There comes a point in every writer’s career, when said writer must take a stand against popular opinion—often at the risk of harsh judgement, and most importantly, at the risk of being wrong. As writers, it is our duty to state what we believe in our heart of hearts, and place our thoughts and feelings on the line, free of bubblewrap and sugar coating, all for the good of journalism.
I’ve spent countless hours behind a blank computer screen for more than a week—my fingertips dancing about on a tired keyboard—failing to find an adequate way to convey my feelings toward Gun Runner, the horse which has now claimed top billing among our star cast of American Thoroughbred athletes.
Many of you won’t like what I am about to say—and that’s alright. A few of you may be of the minority which doesn’t think I am a heartless monster (Gasp)—that’s alright, too. All I ask is that you do not leap to conclusions and that you respect my opinion, as I respect yours.
Is Gun Runner the best horse in the country? That’s a tough question to answer, for more reasons than one…
Do I believe he is the most tenacious horse in America? Yes.
Do I believe he is the most consistent horse in America? Double yes.
Do I believe deep down inside, where my intuition lies, that he is the most talented, toughest horse our great nation possesses? Wait for it… POSSIBLY. Also, possibly not.
You see, it’s that age old question, which is mocked and roasted nearly every time a horse of any note wins a stakes race. “But, who did he beat?” Sure, at times, this question can prompt an eye roll, a whisper between professionals—it’s a question that I, myself, have detested a time or two. It’s also a question which must be asked before crowning Gun Runner America’s Newest Darling.
In most cases, I truly feel when watching a race, that it matters not who a horse is beating, but instead, the way in which he is beating his competition. If I decide to take that route here, then Gun Runner is as dominant and superior as they come.
Early in his career, it was believed by some that the chestnut son of Candy Ride needed his ideal trip to reach the wire first—which was proven to be incorrect. In the past twelve months, we have witnessed Gun Runner mature into an athlete who is battle tested…an athlete who can sit just off the pace if necessary…and lastly, an athlete who doesn’t back down when looked in the eye.
Since returning from Dubai, where he finished second in the World Cup behind only Arrogate, it seems the 4yo colt has blossomed into an unstoppable freight train, picking up open-length G1 victories with little effort, and all the while accumulating a massive fanbase which seems to reach beyond more than one ocean.
I know what you’re thinking—“Only a great horse can do these things”—and you’re correct. See, make no mistake, I believe Gun Runner is a GREAT horse. I am just uncertain of whether he is the greatest horse in training.
How can we tell? Well, the truth is, we can’t. We won’t know for certain until he steps on California soil, and defeats the horses which have been dominating the West in his stead, at a distance of 10 furlongs, which has proven to be less than ideal for him. While Gun Runner’s victories out East have been nothing short of remarkable, those victories have come over horses like Keen Ice, Noble Bird, and War Story—all respectable athletes in their own right, but certainly a cut below the top tier of Thoroughbreds in America.
This brings me to my next point. Too many times I have seen, “Arrogate doesn’t like the surface at Del Mar, so Gun Runner will win going away.”
Guys, Arrogate is not the only horse which poses a legitimate threat to Gun Runner, but make no mistake—he will adjust to the surface which will mellow out by the time Breeders’ Cup rolls around, and he will be ready. IF the Arrogate we know returns to form, every one, including Gun Runner, is fighting for second. I am a big fan of face to face meetings, and lest you forget, Arrogate has defeated Gun Runner with ease BOTH times in which they faced off.
That being said, he will also contend with Pacific Classic winner, Collected—a horse who has only exuded class and athleticism this season… as well as displayed an affinity for Del Mar’s tricky surface AND 10 furlongs over said surface. I want to be bold and state that he is your likely Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, but I won’t do that just yet. (Wait, I just did, didn’t I…?)
In addition to Collected, Gun Runner will also meet Travers winner West Coast, who is shaping up to become the most dominant of his crop, without dispute. He proved just two weeks ago how much he relishes the extra real estate in going long, and there is no reason to believe that he can’t go long with the big boys, on the biggest day in racing.
It’s certainly safe to say that this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic will be one worth making the trip to see. It will serve as more than a year-end championship; it will serve as the battleground on which it will be decided who truly reigns supreme. Will it be Gun Runner? Who knows? Many seem to think he will come sweeping home as he has done in recent victories, and hey—he just might. If he does, I will be the first to congratulate his connections, and also the first to tell you that perhaps I analyzed him too harshly.
My respect for Gun Runner is immense, and has been since the dawn of his now brilliant career. (See 2016 article in which I stated that I respected him more than any 3yo in the country.) Seriously guys, do not interpret my skepticism as disrespect of a horse which I have been lucky enough to see in person on more than one occasion. His team is terrific and deserving of his success, as is he.
So, you see… when I tell you that I am uncertain of whether he is truly the best horse in America, don’t tar and feather me… or do, if you must. I am simply thinking beyond what my eyes have seen in recent starts, in which his dominance may have been sightly deceiving. I’m simply trying to imagine if Gun Runner will find the same outcome with ease, against competition much greater than any he is currently facing, come November. Perhaps he will prove once and for all, that he is truly deserving of the title “Best Horse in America”—or perhaps he won’t. Either way, this is my story as a skeptic, and I’m sticking to it. Should I be wrong, so be it, folks.
That’s journalism, and this is Horse Racing.
Meet the Author: Nicole Schiveley…