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Gun Runner wins Horse of the Year at Eclipse Awards

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. (AP) Gun Runner got one last win over rival Arrogate.

The soon-to-be-retired 5-year-old was a convincing pick as Horse of the Year at the Eclipse Awards on Thursday night, the official capper to a year where he won four Grade 1 races including the Breeders’ Cup Classic – and made it look easy every time.

Arrogate, Gun Runner’s top rival for much of 2017 as well as the leading money-winner in North American thoroughbred racing history, and World Approval were the other Horse of the Year finalists.

“He stepped up when called upon and just met the challenge and, you know, how do you say, got it done,” trainer Steve Asmussen said when asked to sum up Gun Runner’s 2017 achievements. “He’s truly a special horse mentally and physically. And we’ve, you know, been on a tremendous run with him.”

The run ends Saturday, when Gun Runner races for the final time. He’ll be the favorite in the $16 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational.

“Just to be in his presence, to be around him, to have the privilege to train him as well as run him, you know, it’s a dream come true,” Asmussen said.

Gun Runner also picked up the Eclipse as the top Older Dirt Horse in 2017.

Chad Brown won the Eclipse Award as being the sport’s top trainer for the second consecutive year, and became the ninth trainer ever to go back-to-back in that category. Jose Ortiz – the leading purse winner in the sport last year – won his first Eclipse in the jockey category, ending the four-year run of Javier Castellano as the best rider.

Brown paid tribute to the other finalists, Asmussen and Bob Baffert.

“I’m always learning from people,” Brown said. “Those are two guys I’m always learning from.”

Juddmonte Farms was picked as top owner for the fourth time, and Clearsky Farms got its first Eclipse as top breeder.

The closest race was in 2-year-old male division, where Good Magic – who broke his maiden by winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile – edged Bolt d’Oro by a mere 18 votes out of 250 cast. Other close votes were in the steeplechase division, where Scorpiancer got the nod over All the Way Jose, and in the Female Sprinter class where Unique Bella prevailed over Paulassilverlining.

Most of the other votes were one-sided. Caledonia Road (top juvenile filly), West Coast (3-year-old male), Abel Tasman (3-year-old female), Forever Unbridled (older dirt female), Roy H (male sprinter), World Approval (male turf horse), Lady Eli (female turf horse) and Evin Roman (top apprentice) were all convincing winners.

Tiger Roll wins Grand National in photo finish

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AINTREE, England — Tiger Roll won the Grand National Steeplechase in a photo finish over Pleasant Company as Irish horses dominated the world’s most famous steeplechase at Aintree on Saturday.

A 4 1/2-mile (6,400-meter) race was won by a matter of inches in the closest finish to the Grand National since 2012, when Neptune Collonges won by a nose.

Tiger Roll, a 10-1 shot, was leading by as much as 10 lengths in the long run to the line, but only just held off the fast-finishing Pleasant Company (25-1) to win a first prize of 500,000 pounds ($710,000).

“I did have a big fear,” said jockey Davy Russell, who won the race for the first time at his 14th attempt. “It would have been heartbreaking.”

The first four horses home in the National were from Ireland, including Bless The Wings (40-1) and Anibale Fly (10-1).

It was the second National victory for both trainer Gordon Elliott, who also won with Silver Birch in 2007, and owner Michael O’Leary, who had 2016 winner Rule The World. O’Leary is chief executive of budget airline Ryanair.

“We bought the horse as a pint-sized hurdler,” O’Leary said, “but he’s got a heart of a lion.”

Russell grew up dreaming of winning the National. As a child, he erected Aintree-style fences in his garden and pretended to ride a horse over them.

“I’ve won this race thousands of times (in my head),” Russell said. “But not like this.”

David Mullins, the jockey of Pleasant Company, said he thought he was well-beaten after jumping the next-to-last fence.

“Davy was going so much better than me,” Mullins said.

That seemed to be the case as the horses made it past the elbow in the run to the line, but Pleasant Company closed in as Tiger Roll faded. It was too close to call as they crossed the line and the 171st edition of the race required a photo finish to separate them.

Total Recall went off as the 7-1 favorite but fell.

 

Baffert: McKinzie won’t run in Santa Anita Derby

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ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) McKinzie will miss the Santa Anita Derby on April 7 because of an unspecified problem.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert confirmed the colt won’t run in the West Coast’s major prep for the Kentucky Derby due to an issue in one of his hind legs. X-rays and scans haven’t confirmed what it is.

Baffert said Saturday in Dubai that McKinzie is “definitely out,” according to multiple media reports. He says he’s being “very cautious.”

The colt edged Bolt d’Oro in the San Felipe Stakes on March 10, but was disqualified and placed second for interference in the stretch.

McKinzie was 10th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 40 points for owners Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman. The colt won the Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity on Dec. 9 and the Sham Stakes on Jan. 6.

Baffert was in the Middle East to saddle West Coast and Mubtaahij to second- and third-place finishes in the $10 million Dubai World Cup.