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East beats West as Gun Runner takes the Breeders' Cup Classic

John Cherwa, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Horse Racing

DEL MAR, Calif. -- It wasn't the passing of the torch. It wasn't a race for the ages. In some ways it epitomized the strengths and weaknesses of the Del Mar racetrack. But Gun Runner, a horse from the East, took everything the West could throw at him Saturday to win the $6-million Breeders' Cup Classic.

It was the first time in four years that trainer Bob Baffert didn't win the race, and he had four horses in it. In fact, Baffert, considered by many to be the sport's most elite trainer, didn't win a race over two days of the Breeders' Cup.

Del Mar was part of the story, influencing several outcomes, in the $13 million races. The short stretch meant that horses had to be on or near the lead to win a race. Only one of the races was won by a favorite, World Approval in the Mile, which can also be attributed to the big fields.

Some horses, like the all-time leading money earner in North America, Arrogate, failed to win on this surface for the third time in as many tries. It appeared the winner of last year's Classic at Santa Anita, as well as the Pegasus and Dubai World Cup, could never get used to the Del Mar racing surface, which had been refurbished after the track had 17 horse fatalities at last year's summer meeting.

All of this is to take nothing away from Gun Runner, whose front-running style was perfect in this 1\-mile race. He held the lead at every call over Collected until he pulled away mid-stretch to win by 21/4 lengths. Collected finished 11/4 lengths in front of Baffert stablemate West Coast to keep second.

Arrogate, the 2-1 favorite, ducked in at the start and then spent most of the race near the back and could never gain significant ground, finishing in a dead heat for fifth with Gunnevera.

 

"He just doesn't like this track," said Mike Smith, Arrogate's jockey. "For whatever reason, I hate to say it, he has shown it time and time again and showed it today. (His poor start) is what he's been doing every time he runs here. When he's on his A race, he's one of the fastest horses we have ever seen. He just won't run over here. I have tried to talk myself into thinking he would. He has just showed me time and time again that he wouldn't."

War Story was fourth. The remainder of the field, in order of finish, was Churchill, Mubtaahij, War Decree, Pavel and Win the Space.

After such a stellar career, Arrogate, who finished with seven wins in 11 races and more than $17 million in earnings, will be retired to stud and not race as 5-year-old.

"He's like a pitcher who can't find the plate," Baffert said of Arrogate. "I hate to make any excuses for the big horse, but he's just not the horse he was. He's run so many incredible races that I really think he's just losing interest. ... It's time (for him to retire.)"

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