite at 4-5, easily overcame an unfavorable draw in the No. 10 spot and won by 2 1/2 lengths over West Coast in 1:47.41 on the 1 1/8-mile dirt course.

South Florida-based Gunnevera was third, 13 1/4 lengths behind the winner.

Gun Runner, who will retire to the Three Chimneys breeding farm in Kentucky, concluded his career with 12 wins in 19 starts, including his final five races, and career earnings of $15,988,500.

The son of Candy Ride followed victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November with a command performance in the second running of the Pegasus Cup.

“Just a very emotional idea at the time, his last race, everything that he’s done for us,” trainer Steve Asmussen said.

“For him to come through like he did today, to overcome the draw. I’m just so proud of the horse. What a dream come true he is,” said Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, who called it “a fairy tale ending to a beautiful story.”

It also concluded a landmark three days for the French-born Geroux, who became a U.S. citizen on Friday after Gun Runner received the Eclipse Award as Horse of the Year on Thursday night at Gulfstream.

“This feeling is hard to describe, it’s a dream come true,” said Geroux, who rode Gun Runner to 10 wins over his final 16 races. “We wanted the horse to prove that the Breeder’s Cup and all of last year was not a fluke and the horse was there, in only one word, the horse was unbeatable.”

The past month has been an emotional rollercoaster for Geroux, whose father, Dominique, a former jockey and trainer, died Dec. 29 from head injuries sustained in a fall in France. Gaining his citizenship culminated a 10-year quest.

“It’s great, you know a little more pressure today than [Friday], but this is why I came here, for opportunities like this. I’m grateful to have become a citizen of the United States.”

Geroux effectively won the race at the start, sending Gun Runner rocketing out of the starting gate to negate the disadvantage of starting outside and quickly settled into second on the hip of Collected, runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup.

With a very short run to the first turn in 1 1/8-mile races at Gulfstream, the outside positions are at a distinct disadvantage. In last year’s Pegasus, two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome struggled out of the No. 12 post and finished ninth.

“I set it all aside because I don’t think it’s what number it is, it’s who you put in that number,” Asmussen said of the unfavorable draw.

From there is was a matter of contending with the two Bob Baffert-trained contenders, Collected and West Coast, which were second and third, respectively, in the Breeders Cup Classic.

Gun Runner surged past Collected into the lead with 3 furlongs to go with West Coast in pursuit. But Baffert’s colt never seriously threatened.

“Gun Runner, he was impressive. Unless he took a step back, I knew we couldn’t beat him. He’s just a really good horse. We just got outrun,” said Baffert, who saddled Arrogate to a similarly impressive win in last year’s first Pegasus Cup.”

West Coast banked $1.6 million of the $16.3 million purse and Gunnevera earned $1.33 million in third.

“West Coast, turning for home I thought Gun Runner might be a little empty, but his tank is so big and he just kept going. He’s just a great horse,” Baffert said. “He just kept on running. … I can’t really complain. We just got beat by a really good horse.”

Collected faded to seventh in the 12-horse field. Among other notables, Stellar Wind, the first female in the Pegasus, was sixth; mile specialist Sharp Azteca was eighth. Toast of New York, making his second start after more than three years in retirement, finished last.

The $41.983 million handle for the day’s 12-race program — a 4 percent increase over last year’s previous Pegasus record handle of $40,217 — is the largest handle in Gulfstream’s 79-year history excluding Breeders’ Cup Days. The estimated attendance was 16,400, similar to last year’s 16,653 for the inaugural.

Conceived by Gulfstream owner Frank Stronach, the Pegasus World Cup was designed to add an elite event to the calendar with an eye-opening purse to provide incentive for extending the careers of horses like Gun Runner.

In two years the Pegasus has become a scene, a glitzy gathering to see and be seen. Well-dressed women, some in garish statement headwear, created their own day-long fashionable competition.

The fancy folks stopped to pose for photos on the Blue Carpet by the track entrance and promenaded on the walkway leading to Ten Palms restaurant overlooking the home stretch, where tables went for several hundred dollars.

An addition this year was a Club LIV popup boardwalk village where Post Malone and Ludacris were to perform at the after-race party.

Though intended as an elite event, general admission was dropped this year from $100 to $75 and parking from $50 to $20 following complaints by regular horse players.

There has been discussion of rotating the Pegasus Cup among other venues, or at least alternating between Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita in California, to raise the national profile of the event.

After the race, Belinda Stronach, president and chairman of the Stronach Group, ended speculation in announcing that next year’s Pegasus World Cup will be run at Gulfstream.

Alluding to the gigantic Pegasus statue outside the track that is the namesake of the event, she said. “We can’t move that, so we can’t move the race.”

Stronach said there are discussions of adding complementary races at other venues as part of the lead up to the Pegasus.

cldavis@sun-sentinel.com; Twitter @CraigDavisRuns; here on Facebook

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