After his offspring won both of the Grade 1 stakes for 2-year-olds on the Labor Day weekend at Saratoga, freshman sire Gun Runner (by Candy Ride) has rebroken on his competition, and the Three Chimneys Farm stallion has a margin of more than $400,000 in progeny earnings over second-place Practical Joke (Into Mischief), who stands at Coolmore’s Ashford Stud in Kentucky.
The third- and fourth-place positions on the freshman sire rankings are taken by fellow Ashford stallions Classic Empire (Pioneerof the Nile) and Caravaggio (Scat Daddy). Then, well-separated from the leading quartet, are a six-pack of young sires who have progeny earnings within $100,000 of each other. These are Connect (Curlin) at Lane’s End, Klimt (Quality Road) at Darby Dan, Unified (Candy Ride) at Lane’s End, Mohaymen (Tapit) at Shadwell, Gormley (Malibu Moon) at Spendthrift, and Stanford (Malibu Moon) at Tommy Town Thoroughbreds in California.
The weekend results added emphasis to the unexpectedly precocious showing of the first-crop racers by Gun Runner, who was a good racer at two but improved greatly at three and thereafter. Now the sire of four stakes winners from his first crop, all graded winners, Gun Runner has had three of those stakes winners at Saratoga, the fourth at Del Mar.
A tidy four-length victory in the Spinaway Stakes at Saratoga made Echo Zulu the first Grade 1 winner for her sire, and then Gunite powered through the stretch to win the Hopeful by 5 3/4 lengths on Labor Day to become a second Grade 1 winner for Gun Runner, the 2017 Horse of the Year and champion older horse for Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC and Three Chimneys Farm.
Having Gunite as a homebred, Winchell Thoroughbreds bought Echo Zulu for $300,000 at the 2020 Keeneland September yearling sale. Echo Zulu was one of two Gun Runner yearlings that Winchell Thoroughbreds bought last year. After racing Gun Runner with partner Three Chimneys, Winchell Thoroughbreds already had several young prospects coming along last year.
David Fiske, the racing manager for Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC, said that “we had taken the position that you don’t go out on a limb with a young stallion” prior to Gun Runner. But he thought “if we were ever going to breed a bunch of mares to a single stallion, this was the one. I managed to convince Ron of this, and to his credit, Ron loves to gamble, and we ended up with 17 foals from the first crop.
“The good news was they all looked alike. None of them were bad; all looked like they’d be trainable, and of the 15 that survived to go into training, I told a fellow last year that I thought we could win with every one of them. They grew up well, kept good proportions, stayed sound, and appeared to have good minds.
“Off the results of that group, we bred another 17 mares to him the second year, didn’t sell any mares in foal, have hung onto the ones we’ve had, and we’re getting rewarded for doing that.
“Because Gun Runner is having a fairytale beginning to his stud career,” Fiske concluded.
The fairytale has only begun, but it is getting seriously exciting for all involved.
Although he improved markedly at three and four, Gun Runner was unbeaten at two in his first two starts, winning a maiden special at Churchill Downs on Sept. 11, then an allowance at Keeneland on Oct. 17. The effect of those two performances was enough for bettors to make the chestnut colt the third favorite at 4.9-to-1 in the G3 Iroquois for his third start. After laying up with the pace, Gun Runner had a narrow lead at the stretch call, then was ambushed by winner Airoforce (Colonel John), Mor Spirit (Eskendereya), and Mo Tom (Uncle Mo) to finish fourth, beaten 3 1/4 lengths by the winner.
None of those made progress comparable to Gun Runner over the coming months, who won both the G2 Risen Star Stakes and Louisiana Derby, and the son of Candy Ride finished third in the Kentucky Derby behind juvenile champion Nyquist (Uncle Mo) and subsequent Preakness winner Exaggerator (Curlin).
Subsequently third in the G1 Travers and second in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Mile, Gun Runner won the G1 Clark at the end of his second season, and of the final eight races in his career, Gun Runner lost only one, when second in the G1 Dubai World Cup to Arrogate, who performed miracles after a dodgy start to get up and win the race by 2 1/4 lengths.
After winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the Horse of the Year award, Gun Runner signed off on his racing career at five with a victory in the second running of the Pegasus Stakes at Gulfstream, retiring to stud at Three Chimneys. For his fourth season at stud in 2021, Gun Runner stood for $50,000 live foal. That is virtually certain to increase for 2022.