Gun Runner displayed greatness in his final race

Updated February 1, 2018 - 6:19 pm

We’ll head up the on-ramp and get back onto the road to Louisville momentarily, but first let’s take a moment to savor Gun Runner’s amazing performance Saturday in the Pegasus World Cup.

I’m still kicking myself for thinking his tough outside post position might get him beat in the $16 million race, his final appearance before heading to the breeding shed.

In doing so, I failed to realize just how special he is.

“Class laughs at things like pace and post position,” Les Izmore, a member of our #RJhorseracing handicapping corps, reminded me after the race.

That wasn’t red boarding — a term used to describe horseplayers who like to talk about what an obvious choice a horse was after the race is run. Les is a savvy judge of equine talent and was singing Gun Runner’s praises in comparison to the competition well beforehand.

He also reviewed the race to make sure it was as strong as it appeared to the naked eye. It survived the test: Each of the first four quarter miles was run in 24 seconds or less before the pace began to wilt in the final eighth of a mile.

“A top class horse brought to the very peak of condition,” Les wrote. “He may go down as one of the all-time greats. My opinion: He would have beaten American Pharoah or California Chrome if each was on their best day. Comparable, perhaps, to Seattle Slew.”

I share this because there are two important lessons to take away:

First, I fell into a common trap. Horseplayers have to be contrarians to some extent and look for weaknesses in heavy favorites. But they also have to recognize when there really aren’t any, particularly when high-class horses are involved.

Second, Les sets an example for us all through his diligence in reviewing races. The rewards for doing so extend beyond quantifying greatness. They also will fatten your wallet.

#RJhorseracing featured races

Our team of handicappers hops back onto the Triple Crown trail by tackling the Holy Bull Stakes (Grade 2) at Gulfstream Park and the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (Grade 3) at Santa Anita, both of which will be contested Saturday at 1 1/16th miles.

Eleven runners are suited up for the Holy Bull, led by 3-1 morning line favorite Enticed, winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (Grade 2) at Churchill Downs in his last start.

That was more than two months ago, though, and our crew thinks he may need a race. They favor Audible (6-1), Free Drop Billy (6-1) and Mississippi (5-1).

At my peril, I’ll go a different direction: Pony Up (8-1), who is in sharp form but switches from turf to dirt for trainer Todd Pletcher.

In the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, the crowd ’cappers foresee another mild upset, with Shivermetimbers (7-2) holding off 3-1 favorite Peace and distant third-place finisher Inscom (6-1).

This week’s featured comment comes from Tim Lubeck, who said the group’s top pick “won’t get stopped this time,” referring to trouble in the upper stretch in his last race, the Sham Stakes (Grade 3). He added, “Give Peace a chance” while picking him third, a quip that demands recognition.

I like Shivermetimbers as well, but I’ll put my money on Inscom, another turf-to-dirt switcher coming off a big effort.

Join us next week by emailing me or searching for the #RJhorseracing hashtag on Twitter.

Mike Brunker’s horse racing column appears Friday. He can be reached at mbrunker@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4656. Follow @mike_brunker on Twitter.

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