MANDY POPE THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE WOMAN OF WHISPER HILL FARM
GUN RUNNER how he beat arrogate WINTER 2018
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
Anything that is worth achieving will never come easy. If you want to be successful, you have to understand that. There are many qualities needed to turn a dream into reality, but the two most important—the two that will get you through the struggles along the way—are passion and persistence.
In 2016, Gun Runner was just a three-year-old on the Kentucky Derby trail trying to figure things out. He showed promise—glimpses of the horse he is today— but struggled to find his stride and got left behind in Arrogate’s wake. He kept at it, tackled the Fair Grounds quarantine with class, stayed focused after his loss in Dubai and grew stronger. His progress may have been incremental, but it was steady. When Arrogate stumbled, Gun Runner passed him like the tortoise passed the hare in the Greek fable “The Tortoise and The Hare.” In that moment, as I watched him through my lens, charging down the lane looking like a super horse, he reminded me that it doesn’t matter how slow you move toward your goal, as long as you keep moving and remain persistent. So don’t get discouraged if you’re struggling to make ends meet and everyone around you is thriving; if you’re passionate and truly working hard to achieve your goal, you will find success. No, it won’t come easy, and there will be plenty of opportunities to quit. Don’t! Be strong; be courageous; believe that you can! My best advice: don’t stop to look around, don’t compare yourself to others and don’t doubt your abilities; you’ve made it this far for a reason! Stay focused, stay hungry; persist! You’re almost there; keep moving!
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Claudia L. Ruiz Managing Editor
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Charlie and I wish you all a happy, healthy, and successful 2018!
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Editor-In-Chief Thoroughbred Today
Contents 04 Guided by a Whisper
15 Year in Review
The story of Mandy Pope and Whisper Hill Farm
Nik Juarez on what it was like to win the Black-Eyed Susan
10 Moving On Up
Stunning photos of the best races from around the country
Mike Smith & John Velazquez share stories, pg.17, 20, 21
11 Behind The Lens
22 The List
Shooting the Jim McKay Turf Sprint in the pouring rain
Dan Tordjman ranks the top 10 races of 2017
13 Road to Alabama
30 OTTB Spotlight
Caledonia Road’s next target
Scott Serio Contributing Writers
Dina Alborano Ciara Bowen Ryan Dickey Dan Tordjman Photographers
Candice Chavez Doug Defelice Alex Evers Raphael Macek Mary M. Meek Jay Moran Scott Serio Holly Smith
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The Unlucky Ones
Runner On The covEr: Gun 5 THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW p.23-28 Thoroughbred Today
by aW whisper story by CLAUDIA L. RUIZ photos by DOUG DEFELICE and CLAUDIA L. RUIZ
n a warm afternoon under the Florida sun, a band of weanlings take a gallop around an open pasture. Full of spirit, their hooves strike the ground in a rhythmical cadence. Over the next several months, they will begin their formal education. They will learn how to stand, walk and carry themselves under tack before making their way through a world renowned auction ring to become successful racehorses. Sons and daughters of racing’s elite equines can be found in all corners of this Marion County farm thanks to one woman who is working to better the sport of thoroughbred racing.
Amanda Joyce Pope — or Mandy Pope, as she is known throughout the racing community — has loved horses since she was a little girl. In 1980, the daughter of John William Pope, who grew his family’s retail business into the $800 million Variety Wholesalers Inc., left her home state of North Carolina and headed to Ocala, FL. with her two horses to compete on the winter show circuit. An epicenter for thoroughbreds, it was only a matter of time before Mandy began to dip her feet in the world of thoroughbred racing. She started helping out on different farms, and the more she learned, the more she fell in love with the sport. That same year, Mandy and her father purchased a 55 acre property complete with a farmhouse, barn, paddocks and open hay field. Two years later, in 1982, they added 230 acres next door, and by 1990 Mandy had stepped up to become the sole owner. She would go on to name it Whisper Hill Farm,
after her beloved chestnut mare Blue Whisper, who she rode in the Amateur-Owner Hunters. She was big, about 16.2h, and for 13 years she carried Mandy from one show ring to another before passing away in 1983. Today, Whisper Hill spans nearly 400 acres and is adorned by 4 houses, 4 barns, 2 covered horse walkers, a training arena and approximately 90 thoroughbreds. Everything is state of the art and the care is second to none. As is the broodmare roster, which includes the likes of Havre de Grace, Betterbetterbetter, Groupie Doll, Plum Pretty and now Songbird. Though they do not reside in Ocala, these big name mares are the backbone of the farm, producing regally bred offspring that Mandy hopes will help strengthen the breed. That’s what it’s all about, the super stars of tomorrow who will guide the sport into the future. And, as for Blue Whisper, her memory lives on in the farm.
Guided by a Whisper
Mandy Pope talks Whisper Hill, Songbird, Arrogate and more. interview by RYAN DICKEY
When did you become interested in horses? MP: I got the bug for horses when I was about three. We lived in a small farming town where there are plow horses. One came into the yard, and I got on it, with help from my brothers. I just fell in love. I thought I had the best friend in the world. I’ve never been a good people person, but I’m a good horse person.
The decision to breed Songbird to Arrogate, how did that come about? MP: My first choice would’ve been Tapit, but we decided to go in another direction and chose Arrogate. Wayne, myself and our pedigree expert did a lot of research, as well as going to see Arrogate. We put our heads together and decided he was a good choice. We know it’s a little different to breed this kind of a maiden mare to a maiden stallion, but we figure if we get a nice foal, we’ll have a really interesting horse to put on the market.
How has Songbird adjusted to retirement? MP: Unfortunately for me, she lives with Wayne and Cathy Sweezey at Timber 5
Town Stable in Lexington, KY, so they get to see her every day. But she’s doing very well and settled right in. She’s turned out with another maiden mare named Welcoming, who is by Tapit. They are two little peas in a pod.
In 2013, you purchased Groupie Doll for $3.1 Million. How is she doing these days? MP: Groupie Doll is wonderful. She loves her babies. She does tend to have issues foaling, as we know with her first foal. Last year, she had to be rushed to the clinic because her baby was shoulder-locked. But they got the baby out and both of them were fine. She has big babies, and she’s not that big herself, so we have to be careful. But she’s doing great. She’s in foal to Tapit at the moment and will be bred back to him.
What made you decide to race Groupie Doll again, rather than retire her? MP: I purchased her to be a broodmare, but right after I signed the bill of sale at Keeneland, Buff Bradley, her former trainer and part-owner, came and talked to me. He told me that she was still sound, and to keep training, and suggested maybe the Cigar Mile. I thought about it for a couple of days. I had her completely vetted out at Rood and Riddle, because you don’t want to take an unnecessary chance. If there had been any little bit of a problem, I would not have done it; but [Rood and Riddle] declared her good to go, so I called Buff and said, “let’s do it!”
What’s it like buying these big-ticket horses at auction? MP: Needless to say it’s very frustrating, particularly when you make a bid, and then it’s quiet. You think to yourself, “Ok, I’ve got her now!” Then someone else jumps in and you’re like, “Oh no, don’t do that!” I don’t always keep going, even though people think I do. I don’t. Songbird went over what I thought she was going to be. Before the sale, I thought $8 million. If someone had come in at $9.7 million, and the next one was going to be $10 million, I was not going to be $10 million. She was probably another bid away from me being out, but thankfully I got her.
What are the long-term plans for Whisper Hill? MP: I’m involved in this 24/7. I’m not an owner who never goes to the farm, or never sees her horses. I want to be at the farm, I want to see the horses every day. I would not be spending this kind of money if I was not that involved with the day-to-day operations at the farm and training center. I love to go to the races. It’s a blast, especially when the horses win, which is what it’s all about. But I also understand all of the hard work that goes into it, and I want to be a part of that process. These mares, I expect them to be foundation mares in the future. Their daughters are going to be great producers, even if they don’t run well – there have been studies that show that the second generation from a great mare is where things really shine. I plan on being in the business for many years to come.
Guided by a Whisper
In the distance, Whisper Hill Farmâ€™s Mare Barn and main office is seen from the front of the property.
A look inside the newly constructed, state of the art Weanling Barn
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Sales prospects can be found in 1 of 2 barns, known as the Training Barns, where up to 40 horses have access to a walking ring, training arena, two covered walkers, an AquaTRAK spa and plenty of wash racks.
Moving on up Up and coming jockey Nik Juarez recalls 2017 and what it was like to win the Black-Eyed Susan Written by LAUREN LIMA as told by NIK JUAREZ
rowing up, I used to spend a lot of time in the jocks room with my dad. He was a jockey, as was my grandfather on my mom’s side of the family. I’ve been around horses my whole life, but I didn’t actually want to be a jockey when I was younger; I wanted to go to school. I did a semester at Carroll Community College and tried to figure out what I wanted to be. Then one day, I had a change of heart. “I want to give riding a shot,” I told my dad. That was all it took to get the ball rolling. Next thing I knew, I was working at Prospect Farm in Maryland, feeding, caring for and learning how to race ride. The more I learned, the more I realized there was nothing else I wanted to do. Being a jockey is anything but easy. You have to be disciplined in order to be successful, which can be hard for young jockeys. Sometimes I just want to be 24, eat cake every night and have some fun. But I know that I have to stay focused, stay fit and sacrifice in order to keep improving. It’s been a difficult process getting to where I am today, but I had a lot of good people supporting me along the way. That’s the good thing about racing; there are always people willing to help you get better. 2017 was a good year for me. I bought my first house in Florida, and for the first time in 25 years, my dad is spending the winter in the sun and out of the cold. The horse I won my first stakes on, Valid, I retired him from racing and I’m boarding him at a barn not far from my house. In 2015, we won the Gr.3 Philip H. Iselin Stakes then finished fifth in the Gr.1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Keeneland and second in the Gr.1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park. He made over $1 million in 40 career starts and he’ll be eight in March.
It’s exciting to have him. I got him some really nice western tack and he’s doing some light work under saddle to stay busy. I think I might turn him into a lead pony. Honestly, he did a lot for my career, so I’m just happy to be able to repay him by giving him a good life. 2017 also awarded me my first riding title at Monmouth Park after a great meet that included 75 wins, and I won the biggest race of my career with Actress in the Gr.2 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes. That, I think, was the career highlight of my year. Traffic can be pretty heavy in Baltimore City on Black-Eyed Susan day. Even though I didn’t have any horses to ride that morning, I woke up at 6:30 and went to Pimlico to see some of the trainers. I got to the jocks room early and rode one on the grass before the big race. In the paddock, I said hello to some of my friends and headed over to trainer Jason Servis, who told me to just “ride my race,” before giving me a leg up. He always puts a lot of confidence in me and lets me do my job without giving me too many instructions. He lets me ride my race the way it comes up. As the rain started coming down in the post parade, Actress handled it like a pro. She’s not your typical Tapit filly; she’s cool, calm and collected. On a big day, with a big race like the Black-Eyed Susan, it can be a little overwhelming. But she took it all
in stride. I’ve always liked that about her. When we got to the gate it was raining hard, and the thing about the gate is, whether it’s a $5,000 claimer or million dollar stakes, it’s going to open and you have to be ready. We loaded in, and I thought to myself, “Here we go!” We broke from the #10—the second outermost post—and everyone was sending their horses. Right before the race, the track had been sealed because of the rain and the rail was packed down tight. It was the place to be, so I tucked my filly onto the rail to try and save as much ground as possible. Entering the far turn, Actress started to make a really big move, and I knew I had to find a place for her to run. We crept up the rail, passing horses one by one. When we got to the front-runners, I steered out to get clear. The rest of the field was coming up around us, so I tapped Actress with my whip for a little encouragement and she started to open. Lights of Medina almost caught us in the last few strides, but we held on to win. I remember galloping back, I was screaming for my dad. The track was real muddy, but he ran through it and over to the winner’s circle to celebrate with me. My whole life, my dad has gone above and beyond to take care of me, so to share that moment with him in our home state; it was a really special feeling. Photo: Juarez with the Black-Eyed Susan garland at Pimlico Race Course | Claudia L. Ruiz
behind the lens photographed and written by Claudia L. Ruiz
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he horses for the Jim McKay Turf Sprint loaded into the gate as the first few drops of rain started to come down. Within a matter of milliseconds, Pimlico’s turf course was engulfed in a torrential downpour. Without proper protection for my gear, I had to improvise. Icy cold rain drops started piecing through my clothes as I grabbed my canvas bag and threw it over my Nikon D5 and 300mm 2.8f monster lens. The horses were running up the backstretch and there was no sign of the rain subsiding. “Don’t blow it!” I thought to myself. Until that day, I had only shot the races on four occasions, and I had never shot with a Nikon D5. I was getting blasted by rain trying to frame my shot as the roar from the crowd grew louder and louder—nothing short of sensory overload. Suddenly, the horses swung out of the turn and I triggered my shutter. The result: The Jim McKay Turf Sprint field, led by Pay Any Price (black and white cap) and eventual winner Richard’s Boy (#10) amidst a festoon of raindrops.
ROAD TO ALABAMA Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Caledonia Road looks to target prestigious start in 2018. Her trainer discusses her championship win and future plans.
ailing from Avery, TX, Ralph Nicks is a secondgeneration horseman who began galloping horses for his father at just eight years old. He started his first one from the gate by 11 and rode some races as a teenager. At 22, he joined Bill Mott’s stable and worked for the Hall of Fame conditioner for about 13 years before going out on his own in 2004. Twelve years later, in November 2017, Nicks achieved his biggest victory to date when Caledonia Road captured the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies in Del Mar, CA. The now three-year-old filly was purchased for $140,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale for owners Zoom and Fish Stable Inc., Charlie Spiring and Newtown Anner Stud. Nicks, who was also involved in the purchase, was fond of her from the start. “I liked her frame and the way she moved, she was very leggy with good bone structure and showed quality,” he recalled. She joined the Nicks barn in May 2017, debuted in a maiden special weight at Sara13
by CIARA BOWEN toga that September to win by 2 ¾ lengths, and went into the Breeders’ Cup off a runner-up finish in the Gr.1 Frizette Stakes. Nothing special went into her training for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, “we just kind of stayed out of her way and made sure she was a happy horse. She had one breeze two weeks out; we schooled her in the gate and in the paddock and that was pretty much it,” Nicks explained. But the daughter of Quality Road and Come a Callin (Dixie Union) took a little time to learn the ropes of being a racehorse. In the words of her trainer, she was a little slower to come around and was therefore given plenty of time to adjust. “She’s a little high energy, but she doesn’t have any real idiosyncrasies that will get her in trouble,” Nicks said. “There are times where something might bother her a bit, but she has what I call an “off ” button and is very manageable. She’s got a lot of class.” Mike Smith, who was aboard Caledonia Road for her Breeders’ Cup victory, had never ridden her prior and was thoroughly
impressed: “She drew the outside post and went into the first turn wide. But let me tell you, for such a young filly, she was very confident. She put me in the race right away and outran a bunch of really talented fillies, so I’m excited to see what she’ll do next.” Nicks, who attended the Breeders’ Cup back when assisting Bill Mott, didn’t expect to get to this level, especially at 50 years old. “I’m probably not the most emotional person, but I had tears in my eyes,” he stated. “To go and compete and prosper on that stage, it was very emotional. I’m very enthused for the whole team and grateful for everyone that has supported me along the way.” Caledonia Road is tentatively pointing toward the Kentucky Oaks. “We want to have her around for the end of the year, so we’re not going to push her too hard. She’s growing and changing and we just want to give her time to rest. We’d love to make the Oaks, but if not, I’ve always wanted to win the Alabama.” Photo: Claudia L. Ruiz
YEAR IN REVIEW
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2017’s greatest racing moments captured in photos. Pictured: The field of the 149th Belmont Stakes chases Graham Motion trainee Irish War Cry and jockey Rajiv Maragh into the first turn. Irish War Cry would go on to finish second to Todd Pletcher’s Tapwrit (blue and black cap), followed by Pletcher’s one-eyed wonder Patch (green saddle towel) in third and John Shirreff’s Gormley (teal cap) in fourth. Photo: Claudia L. Ruiz
Bird of a Feather 2017 was an incredible year for me. I feel so blessed to have gotten the opportunity to ride such a talented filly like Songbird. It was truly an honor. As good and as fast as she was, she had that much more class and did everything right. Iâ€™ll admit I didnâ€™t want her to retire [after the Personal Ensign]; I wanted one more race. But even in that defeat, she never really lost. I want to thank Mr. Porter for believing and trusting in me to ride Songbird; I cannot thank him enough for the last two years. Iâ€™m at a loss for words trying to describe the experience. She was just a special filly to ride and will always be dear to me. - Mike Smith Photo: Alex Evers
Year in Review
Photo: Connections of Always Dreaming celebrate winning the 143rd Kentucky Derby under a champagne shower courtesy of jockey John Velazquez | Candice Chavez
Photo: Leading a flock of 3-year-olds, West Coast, with Mike Smith in the irons, charges into the stretch to win the 148th running of the Gr.1 Travers by 3Âź lengths | Jay Moran
Photo: Flavien Pratt celebrates atop Battle of Midway as they cruise to a half-length victory in the Las Vegas Breedersâ€™ Cup Dirt Mile, denying Jorge Navarro trainee Sharp Azteca and jockey Paco Lopez | Alex Evers
Photo: Julien Leparoux, aboard Classic Empire (yellow and blue cap), looks over at winning jockey Javier Castellano on Cloud Computing (red and white cap) after an exhilarating stretch duel in the Preakness| Claudia L. Ruiz
Forever Grateful I started 2017 riding a lot of maidens, trying to figure out which would be going to the Kentucky Derby. Riding Always Dreaming and winning the Kentucky Derby was a dream come true for me and was just the start of a very productive year. I picked up a lot of good horses and won some big races, but I hadn’t ridden Forever Unbridled all year until the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. A week before the race I got a call from Mr. Fipke saying he wanted me to ride. It was very controversial because I was not supposed to be on her, but it wasn’t like I had never ridden her before. I won the 2015 Gr.3 Comely Stakes and the 2016 Gr.1 Apple Blossom on her, so I knew her pretty good. Dallas Stewart did an incredible job with Forever Unbridled. She looked incredible in the paddock. She was bigger, stronger, her coat was amazing and she was a lot faster. Winning the Distaff on her, it was a very nice surprise. – John Velazquez Photo: Alex Evers
Unbridled Talent I remember as the race drew closer you could just feel the atmosphere in the jocks room get real serious. We were all getting ready to walk out and ride in a $12 million race—the richest race in the world. Who would have ever thought I’d ride in that, you know? It was incredible. Earlier in the day, all of us jocks were very jubilant, there was a lot of chatter and everyone was just excited to see one another. Then it was time to go and the room got real quiet. Everyone was focused, myself included. Thankfully, Arrogate was on his A-game, and I can honestly say that no horse in the world could have beaten him that day. He ran like the race was named after him. He was Pegasus that day. He had wings. In my opinion, it was his greatest race. – Mike Smith Photo: Raphael Macek
Year in Review
The List 10 BEST RACES OF 2017 By: DAN TORDJMAN
#10 Belmont Stakes G1
#9 Jaipur Invitational G3
#8 La Brea Stakes G1
#7 Preakness Stakes G1
#6 Haskell Invitational G1
#5 Personal Ensign G1
#4 Diana Stakes G1
#3 Whitney Stakes G1
#2 Breeders’ Cup Classic G1
#1 Pegasus World Cup G1
With the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners passing up the final leg of the Triple Crown races, 8 of the 11 starters had run at least 1 of the prior legs, and Lookin At Lee both. Irish War Cry gallantly set the pace and he almost had it, but it was Tapwrit who had the heart to run him down on the stretch. He won by 2 lengths in a final time of 2:30.02.
Racing fans had been waiting for Paradise Woods and Unique Bella to link up on the racetrack, and that showdown took place on opening day of Santa Anita’s winter meet. After setting the pace for the first half of the race, Paradise Woods was confronted by Unique Bella on the stretch. It was quite the battle that saw Unique Bella win by three-quarters of a length.
In a year marked by inconsistency in the three-year-old ranks, the 50th running of the Haskell Invitational resulted in one of the most thrilling three-way stretch duels of 2017 — and predictably, it didn’t involve the favorites in the race (Irish War Cry and Timeline). Ultimately, Girvin would gain redemption (after battling through a quarter crack in the Kentucky Derby), catching McCraken by a nose at the wire.
In patented Lady Eli style, the brave mare showed as much heart as ever, rallying to beat loose pacesetter Quidura (GB) by a head at the wire. Remarkably, Lady Eli was able to do it after breaking through the gate before the start of the race, along with stablemate Antonoe. An inquiry ensued after it appeared Antonoe was interfered with in deep stretch. There was no change, but the drama added to one of Lady Eli’s finest performances.
The 2017 Classic will be best remembered for the prolonged battle between Collected (the “other Baffert”) and eventual winner Gun Runner, who proved pace was no issue. After three-quarters in 1:10.50, the son of Candy Ride (ARG) dug down to win by 2 ¼ lengths in gritty wire-to-wire fashion, while Arrogate closed out his career by finishing fifth, 6 ¼ lengths back.
After finishing short in the 2016 running of the race, Disco Partner showed up with the best effort of his career – shattering a course record and breaking the world record for six furlongs on the turf in 1:05.67. Most memorable is how confident Javier Castellano looked aboard Green Mask, until Disco Partner peeled off the rail and shot past him.
The tightest finish and biggest upset in 2017’s Triple Crown series, Cloud Computing got a dream setup behind a blistering pace thanks to Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and 2016 two-year-old champion, Classic Empire. Always Dreaming faded, Classic Empire fought on, and Cloud Computing scored the upset by a head at odds of 13-1.
Though we didn’t know it at the time, the race would be champion filly Songbird’s swan song. Entering with only one loss from 14 career starts, Songbird looked well on her way to victory in mid-stretch. But she had set honest enough fractions, and when eventual Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Forever Unbridled rallied way out wide (out of view from Songbird and jockey Mike Smith), there was little Songbird could do to stop her.
In a display of pure dominance, Gun Runner was up with a pace that saw him click off three-quarters in 1:11.37 and draw away from the field with ease. Maybe it was that extra shoe he picked up along the way. Remember, the one that ended up in his tail? He came back to do it again in the Gr.1 Woodward, setting up for what would be his Horse of the Year-clinching score at Del Mar in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
The inaugural running of the new “World’s Richest Race” didn’t disappoint. It would’ve been difficult to script a more intriguing matchup than the one staged between California Chrome and Arrogate. Although the 2016 Breeders’ Cup rematch didn’t quite play out the way many had hoped, the race’s hype and Arrogate’s record setting win made this the most memorable race of 2017.
gun Runner 5 things you didn’t know about the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner. Plus, a look inside his impressive record and a vivid recollection of his championship victory. written by CLAUDIA L. RUIZ featured photo by ALEX EVERS
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I was very “ confident in his ability to win the Breeders’ Cup classic. - Florent Geroux
n the evening of November 4th, 2017, as the field for the Breeders’ Cup Classic made its way onto the track at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, Florent Geroux sat quietly atop the horse he had ridden for nearly two years. Gun Runner showed nothing but class in the post parade. He was quiet, but focused on the task at hand. Seemingly on cruise control, the son of Candy Ride (ARG) and Quiet Giant (by Giant’s Causeway) loaded into the starting gate off a three race win streak consisting of the Gr.1 Stephen Foster, Gr.1 Whitney and Gr.1 Woodward. Arrogate, the horse who had romped past him in Dubai to deny him a victory, stood to his far left, waiting to run the final race of his career. A win in the Classic for either of them was to determine end of the year honors. As the two rivals prepared to square off, doubt ran rampant throughout the grandstand. Gun Runner was 0-3 at the 1 ¼ mile distance and had lost two of those starts to Arrogate; could he possibly have improved that much since Dubai to win the championship? Would the real Arrogate show up, or was everyone in for a repeat viewing of the San Diego Handicap? The crowd grew anxious. Suddenly, the gates swung open and they were racing. Gun Runner broke sharp and Geroux positioned him to set the pace. Two of Bob Baffert’s entrants followed closely behind the chestnut as the field went into the first turn, but neither one his rival. Arrogate had departed the gate awkwardly and was laboring in eighth as the lead blew past a speedy 22.50 opening quarter and 46.31 half. It was clear going into the second turn that he would not be joining Gun Runner up front in the stretch. Instead, Collected had stepped up to challenge and his effort was admirable. But he was simply no match. As the two rounded into the stretch, Gun Runner dug deep and the grit he had flashed as three-year-old at Fair Grounds on the Kentucky Derby trail was on full display once again. Victoriously, Geroux threw his hand in the air as the two hit the wire 2 ¼ lengths in front of Collected in a final time of 2:01.29 and galloped out strongly, ahead of West Coast (third) and Arrogate (fifth). War Story was fourth. In the grandstand, trainer Steve Asmussen was in a state
of exultation. Gun Runner had won the Breeders’ Cup Classic gate-to-wire on a track that had not been playing in favor of frontend speed and the rail all day. “The emotion [prior to the win] was that he was going too fast and I was a little worried,” owner Ron Winchell joked to NBC’s Laffit Pincay III during the awards ceremony. “But when I saw him pulling away, it was an unbelievable feeling.”
The Facts: Today, Gun Runner has come a long way since his career debut on September 11, 2015. After breaking his maiden by ¾ lengths at Churchill Downs that day, the now five-yearold has done his fair share of traveling. In fact, he went from Churchill Downs to Keeneland back to Churchill to Fair Grounds again to Churchill to Monmouth Park to Saratoga to Parx to Santa Anita back to Churchill then Oaklawn Park then Churchill to Meydan then a world back to Churchill to Saratoga to Del Mar before returning home to Churchill Downs approx. 29,701 miles later! Note: The number of miles traveled will increase to 30,771 upon arrival at Gulfstream Park for the Pegasus World Cup then to 31,820 upon arrival at Three Chimneys Farm for stallion duty after the Pegasus. Miles are calculated based on distance between destinations (racetracks and farms). Race stats gathered via Equibase.
That’s 10 tracks in 7 states (KY, LA, NJ, NY, PA, AR, CA) and 2 countries (US and UAE) in a little over 25 months. As of January 8, 2018, Gun Runner has won 11 of 18 starts – 9 of which are graded and 5 being Grade One – for a combined winning margin of 46 ¼ lengths, a total racing distance of 20.2 miles (161.5 furlongs) and $8.9 million in career earnings.
Things You Didn’t Know About Gun Runner: The qualities that enabled him to become a successful racehorse and defeat Arrogate, explained by Florent Geroux...
Confidence He has a great mind. He knows what he is capable of and is not afraid to dig deep. He started to show his confidence in the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby when he was a three-year-old and he is a much better horse now. Mental Toughness Sometimes horses that know they are good can be complicated. They can be kind of cocky about it, and sometimes they just won’t run. Gun Runner is not like that. He always gives me his best and runs hard. He’s a very straight forward horse. Nothing fazes him.
Adaptability He’s the type of horse that can run anywhere because he’s a very good traveler. Some horses go to Dubai and don’t come back the same and others are fine, every horse is different. If we would’ve wanted him to be ready on Kentucky Derby day, one month after Dubai, he would’ve been fine. But we wanted to give him some time and do what was right for the horse. After he won the Breeders’ Cup, he went to Three Chimneys for a few days for the stallion showing. If you saw him at the farm, you would’ve never thought he had run the race of his life three days before. He hadn’t lost any weight, he was bright-eyed and had a shiny coat; nothing changed. He’s just a very good horse. Persistence If he gets beat in one race, it doesn’t hurt his feelings. He doesn’t get upset about it or lose confidence in himself. He just moves on and comes back stronger the next time. Constancy In the mornings, he doesn’t miss a beat in his training; and in his races, I don’t need push him hard. I just give him a couple of taps with the whip and he gives me everything he has. That’s the way he is in all of his races. He’s a very generous horse. Going into the Classic, I knew he was ready. I’ve ridden him for so long that he knows me and I know him. I think that helped us a lot.
Photos: (p.25) Claudia L. Ruiz | (p.27-28) Alex Evers, Mary M. Meek
The Unlucky Ones Not every horse has caring owners. And sometimes, even those that do can slip right through the cracks and into the pipeline.
by DINA ALBORANO
t was dark with an awful pungent odor of death as I walked into the dimly lit Pennsylvania auction with the
gentleman that was allowing me to pre-purchase my own horse. We walked past hundreds of emaciated horses with blank staring eyes. When we reached the end of the building, there were 15 or more horses crammed into a pen designed for two. When my eyes made contact with him, I was in disbelief. Café had been missing for just six days, but stood before me with his head down, lifeless. I could see shadows of skin and bones, bloody gashes across his back, and a giant hind leg behind ankles five times their normal size. His hooves adorned with heavy keg shoes, nails protruding into cracked hoof walls. His mane was completely gone; his eyes half shut, oozing discharge; green mucus hung out of both nostrils; and every three seconds he let out a loud cough that seemed to emanate from the bottom of his gut. The man led him out and said to me, “That will be $2,500.” I looked over at my sister-in-law, who was shaking like a leaf as she asked the man where she could buy a glass of wine. “This is a house of God!” He responded abruptly. “A house of God?” she questioned. “You’re killing innocent animals in here!” If we didn’t take our horse and remove ourselves from the building, we were told we would leave with nothing. We grabbed Café and walked about six steps before he fell to the ground. Several men helped us get him up and we managed to walk him one tiny step at a time onto the trailer. Just four minutes into our drive, Café had fallen, too weak to stand, and all I could do was pray that he would last the journey. It felt like the longest drive of my life, but he made it. Crucial precautions were taken upon arrival, including an 8-day stay in the equine clinic. It took more than six months for Café to return to health and his old self. It was a reality check that opened my eyes to the sad and horrific fate thousands of horses face every single day—the slaughter pipeline. You may be wondering how my own horse ended up in such a horrible situation. Fifteen years ago, I had 2 racehorses, one of which I retired at 4 years old because I couldn’t fathom the thought of putting him in a race where he could get taken away, or “claimed,” from me. A year passed, and when an elderly man in my barn lost his 12-year-old racehorse, he asked me about Café— the horse I had retired. I was apprehensive at first, but agreed to let him train him. He took great care of him and even won a race, and when the season ended, Café moved into the old man’s farm, where he was pampered daily. But then a month went by and my weekly call rendered no answer. The old man had passed, and Café had been picked up for $150 by an Amish man. That’s how my dreaded story begins. I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. When I was a little girl, my dad frequented Belmont Park and would take me to see the horses. But my involvement in horse racing was further inspired by my brother. As a new owner, nearly 20 years ago, Joe was having a string of good luck that most owners only dream of. I went to one race, walked into the paddock area and was hooked. Having been a pre-Olympic runner my entire life, I saw myself in every racehorse. I became an owner, and it didn’t take long for me to question the safety of the horses that weren’t very good or could no longer run. One day, I was in my barn when I noticed a man wearing a straw hat, loading a horse into a trailer. Joe ran from the other end of the barn, yelling, “You’re not taking Francesco!”
Francesco was a high-priced yearling who suffered a career ending injury the month before. In that moment, I learned that men in straw hats were often responsible for funneling horses into the slaughter pipeline, picking them up and taking them to auctions like the one where I found Café barely clinging to life. The slaughter pipeline is the horrific dark side of the racing industry and a sad end for thousands of horses of all disciplines and breeds. Each year, kill buyers funnel more than 160,000 American horses—working, racing, companion, even children’s ponies—into the horse meat trade, gathering up young, often healthy horses to be shipped for slaughter across our borders. Kill buyers often disguise their intentions and prey on unwanted horses at auctions. The unlucky ones will be whipped, dragged and thrown onto an overcrowded trailer with no food, water or rest for days until arriving at a slaughter house in Mexico or Canada. Horse slaughter exists in America. The misconception that it does not is merely a cold, conscience-clearing mindset that enables owners to sleep better at night after ridding themselves of the financial burden of a racehorse no longer suitable for running. When people partake in ownership simply for the money, it’s easy to view a horse as just a number on a spread sheet. If it’s not benefiting the bottom line, it’s discarded. This is the bleak reality of thousands of horses and one of the significant downfalls of our sport. But not all owners are this reckless. Today, thanks to awareness spread throughout the racing community in recent years, many owners make it their priority to place their retirees in accredited aftercare programs that specialize in retraining and rehoming. Many are doing their part to keep their horses safe, while others work tirelessly to rescue and rehabilitate the ones that were not so lucky. No animal deserves to end up at a slaughter house. In October 2017, iCareiHelp was founded to pull horses labeled as ‘’deadlined’’ or ‘’ready to ship’’ out of kill pens and into the care of rescues and safe havens across the United States. We never discriminate upon breed and ensure that each horse gets the proper care and support to enjoy their second chance at life. To find out more on how you can help make a difference, please visit icareihelp.com
a great horse to ride “ He’s and checks all of the boxes, mentally and physically. Steve Asmussen has done a great job training him.
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- Florent Geroux (jockey)
Thoroughbred Today Magazine Winter 2018