Gun Runner fires finest salvo in 'Classic'
A gallant Arrogate runs fifth and could now be retired
Gun Runner won the US$6 million (S$8.2m) Breeders' Cup Classic in dominant style on Saturday, leading from wire-to-wire as defending champion Arrogate disappointed in his final race.
The 2,000m race on the dirt track at Del Mar - hosting the US$28 million Breeders' Cup extravaganza for the first time - was billed as a final showdown between the Steve Asmussen-trained Gun Runner and Bob Baffert's Arrogate.
Arrogate, who sent California Chrome into retirement with a defeat in last year's Classic at Santa Anita, had chased down Gun Runner for a thrilling win in the Dubai World Cup in March.
But he had been unimpressive since, in fourth place and runner-up finishes in Del Mar, and he was never really in the hunt in a race that saw Gun Runner, with jockey Florent Geroux aboard, spring from the fifth stall and power to a fourth straight victory - all Grade One stakes.
"He's just a beast," Geroux said of Gun Runner, who fended off a challenge from Baffert's Collected to win by two and a quarter lengths.
Another Baffert three-year-old, West Coast, was third.
"I was feeling pretty good, honestly," Geroux said of the pressure applied by Collected.
"My horse was very comfortable from there, and flopping his ears back and forth, it shows a sign that he was relaxing nicely for me while going quick.
"He's just a fast horse. From there, at the quarter pole, it was just a two-horse race between me and Collected and the best horse won the race."
Collected's jockey, Martin Garcia, said he might have had a chance if he could have gotten inside. "I wanted to get to the rail and save ground, but I couldn't," he said.
"I'm proud of him, though. He gave me what he had."
War Story was fourth, and Arrogate, who broke awkwardly toward the rail from the first stall, was in a dead heat for fifth with Gunnevera.
"My other horses ran great," Baffert said. "I hate to make any excuses for the big horse, but he's just not the horse he was.
"When he broke, he broke flat-footed and broke in and he weaved in. He lost a lot of momentum there."
While Baffert and jockey Mike Smith spoke of Arrogate's inability to deal with the Del Mar dirt track, Baffert said the lacklustre performance was a sign that it was time to send the US$17.4 million winner into retirement.
"He's just losing interest and I think that's what it is," Baffert said. "He has run so many incredible races that I really think he's just losing interest. That's what it is. It's time."
Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien's latest tilt at the Classic title that has long eluded him saw Churchill finish seventh.
"Churchill has had two or three hard races," O'Brien said.
"We will go back to the turf with him next time. He seems okay after the race and appears relaxed." - AFP