What a way to finish a career. On January 27, Gun Runner once again proved that he was the best dirt horse in the world with a sparkling win in the Pegasus World Cup. It was his seventh win, with one second, in his final eight starts, while racing at the highest level. Not only did he complete a powerful Horse of the Year season off in 2017, but he ended his 2016 season, just as he started (and finished) his 2018 season, with an authoritative Grade 1 victory. Sporting an exclamation point to his career like this one, it begs the question — do the racing accomplishments of Gun Runner qualify him for entry into Racing’s Hall of Fame?
In the last ten years, there have been 22 flat runners inducted into the Hall of Fame. The sensational list consists of 11 females: Inside Information, Silverbulletday, Azeri, Sky Beauty, Safely Kept, Open Mind, Ashado, Xtra Heat, Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, Goldikova, and 11 males: Manila, Ancient Title, Tiznow, Point Given, Best Pal, Ghostzapper, Lure, Invasor, Housebuster, Curlin, and Lava Man.
It’s an impressive group to be sure, with some more accomplished than others, but getting back to the topic at hand — Does the 2017 Horse of the Year fit in with this group?
When he comes up for election in five years, on my ballot, he will pass the question with flying colors, but let’s take a look at the numbers …
Of the 22 horses elected in the last decade, just eight were ever named Horse of the Year, with only Curlin having received the honor twice. This means that 14 of the newest inductees to Racing’s Hall of Fame weren’t ever named Horse of the Year. While it’s true that not all horses that win the top yearly honor make it into the Hall of Fame, this is strictly a comparison between Gun Runner, and the most recent inductees.
Each of these modern inductees ran in the Breeders’ Cup era, except for Ancient Title. As we know, Gun Runner was a dominant winner of the grandest Breeders’ Cup race of all, the Classic. In comparison, 14 of the 21 recent Hall of Fame inductees (from 1984 on) ever won a Breeders’ Cup event, with four of them (Goldikova, Tiznow, Zenyatta, and Lure) having won more than one BC race. As far as the Classic, only five of them were winners of the Breeders’ Cup’s main event.
Comparing earnings would be less than fair, as Gun Runner had richer opportunities than any of the recent inductees, but obviously his $15,988,500 far surpass anyone on this list. How about overall record?
Of the 22 horses inducted into the Hall of Fame since 2008, the average record reads like this: 24.59 starts – 15.09 wins – 4.09 seconds – 1.91 thirds. Gun Runner, meanwhile, completed his career at: 19 – 12 – 3 – 2. Again for comparison’s sake, the recent Hall of Famers won at a rate of 61%, and finished in the money at a 86% clip. Gun Runner, having competed in 17 consecutive graded stakes, including most of the world’s top dirt races, won 63% of his races and finished in the money 89% of the time.
Perhaps the racing career of Gun Runner does not quite stack up to the very best the recent Hall of Fame inductees, but I am quite sure that his accomplishments would not be at the bottom of this list, either. The stats, and common sense, seem to bear this out nicely.
Has Gun Runner earned his place into the Hall of Fame? Without question, I believe he has.
Photo courtesy of NYRA