When it comes to wide receivers in football, it doesn’t matter how good your hands are or how fast your feet fly. What makes you effective is route running. Gun Runner taught me during the 2016 Triple Crown that horses are very much the same way.
In the very first instalment of the Top-10, I talked about how rivalries played a major part in telling the story of the 2016 Triple Crown. Amongst those was the sudden emergence of Gun Runner, who managed to finish the prep race circuit with the most points. By the time the Kentucky Derby came around, Gun Runner had rightfully earned the respect of the oddsmakers as the third choice.
And that’s exactly where he finished.
Despite accumulating so many points on the derby trail, nobody was exactly rushing to get behind the Steven Asmussen trainee. It sort of made sense. He wasn’t exactly topping the speed charts or anything. Beyond that, there were lots of excuses made for his performance.
Most notably, it wasn’t that Gun Runner won the Risen Star Stakes or the Louisiana Derby. More so, it was that Mo Tom seemed to lose them. Therein lied the major problem with assessing both horses. There was no doubt that Mo Tom was the faster horse, but Gun Runner boasted precision. The three-year old contender somehow always found a way to get to the front of the pack.
Top-10 Moments in 2016 Triple Crown
#10 – Rivalries Are Born
#9 – Everyone Loves Lani
#8 – Creator Shocks Belmont Stakes
#7 – Danzing Candy
#6 – Uncle Mo Emerges As Major Stallion
A lot of horse players don’t consider this a skill, but it is and it’s inherently built in to Gun Runner. I’ve referred to it as “route running”. Unlike other horses, the best horses can find the best line in traffic or on a rough track. It’s not something you see so often because it’s not something that the trained eye searches for.
But watch the Risen Star Stakes below and jump to the :55 second mark where you can plainly see how Gun Runner slides in to a perfect spot and just waits for his line to open. It’s kind of weird. At the same time, try and find Mo Tom who does quite the opposite.
On any other occasion I would pass this off as a one time thing. But Gun Runner proved that his route running skills were in top form by winning the Louisiana Derby in similar fashion while also blazing through the Kentucky Derby on a supremely brilliant pathway to almost edge Nyquist and Exaggerator.
At the end of the day, the 1 1/4 mile distance was too far for Gun Runner who eventually faded and has now returned to the 1 1/16th mile distance where he recently won the Matt Winn at Churchill Downs this past weekend. It made sense for him to skip the Preakness and the Belmont.
Why is this so important? Because I had just never noticed it before. Gun Runner always found the line of least resistance. We talk a lot about talent, speed, skill and patience. Rarely do we discuss a horse that displays a refined sense for seizing success despite falling short.
In a way, Gun Runner opened my eyes. He made me realize that a horse that boasts tactical refrain can outperform his physical shortcomings. It’s something I’ve rarely seen in this sport from horses that don’t boast top end speed. As always, it’s not just about having the tools to win a race. In Gun Runner’s case, it was using them effectively.
Given that Gun Runner went from a 57-to-1 longshot back in November to a third place show play at the Kentucky Derby, I’d say that’s some damn fine improvements for a horse that was mostly counted out on the prep race circuit.