Gun Runner, the No. 1 rated horse in North America, shipped in from Santa Anita on Friday and took a one-mile gallop over the Del Mar track on Saturday morning.
The 4-year-old son of 2003 Pacific Classic winner Candy Ride, has won four of five 2017 starts for trainer Steve Asmussen and owners Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm in building career earnings to more than $5.6 million.
The chestnut colt’s only loss was a runner-up to Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup, but subsequent victories in the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs, Whitney and Woodward at Saratoga – while Arrogate was beaten twice here last summer – enabled Gun Runner to move to the top of the rankings.
Gun Runner has had a series of four works at Santa Anita this month. Assistant trainer Scott Blasi said a final half-mile work here on Monday at 6:30 a.m. is possible pending the approval of Asmussen.
The colt is teh current even money favorite in early Breeders’ Cup wagering at US Racing.
Surface Makes Good First Impression on Navarro
New York/New Jersey-based trainer Jorge Navarro, like many horsemen a first-time visitor to Del Mar, was among a group who put horses through their final major exercises Saturday morning in preparation for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships next Friday and Saturday.
Navarro is here with Sharp Azteca in the Dirt Mile, and War Story in the Classic. They both worked five furlongs under jockey Paco Lopez, Sharp Azteca in :58.60, the fastest of 13 at the distance, and War Story in :59 flat.
The saying goes: “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” And the Del Mar surface certainly did impress Navarro.
“I fell in love with it,” Navarro said. “I had heard some complaints about it being speed favoring in the summer, but I’m coming from a speed favoring track (Monmouth) and this was fine to me. Both horses worked well, it took enough out of them, but they recovered quickly. I’m walking Sharp Azteca as we speak (45 minutes after the work), he wasn’t blowing hard after and he’s cooled out already.”
Sharp Azteca, a 4-year-old son of Freud, could pose a major threat in the Dirt Mile. He comes in off wins in the Grade III Monmouth Cup in July and the Grade II Kelso Handicap in September at Belmont Park.
A $220,000 purchase at the Ocala Sale in April of 2015, Sharp Azteca didn’t make his racing debut until December of his 2-year-old season. An eight-race campaign last year as a 3-year-old was highlighted by three straight wins from February-May capped by the Pat Day mile on Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs and a runner-up to Mind Your Biscuits in the Grade I Malibu in December on the opening day of the Santa Anita winter/spring meeting.
He has never been off the board and posted three wins in five 2017 starts, all in graded stakes. The stakes victory before the two last summer came in the Grade II Gulfstream Park Handicap and Sharp Azteca was third, beaten a length, in the $1 million Godolphin Mile in March in Dubai and second, beaten 6¼ lengths by Mor Spirit in the Metropolitan Mile Handicap in June at Belmont Park.
“We had high expectations for him from the start, but he had some issues and had to miss his 2-year-old season,” Navarro said Friday in the Del Mar stable area. “Those issues have gone away and he’s shown his talent.”
Sharp Azteca, who has been on or near the early lead his entire career, has seven wins from 14 starts and earnings of more than $1.1 million for owner Ivan Rodriguez.
Del Mar clocker John Malone got Sharp Azteca in splits of :11.80, :23.40 and :35.60 en route to the :58.60.
The 23-race career of War Story, a 5-year-old gelded son of Northern Afleet, has been marked by multiple trainer changes – Navarro is the ninth – by colorful owner Ron Paolucci and appearances in the biggest races against the reigning stars in the handicap division.
On the list of horses War Story has run against, and lost to, are: American Pharoah, Liam’s Map, California Chrome, Arrogate and, in his last two starts, Gun Runner. War Story was fourth to Gun Runner, the No. 1 rated horse in North America and possible Classic favorite, in both the Whitney and Woodward at Saragoga, beaten by more than 13 lengths on both occasions.
Del Mar fans may recall War Story, then trained by Dean Greenman, finishing seventh of nine in the 2016 Pacific Classic, beaten 22 ¾ lengths by California Chrome.
War Story has five wins in 23 career starts with earnings of over $1.2 million and is one-for-six for Navarro, who took over his training to start the 2017 campaign.
“He’s been around, for sure,” Navarro said. “We considered another race, but we’re going to go in the Classic. He’s doing well. He’s been training like good horse.”
War Story’s splits en route to the :59 flat were :12 flat, :23.60, :35.60 for a final quarter of :23.40 and a gallop-out to six furlongs in :1:11.80.
“What more could you want?” Navarro asked. “They both are on their A games and they’ll have to bring them next Friday and Saturday.
More Breeders’ Cup Works
Trainer Richard Mandella sent out Avenge (Filly & Mare Turf) and Paradise Woods (Distaff) for five-furlong works Saturday morning as final major exercises for their Breeders’ Cup assignments. Jockey Flavien Prat, who has the call on both, was aboard.
Del Mar clockers had Avenge going :59.60 with splits of :11.60, :23.40 and :35.60 with a gallop-out to six furlongs in 1:12.20.
“I couldn’t be happier, everything’s good,” Mandella said.
Trainer Dale Romans, freshly in from Kentucky, worked his Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile pre-entrants, Hollywood Star and Free Drop Billy, with Tammy Fox in the irons.
Del Mar clockers timed Hollywood Star in 1:02.00 for five furlongs and Free Drop Billy six furlongs in 1:14.40.
“The work was only for five furlongs and I had him in 1:01,” Romans said of Free Drop Billy, a son of Union Rags who comes in off a victory in the Grade I Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. “I think he’s fit and ready.”
Trainer Bob Hess, Jr., worked Juvenile Fillies pre-entrant Tell Your Mama six furlongs in 1:13.60, the fastest of three at the distance.
“She worked very nicely, galloped out well and we’re excited,” said Hess, who has taken over the training duties from Geoff Mulcahy for the daughter of Blame who comes in with a record of a fourth and third-place finish in two starts in Kentucky.
Weather Forecast for Breeders’ Cup Saturday Brightens
The rain, rain that had been forecast for the big Breeders’ Cup event next Saturday is now expected to go away until Sunday, a source of great relief for Del Mar.
San Diego averages more than 300 days of sunshine per year, and predictions of a 40 percent chance of showers for the eight-race $21.5 million in total purses climax of the two-day event had generated some concern locally
Updated forecasts today for a week away have sunny skies, and a high of 68.
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