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Gun Runner restores semblance of sanity to topsy-turvy Breeders’ Cup

Updated November 4, 2017 - 9:41 pm

DEL MAR, Calif. – Gun Runner’s victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday restored some order to the universe after a topsy-turvy day of horse racing that produced an almost uninterrupted parade of long shots.

Though Gun Runner’s anticipated duel with the Bob Baffert-trained Arrogate in the $6 million Classic failed to materialize after the latter stumbled out of the gate, the race was a good one.

Gun Runner, trained by Steve Asmussen and ridden by Florent Geroux, went to the front immediately, with another Baffert-trained runner, Collected, in hot pursuit. Those two remained glued together through solid opening fractions of 46:31 and 1:10.50.

Only in the upper stretch did Gun Runner began to inch away from his pursuer. At the wire, the winner of four straight Grade 1 races was 2¼ lengths clear of Collected, with the Baffert-trained West Coast another 1¼ lengths back in third. Final time was 2:01.29.

After recovering from his troubled start, Arrogate raced near the back of the pack early under Mike Smith. He gained some ground late without threatening and finished in a dead heat for fifth, just over six lengths behind the winner. The Juddmonte Farms runner, who was brilliant as a 3-year-old and early this year before three straight disappointing efforts at Del Mar, will be retired to stud.

While the favorite didn’t win the Classic — Gun Runner and Arrogate both went off at 2-1, but the winner had a bit less bet on him — the results provided some comfort to horseplayers who like to believe that the outcomes of these equine contests aren’t completely random.

Earlier the seaside oval might as well have been shaped like a question mark.

The parade of head-scratchers began immediately with Caledonia Road (17-1) in the Juvenile Fillies and continued through the Turf Sprint (Stormy Liberal, 30-1); the Filly and Mare Sprint (Bar of Gold, 66-1); and the Filly and Mare Turf (Wuheida, 11-1).

Heavily bet favorites, meanwhile, were flailing. Lady Aurelia, 4-5 in the Turf Sprint, faded to 10th. Even-money choice Unique Bella checked in seventh after briefly grabbing the lead turning for home in the Filly and Mare Sprint. Lady Eli, 7-5 in the Filly and Mare Turf, never got untracked and also finished seventh.

Sanity appeared to be trying to reassert itself as third-choice Roy H captured the Sprint at 9-2, followed by an actual favorite, World Approval, winning the Mile on the turf at 5-2.

But the carpet bombing wasn’t over yet, as Good Magic (11-1) scored a convincing victory in the Juvenile, followed by French invader Talismanic (14-1) triumphing in the Turf.

It took Gun Runner, whose only loss this year was to Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup, to set the world aright.

A few other random observations from the first Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar:

— If Baffert’s hair could get any whiter, I think it would.

The Hall of Fame trainer with the most recognizable mane in the game came to the track in his backyard loaded for bear, with 11 entrants in seven races, including two favorites. The best he could manage was four seconds and a third.

That’s uncharacteristic for a trainer that many observers consider the best in the game.

— The Del Mar Turf Club put its best foot forward in hosting its first Breeders Cup. The decision to limit the crowd to 37,538 was a good one, as the stands were full but not oppressively crowded. And the weather was spectacular on Saturday. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the series return in the next few years.

— There’s a reason the Ortiz brothers are the top riders in New York, and Irad reminded me of it with a brilliant ride on Bar of Gold to win the Filly and Mare Sprint. He saved ground near the back of the pack early, gunned his mount through an opening entering the turn, then angled the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro outside and just got up in the final stride. Brother Jose picked up a victory in the Juvenile, aboard the Chad Brown-trained maiden Good Magic.

— I was impressed with Catholic Boy in the Juvenile Turf on Friday, when he overcame traffic trouble on the first turn to run a game fourth. But what I really liked was how he galloped past everyone past the wire, looking like he was ready to go around again. He’ll be one to watch next year.

Contact Mike Brunker mbrunker@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4656. Follow @mike_brunker on Twitter.

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