Gun Runner Wins Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year

Gun Runner — who is set to wrap up his racing career Saturday in the $16 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational — won the Eclipse Award Thursday for 2017 Horse of the Year for a campaign that included a four-race winning streak topped off with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

The 5-year-old horse by Candy Ride received 248 of the 250 votes cast for Horse of the Year, with the remaining two being cast in favor of Arrogate, the 2017 Pegasus World Cup and Dubai World Cup winner and the 2016 Horse of the Year.

Gun Runner also won the Eclipse Award for older dirt male horse. He won five of his six starts in 2017 and earned nearly $7 million, with his single loss coming to Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup last March.

Gun Runner’s co-owner, Ron Winchell, called it a “very bittersweet moment.”

“The bitter part is knowing that next week Gun Runner won’t be part of our racing stable and he’s simply irreplaceable in a racing stable,” Winchell said in accepting the first of Gun Runner’s two Eclipse Awards. “The sweet part is knowing that last year we kept Gun Runner in training with the hope and the anticipation of maybe coming here and winning an Eclipse Award.”

“And as most people know in horse racing if you come up with a plan, usually by March the plan’s out the window and you’ve got to come up with a new one so it’s an honor and great pleasure to stand up here and be part of Gun Runner’s racing career and his legacy,” Winchell added.

Trainer Steve Asmussen — who had previously trained Curlin to two Horse of the Year titles in 2007 and 2008 and Rachel Alexandra to a Horse of the Year title in 2009 — said the memories of Gun Runner’s award-winning 2017 campaign will “stay with us.”

Gun Runner is expected to begin his next career as a stallion at Three Chimneys Farm after the Pegasus at Gulfstream Park.

Other Eclipse Award winners included:

— Forever Unbridled for older dirt female horse. She was victorious in all three of her starts last year, including the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, and easily won the Eclipse over rivals Songbird and Stellar Wind, who have three previous Eclipse Award wins between them.

Trainer Dallas Stewart said earlier this week that Forever Unbridled — a 6-year-old daughter of 1995 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Unbridled’s Song and 2006 Kentucky Oaks winner Lemons Forever — is in training at Fair Grounds and that there will be discussions soon about her 2018 campaign.

— World Approval for male turf horse. He won five of his six starts last year, including the Breeders’ Cup Mile and the Woodbine Mile, and was up against Beach Patrol and Talismanic for the Eclipse.

— Lady Eli for female turf horse. She battled back from laminitis to return to the track, where she won the Grade 1 Gamely Stakes, Diana Stakes and Grade 2 Woodford Reserve Ballston Spa Stakes. She was up against Wuheida and Off Limits for the Eclipse.

— West Coast for 3-year-old male horse. West Coast, who’s a son of Flatter and the 2000 Eclipse Award 2-year-old champion filly Caressing, won six of his nine starts last year, including the Travers and the Pennsylvania Derby.

West Coast — with 229 votes — was up against Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming, who got 14 votes, and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Battle of Midway, who got five votes.

— Abel Tasman for 3-year-old filly. She won the Kentucky Oaks, Acorn and Coaching Club American Oaks and was second in her other four starts last year, including the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She was up against Unique Bella and Elate for the Eclipse.

— Good Magic for 2-year-old male. The son of Curlin broke his maiden with his win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He was second in his other two starts, including the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes.

Good Magic’s Eclipse win was by the narrowest margin of the evening — with 131 votes cast in his favor compared to 113 for Bolt d’Oro, whose three-race win streak was snapped with a third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

— Caledonia Road for 2-year-old filly. She won two of her three races last year, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and was up against Rushing Fall and Moonshine Memories for the Eclipse.

— Roy H for male sprinter. He won five of his six starts last year, including the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and the Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes, and was up against Imperial Hint and Mind Your Biscuits for the Eclipse.

— Unique Bella for female sprinter. The daughter of Tapit and 2010 Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic winner Unrivaled Belle won five of her six starts last year, including the Grade 1 La Brea Stakes and the Grade 2 Santa Ynez Stakes and Las Virgenes Stakes, and was up against Paulassilverlining and Bar of Gold for the Eclipse.

— Chad Brown, who won his second consecutive Eclipse Award for outstanding trainer. He called it a “team award” for his entire stable and lauded the other two finalists in the category, Steve Asmussen and Bob Baffert, for “their expert management of two of the world’s best racehorses last year” in Gun Runner and Arrogate, respectively.

— Jose Ortiz, Eclipse Award for outstanding jockey.

— Evin Roman, Eclipse Award for outstanding apprentice jockey.

— Juddmonte Farms, Eclipse Award for outstanding owner.

— Clearsky Farms, Eclipse Award for outstanding breeder.

— Frank Stronach, Eclipse Award of Merit.

The awards ceremony at Gulstream Park also included special Eclipse Awards for the first responders to the Lilac Fire last December at San Luis Rey Training Center near San Diego, which left 46 horses dead, and the hurricane that struck Puerto Rico’s Hipodromo Camarero last September.

Trainer Peter Miller accepted the award on behalf of those who stayed to help save the thoroughbreds from the devastating fire.

He noted that he had gone from the high of winning two Breeders’ Cup races with Roy H and Stormy Liberal about a month earlier to the low of seeing his barn burn and losing five horses he trained.

Miller said out of the devastation of the day came one of the “most uplifting experiences” of his life, saying the kindness and generosity of those from throughout the world who donated their time and money to help those affected by the fire “blew me away.”